Tesla’s Biggest Challenge (CleanTechnica Poll Results)

I think I’ve waited long enough. Below are the results of our most recent poll (“What’s Tesla’s Biggest Challenge?“). 444 people responded, and the results (as well as the choices) were quite varied. However, there was a clear winner and a clear 2nd place. (The answer choices get cut off a bit, but you can read them in full under the chart.)

tesla biggest challenge

Making its first quarterly profit.
Bringing a high-performance, long-range EV to the mass market. (Tesla Model S)
Bringing an affordable, long-range EV to the mass market. (Tesla Model E? Half price of Model S, 200-mile range.)
Supplying enough of the affordable, long-range EV (Model E?) to meet demand once this vehicle comes to market and sales grow.
Getting Tesla Model S production up to demand.
Bringing the Model X to market by the end of 2014 (as scheduled, and even pushed back 1 year from the initial plan).
Getting its Tesla stores rolled out across the US.
Making more of the population aware of EVs and their benefits.
Competing with larger auto companies as they get more involved in the EV market.
Other (please specify)
Total 444

I chose the second option, which got a pretty minimal number of votes (25) and came in 5th. I stand by it, because I really think that was the biggest hurdle Tesla will face. However, it’s not that surprising that the 3rd option got so many votes. That is widely regarded as Tesla’s biggest future challenge, and future challenges often look more difficult than past challenges that have been overcome.

However, it could just be that most people really think this is an enormous challenge, and if that challenge is met, supplying enough of the “Model E” to meet demand is also an enormous challenge. Personally, I think this is all much easier than getting the Model S created and to mass market. With the Model S under its belt and the coming Model X under its belt, Tesla will have a lot of useful experience that will help it with production of the Model E. The brand is viewed in excellent light now, and the company isn’t having the money struggles it was having (naturally) in trying to get the Model S to production. As far as battery supply goes, Tesla has just inked a huge deal with Panasonic to supply batteries for the coming years. Tesla has been supply-limited in recent months primarily due to lack of battery supply, but there’s no reason that can’t ramp up — it’s just a matter of new market growing pains.

As far as cost, it looks at this point like getting battery costs down enough to create a long-range EV that costs half the price of the Model S could be tough, but that’s only if you aren’t paying attention to how fast battery costs are dropping. I’m not saying it doesn’t make a lot of us a little nervous still, but based on numerous projections, battery costs should drop enough by 2017 that Tesla will be able to deliver the affordable, long-range Tesla it promises.

But yes, the next big test for Tesla is likely that “Model E.” The Model X, at ~$75,000, looks more doable.

Oh, btw, here are the 24 “Other” responses [with some notes I’m adding in brackets]:

  • I’m struggling between 1 and 4, neither really fit my very narrow choice. Although the Model S is a stunning engineering achievement, where Tesla really pulled off an incredibile stunt is building the complete production line and ramping it up in a timeframe of about 1 year. Including the sorting out of a lot of supply chain issues (because at first they were not taken seriously if they ordered amount x of a certain part). All by themselves, out of nowhere, with hardly any experience. This is what really scares the crap out of existing car manufacturers, that spent many decades building up their production facilities and supply chains. All that experience turns out to be worthless against Tesla. From now on, all Tesla will do is more of the same: more production capacity, more R&D. [Yes, this was the big challenge in my opinion — in my thinking, this was all included in #2, but I guess it could be seen as a different answer, or part of #1 of course.]
  • getting charging/battery swap stations rolled out [Yeah, not sure why I didn’t have this as an option.]
  • Rolling out more Superchargers across the USA. I live in DC with a model S and there aren’t enough superchargers to take the car on the road. In addition, the supercharger stations will need increased voltage to charge the cars faster, and more charging bays if they are going to meet demand from the growing number of Model S, X and upcoming lower priced cars. [Again, not sure why I didn’t have this as an option.]
  • getting enough batteries to meet car demand. [That’s basically what I meant by #5 — Getting Tesla Model S production up to demand. — since batteries are the main bottleneck. But I guess that wasn’t clear, and could legitimately be viewed separately.]
  • Having enough charging stations across the country to make buying a Tesla a smart choice.
  • Battery production capacity
  • utility companies
  • realizing their business is not EV’s but build to order more appealing autos. To survive they need to realize build to order model is their competitive strength and insert more product. EVs for mass market still 10 year away. If not bye bye Tesla in 2 years
  • Fighting the backlash from the gas car manufacturers and the oil companies. We have seen how the Kock brothers have funded climate change denial to the tune of a billion dollars a year, wait till they see electric cars as a real threat.
  • All the above [Indeed :D]
  • Making enough batteries
  • Very fast charging EV, on the order of 5 minutes. Perhaps a super-capacitor/battery hybrid?
  • Making more of the population aware of EVs and their benefits & fighting entrenched establishments because they do not want Tesla to succeed. Tesla’s success means the start of the end of the dirty & inefficient Internal Combustion Engine.
  • Scale in a capital intensive business. Tesla’s product targets 1/10000 of the car market Honda produces 20000 cars in roughly 15 days (single plant) All plants one or two days
  • Getting enough supply of batteries for the cars
  • I suppose this would kind of go along with your first selection in the poll, but more specifically, the biggest hurdle would be acquiring enough lithium-ion battery cells to produce the estimated 500,000 “Model Es” slated to arrive in late 2016 or early 2017. Tesla just signed a new contract with its current supplier (Panasonic) to purchase cells in 2014 at nearly 10 times the rate during 2013. This will supply the needs of the 2014 Model S and 2014 Model X. There is rumor that Tesla may turn to Samsung to also make cells, but the needs for the Model E will FAR surpass the production capabilities of both these companies! So, there is a rumor that Tesla may build its own “Giga factory” right here in the US that will produce more lithium-ion cells per year than all other factories combined. I believe that battery cell production is ultimately their biggest challenge.
  • Increasing battery capacity…
  • Bringing an affordable, about $25K without tax incentives, long range (200 miles), EV to the masses. Only then will the EV create a real world impact.
  • Growing into a major size car company.
  • Batteries
  • Keeping up with demand after 2015
  • I really like Tesla to enter the Tour de France with a team. It will be world wide exposure to Tesla EV cars following the tour over the Alps and Pyrenees and around France. Vacansoleil team is available. go for it Tesla.
  • Supplying enough batteries from its new batteries factory to meet demand from its own cars, from SolarCity and from its third party clients
  • Make sure all owner can charge their Tesla, also those who can’t charge at home (no carport, no garage, rarely free parking place near to home) and can’t charge at work (because using public transport).

