Published on June 6th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


When Will Automakers Take Tesla Seriously?

June 6th, 2014 by  


Tesla Motors is the first new, successful American automaker in decades, and not since the Kaiser-Frazer Motor Company has a new car company had such success. But to exceed Kaiser, and take its place among the pantheon of American automakers, Tesla must sell at least 6 million vehicles. That’s a tall order to be sure.

Why 6 million? According to Green Car Reports, that’s equivalent number of cars that Kaiser-Frazer (which later became just Kaiser Motors) sold during its 9-year run in the 1940s and 1950s, when the market for new cars was much smaller than it is today. So can Musk do it, and make history?

We don’t see why not, though the comparison has its faults.

First a quick history lesson. Founded in 1945, just months after the defeat of the Axis powers of World War II, Henry J. Kaiser and Joseph Frazer debuted the first post-war prototypes in 1946, with the Kiaser model being down-market and front-wheel drive, while the Frazer was more luxury-oriented and rear-wheel drive. From 1946 to 1955, Kaiser-Frazer sold approximately 750,000 vehicles, including a number of Jeeps, which Frazer acquired in 1953 as part of the Willys-Overland deal. In 1955, Kaiser abandoned the car market entirely and focused on Jeeps and trucks, forming the Kaiser Jeep Corporation, which carried on until being bought by AMC in 1970.

Back in the 1950s, the market for car sales annually was just 9 to 10 million units a year, compared to over 80 million a year now. So to beat out Kaiser, Musk has to sell approximately 6 million Tesla vehicles. If you want to get technical, he has to do it by 2021, as Kaiser sold three-quarters of a million vehicles in just nine years. So far, Tesla has sold about 25,000 Model S sedans, and only about 2,300 Roadsters. In other words, they’ve got a long way to go to meet this arbitrary milestone.

If you ask us though, Elon Musk makes history once he crosses the one-million car mark. A car company that sells a million pure-electric vehicles, with no gas-powered cars in its lineup at all? It’s amazing Musk and Tesla have made it this far, and the day when the millionth Tesla is built isn’t that far out. But even by Tesla’s own projections, the company will probably have only sold about 300,000 units by the end of Musk’s reign 4 to 5 years from now, way behind Kaiser’s pace of production. We’re on the first steps to the road to one-million Teslas, and we’ll get to six million too…but almost certainly not in the same time it took Kaiser to get to 750,000 units.

It’s not really fair to compare to the two companies though, when you think about it. Despite selling 750,000 units in just 9 years, Kaiser got out of the car business, and their cars weren’t exactly innovative. Kaiser didn’t shove the industry forward or do what other people said couldn’t be done. Some have compared Elon Musk to Preston Tucker, who’s innovative (although not really) Tucker Torpedo is said to have scared the auto industry so much, they actively sabotaged his company before it got rolling. But Tucker wasn’t the businessman Musk is,

No, Elon Musk and Tesla Motors are in a category of their own, and any comparison is ultimately going to fall short. It is one thing to have a great idea with world-changing potential, but it’s another thing entirely to sell the hell out of that technology.

Want to compare Elon Musk to somebody? Compare him to Henry Ford. In my opinion, that’s the last guy to change the world with an automobile, and Musk is the first man in more than a century with a chance to change it again.

Source: Green Car Reports

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • S.Nkm

    It doesn’t matter. If they don’t evolve fast enough, they’ll disappear, rightfully replaced by Tesla-like tech companies.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    Predictions: when will the market capitalization of Tesla exceed GM or Ford?

  • Guest

    All Kaisers were rear-wheel drive. The front-drive design was jettisoned in the testing stage before production commenced.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Oh please don’t compare him to Henry Ford. If time travel is ever invented I’m taking out Henry Ford insurance to compensate me if should I ever have the misfortune of meeting him.

  • spec9

    Oh, I think they already are. But so far, their efforts to compete have fallen flat. However, it takes a while to design a new cars so any serious efforts to take on the Model S have not yet been publicly disclosed. There may be some serious competition in the pipeline.

    • KIA is proud of their new Soul EV! Let’s see how fast they can bring it on in a Global Sales Market like they want to!

  • jburt56

    When electrics are 5% to 10% of the installed base and 20% of sales.

  • JamesWimberley

    “Back in the 1950s, the market for car sales annually was just 9 to 10 million units a year, compared to over 80 million a year now.” Epic fact-check fail. US car sales in 2012 were 7.2 million (link), fewer than in 1955. That makes sense: the market is saturated, and new cars are bought to replace ones taken out of service, or as second and third vehicles by a small well-off minority.
    Maybe the author is thinking of the world market?

  • Ahmet

    This comparison is irrational. You are saying that “if you want to impress HP, Dell etc. you have to sell 1 million pc to impress them because they sell 10 million in a year”. They are in same category. Apple did not have to sell 1 million Iphone to impress them because smartphone is a distruptive product. You only have to shine with your product not with the numbers. I think tesla has great product.

  • Adam Devereaux

    Tesla has accomplished a fundamental technology image overhaul in the market.

    It’s hard to compare them to any other automaker because you’re talking about a technology that can be very disruptive to the auto industry supply-chain, partners and profit centers. Dealers, auto repair shops, and oil industry for example.

    What they have already accomplished is to prove that an electric car can not only be competitive with gas cars but even superior in many ways and be extremely desirable to consumers.

    The mere presence of Tesla and their technology successfully delivered to the marketplace has changed the playing field. The end result being that they will not be the only car company with an affordable mid- range electric car in 2 years time.

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