Tesla’s Model 3 makes for a fascinating story — the company pretty much owned social Media on Thursday night and Friday morning last week. This from a company that has no marketing budget (apparently).
And as the automotive and analyst press continually questioned whether Tesla could scale and deliver, the company’s order count for the Model 3 ticked past 276,000. That was four days ago — Elon Musk is expected to give an update tomorrow. Don’t be surprised if that number’s up to 300k.
Originally, we wrote this piece as a design analysis of the Model 3. But as the order count grew beyond perhaps even Tesla’s wildest dreams, we’ve written the piece — as the Model 3 seems to be symbolic of something perhaps more important.
Tesla is building a car company that is inspiring a level of cult-like devotion which is similar to Apple in the tech world. For all other car companies, the ‘fear’ that the 300k orders creates, should really have little to do with their ability to compete with Tesla on conventional car specification and performance levels.
Instead it should have everything to do with what their brand represents — the image that it has, against Tesla’s. Tesla’s positives start from the very top — with Musk. An auto company CEO who’s young(ish), constantly in the public eye and is becoming a known entity among Mr and Mrs average. Rather like Steve Jobs, he’s someone with a vision and a way of talking that people buy into. Can you name a German auto executive who can do the same? Come to think of it, can Mr and Mrs average even name a German auto executive? This is rather the point.
But Musk’s more than just an appealing figure-head. What he represents — PayPal, EBay, SpaceX, Hyperloop, Power storage, Tesla — this is the stuff of the future. It’s about the human race going further and faster than before. It’s about human endeavour and the future being better than what we have today. And right now I’d argue that Musk is one of the only people in the auto industry who is associated with these qualities.
And this whole attitude pervades Tesla as a company. So I think the real reason that 300,000 people have put their name down for a car that likely won’t arrive for 2 years, and will have faults when it does, is because they’re buying into the idea of what it represents. Of a tech-led, fast-moving, clean-powered, pushing the boundaries future that’s really very positive and appealing. And while it might be an idea that remains un-articulated and buried in the sub-conscious of those buyers, driving (owning) a Model 3, communicates that you — as a person — have these values too; you’re tech-savvy, modern, forward thinking, excited (rather than apprehensive) about the future.
The problem (or the concern) for the existing car companies — even the ones creating products that will stand toe-to-toe on specification with the Model 3, is their brand image is connected to the past. And for an increasing number of consumers that is only going to be seen as a negative.
Big question marks remain over whether Tesla can deliver the number of cars it needs to, in a timely fashion and with the quality the market expects. But for now — it is doing something no other automotive company has done successfully for decades — building a car company, that is rooted deeply in the idea of the future. Rather than the past. In the immediate future at least, for established car brands, that makes Tesla a brand with a unique quality that for a growing group of consumers, they have no way of competing with.