Well, it looks like I really should have included a battery supply option as its own option. Personally, I was thinking of that as part of #2 (bringing Model S to market), #3 (brining Model E to market), #4 (supplying enough Model E to meet demand), #5 (getting Model S production up to demand), and #6 (bringing the Model X to market by the end of 2014) — basically seeing the battery supply issue as different at each step of the journey. Getting enough batteries for the Model S is different from getting enough batteries for the Model E. But, yeah, I guess that could have been broken out as its own generic option.

Thanks for the great discussion, and to everyone who took the time to answer the poll! If you didn’t answer the poll but would like to, go chime in! I will likely refer back to it in future posts.

And let’s carry on the conversation in the comments below!

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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5 thoughts on “Tesla’s Biggest Challenge (CleanTechnica Poll Results)

  • One of the “other” comments was very interesting: “they need to realize build to order model is their competitive strength”
    As the first car company that’s free of a dealer network, Tesla is in a position to enable increasingly sophisticated on-line configuration options. By introducing more configuration parameters and customization points into their designs and assembly line, Tesla could address most of the vehicle market with just two or three “models”, essentially allowing customers to design their own car by tweaking parameters on a common platform.
    E.g. a customer interested in off-roading might de-select extra-weight items like power windows while dialling up frame stiffness and opting for a higher-density (and higher cost) battery pack. Or a delivery company might swap out the rear seats, doors and windows to achieve more storage area, then save their design and order a few units at a time as the company grows. The point is that once the parameterizable platform has been launched, the whole idea of car models becomes obsolete. With automated manufacturing, the cost of building a complex product in quantity 1 approaches the cost of building it in quantity 1 million.

    • Having a “skateboard” chassis and variable suspension could easily parlay into a truly modular vehicle lineup.

  • I’m concerned about how Tesla will compete with the big boys once they move into EV’s full force. I seriously doubt Tesla will really be able to compete on price in the economy car class. The auto giants are already getting their feet wet with EV’s and they are in a much better position to exploit increased demand for inexpensive EV’s than Tesla will be.

    I love Tesla as the company that is making EV’s sexy, but I think they will always be a luxury car company, whose cheapest competitive models will be in the $50,000 range. They just don’t have the scale to go cheaper.

    • Tesla has the advantage of being free of baggage. They’ve got no heritage factories or pensions to support.

      Tesla can just find a big empty building, order up some more robots, train some workers and they’ve got a new assembly line up and running.

      I’ve got no way to predict that they will end up being a major car company, but I can’t see any reason that they wouldn’t. If they can figure out how to bring battery prices down faster than the competition then they can stay ahead of the pack.

  • I liked how one of my favorites showed up several times….Batteries.
    I know there is all kinds of work going on for advanced storage, but the simplest thing is to just make the existing tech cheaper….and I don’t mean by the meager 7 percent a year stuff…come on, at least get to 25 percent a year….
    This is nothing new required stuff. Just build the plants….

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