Tesla Led The Way, And Now Legacy Automakers — & Their Loyal Customers — Want In

The EV race is on. Up until about 5 years ago, major auto companies ignored the signs — the transformation to electrifying everything seemed little more than a passing whim. Now, with countries around the world mandating zero emissions end games, many onlookers are wondering why Tesla led the way to all-electric transportation with such dominance.

The Tesla milestones continue. The third generation of the Tesla Supercharger network has made all-electric transportation rather elegant. The Tesla Model Y is all the rage due to its range and layers of tech. The next-gen Tesla Roadster is now available for pre-ordering.

Tesla led the way to all-electric transportation, and it continues to do so, with the field of competitors well behind and the likelihood of catching a Tesla anytime soon rather remote.

In August 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order setting out the goal that 50% of all new passenger cars and light vehicles sold in 2030 should be electric. Add to that more than a third of new passenger cars and trucks sold in California in 2026 will have to be zero-emission vehicles under a new proposal from the California Air Resources Board.

Electric personal transportation is here to stay.

Tesla is so far ahead that, even with mercurial Elon Musk at the helm, the all-electric car company operated in a different sphere last year than did established automakers like General Motors and Ford Motor, as the New York Times notes. The reason? Tesla’s “superior command of technology and its own supply chain.”

The world’s electric vehicle fleet will likely top 20 million in June. The world leaders in EV sales are China and Europe; the US lags well behind in 3rd place. That’s because, in part, US automakers kept to a well-heeled business model that was reliant on standard marketing variables: product, price, placement, promotion. To say there was disinterest on the part of traditional carmakers in plug-in electric transportation is an understatement.

Meanwhile, Tesla understood the bigger picture of EV sales, in that it requires a robust charging network (not to mention a broad sales network or availability disconnected from traditional auto dealers).

Harvard Business Review argues that Audi, GM, Ford, and the rest missed the mark — if they had spent a billion dollars to build a network of supercharging stations, that investment would have imbued buyers with “enough confidence to choose a car based on its features instead of on the features and the charging network. Then firms could begin the work of reaching viable volumes, bringing costs down, and, eventually, becoming serious competitors to Tesla.”

Charging networks are critical infrastructure for EV stability and its essential foundation. Only after charging is secured automakers new to the EV market can refocus to control vehicle data ahead of what’s next: self-driving.

Tesla Led the Way with the Model S

Tesla began its all-electric reputation with its 2008 vanity product, the $100,000+ Roadster, an EV that generated early sales and revenue. But it really was the introduction of the Model S in 2012 that elevated Tesla toward prominence. Sure, Tesla led the way toward all-electric transportation only with fits and starts — the Model S had approximately a one-year waiting period.

However, the long vision was set in place: to make EVs viable transportation, they needed reliable charging. Tesla established its coast-to-coast proprietor network and then had the podium to demonstrate how EVs are easier to build and maintain without tailpipe emissions. They could showcase premium models for elite audiences but also transition toward the more mass market products of the Model 3 and Model Y.

Big, sporty all-electric luxury coupes beyond the Tesla brand now catch the eye and capture the wallet. Mercedes is trying to demonstrate its competitiveness, calling the EQXX “the most efficient Mercedes ever built” (a recent statement from CEO Ola Kallenius). “The technology program behind it marks a milestone in the development of electric vehicles.” Mercedes plans to spend 60 billion euros (~$65 billion) through 2026 to fend off Tesla.

What Happened to the Japanese Carmakers?

It’s not just the US automakers who lagged behind in all-electric transportation innovation. For the longest time, Japan envisioned a hydrogen-based energy decarbonization future, and carmakers in that country followed along with R&D. Japan dominates the global market for gasoline-electric hybrids, but that enormous tech investment has fallen short of zero emissions global milestones.

The Nissan LEAF was one of the original EVs in the marketplace that sparked consumer interest; It was the best-selling electric car from 2011 to 2014. Unfortunately, it didn’t resonate with the other Japanese automakers enough to persuade them to make a cultural shift. So now the LEAF is celebrating its 10 year anniversary with a ho-hum mid-generation refresh.

Enter Toyota — albeit a tad late to the competitive EV market — which just announced that the starting price for the bZ4X in XLT trim with a single front-mounted motor in the US will be $42,000. It will have an estimated EPA range of 252 miles. With few available units due to supply chain issues, an additional dilemma has emerged — even though Toyota hasn’t sold many battery-electric cars in the US, it has sold enough hybrids and plug-in hybrids that it may exhaust its federal tax credit entitlements by this summer.

And here comes Honda, whose CEO Toshihiro Mibe revealed this week his company’s future plans, which call for launching 30 electric car models between now and 2030 and a target of 2 million sales a year. Honda is also exploring the possibility of creating a North American joint venture for battery production outside its partnership with GM.

Even so, the Japanese automakers continue to insist they will not give up on hybrid technology even as they transition to making battery-electric cars. Instead, General Motors became the first major automaker to declare that it would eliminate all tailpipe emissions from its cars, vowing to do so by 2035. Volvo concurred, with an announcement that it would go electric-only by 2030.

It’s been silence in that realm from Japan.

Electric Truck Options & the Transformation of Rural Drivers

In rural parts of the US, the pickup truck is king, and, as NPR reports, the electric pickup may be what helps rural areas embrace more EVs.

The Tesla Cybertruck originally stirred up lots of chatter upon its reveal. Its description of a futuristic vibe, extensive electric range, impressive towing capacity, and brutal acceleration really caught on. But the rollout of the Cybertruck has been problematic. It looks like Tesla already has a large backlog of more than 1.2 million Cybertruck pre-orders worth above $81 billion.

However, Ford isn’t waiting. April 26 marks the launch of the all-new, all-electric Ford F-150® Lightning™ pickup. Its window stickers have been leaked, showing competitive pricing and EPA official range. Wanda Young, a chief marketing officer at Ford, says the company has already increased its production capacity to meet demand. About 75% of the people who signed up for the F-150 Lightning™ so far are new to Ford. The event begins April 26, 1:30 pm eastern and will be livestreamed at http://ford.to/LightningStrikes.

In a good year, Ford sells on average 900,000 gas-powered F-Series pickup trucks and earns about $40 billion annually from the line. The New Yorker suggests that the Lightning™, together with the Mach-E and an electric Ford Transit, its cargo van, collectively represent the 118-year-old automaker’s best and perhaps the last chance to catch up with Tesla.

Of course, charging the Ford all-electric vehicles won’t be quite as easy as if it could boast a Supercharger network, like Tesla can; Ford lacks a comparable nationwide network of branded charging stations. Instead, Ford will rely on the approximately 19,500 chargers across the US operated by independent providers such as Electrify America and ChargePoint.




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