You know what they say — “As long as there’s been Tesla, there’ve been Tesla killers.”
Well, no, not really. But it seems that way. That has certainly been a popular talking point for several years.
The popular anti-TSLA meme on Wall Street and in the financial press these week is a revival of this time-honored nonsense. Yep, with nothing much else to use, Goldman Sachs and various minions are trying to spook people with the fear that some big automakers are going to finally come and steal Tesla’s lunch money. Perfect timing, with announcements around the Mercedes EQC and Audi e-tron. Was it on the Goldman Sachs calendar?
I’ve actually been planning to write this article for weeks, and it was a bit of serendipitous timing that the draft was open during a week when it came back into such full force. This time it is more notable than normal since a major financial firm is pushing it, not just some click-seeking headline writers. But the Tesla killer theory is especially embarrassing when it comes from “very serious and smart people.”
The thing is, there are a few major flaws in this theory. One is that you have to have a lot of batteries to sell a lot of electric cars. Unless the threatening automakers have super stealthy gigantic battery supplies ramping up, they aren’t going to produce millions of electric cars per year anytime soon. Another point is that compelling new electric cars from major automakers are more likely to grow the EV pie than steal many sales from Tesla. The rising awareness around electric options is going to pull more buyers over from the gasmobile world, give consumers more confidence in electric transport, and also notify more of the people who don’t follow Tesla forums and CleanTechnica that Tesla exists. Third, Tesla’s cars are better. Remember, Tesla leads on software, batteries, high-performance electric drivetrains, and superfast charging. Even if large automakers have potential, it would take years for them to catch up in all of these arenas.
With any of these new “Tesla killers” (which is, notably, a name given by the media and analysts, not the automakers), there are a few questions to ask:
- How much annual battery production capacity do you have secured for this vehicle?
- What’s the cost?
- Will it be capable of superfast charging on a widespread, convenient, practical superfast charging network?
- Will it include Atari games?
To celebrate the nonsense of this week’s “TSLAQ” talking point, here’s a look back at Tesla killer claims from years prior:
The car Tesla needed to watch out for in 2013? The Cadillac ELR. I drove the ELR — it’s actually a wonderful car. But it ain’t no Tesla. How many ELRs is Cadillac selling these days? Oh yeah, zero. How many Tesla electric cars? Seems to be somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000.
A year later, reporters had moved on from the Cadillac ELR. The big boys coming into town to squash Tesla shifted to Audi and BMW. More specifically, it was the Audi A8 and some “BMW Power eDrive prototype.” You may recognize the author name on the first one. That is one of the most vocal Tesla shorts on Seeking Alpha. He’s been short a long time. I have to wonder how much money he has indirectly transferred to Tesla longs. I hear he’s a super rich guy, so I’m going to guess it’s not a little. In the case of the second “Tesla killer,” well, I don’t have any clue what happened to this prototype, but my guess is that the drivetrain is what’s used in BMW’s rather low-selling plug-in hybrid iPerformance models.
Of course, the Audi A8 is nowhere to be seen, and it definitely is no Tesla killer. I’m going to count both of these as strikes. But 3 strikes doesn’t mean the Tesla killer game is over. It just means it’s someone else’s turn up to bat.
In 2015, the Tesla killer team stuck with Audi and dropped BMW in exchange for Porsche. The cars claimed to be Tesla killers three years ago are finally on the verge of coming to market. They are really no more Tesla killers now than they were in 2015 and I don’t think Elon Musk’s knees are shaking, but at least they’re real live cars!
2016 surely showed some relief from the Tesla killer meme, right? not so much. In 2016, the focus shifted to the Chevy Bolt and upstart Faraday Future. I think we know how those turned out, right? Faraday Future seemed to die but recently resurfaced from the ashes (hopefully it gets a car to market someday), and the Chevy Bolt sells in embarrassingly small numbers. It seems the only notable figure who nailed the Bolt’s eventual production numbers way back then was Elon Musk.
Who came along in 2017 to finally kill Tesla?
This time, it was Lucid Motors and its Lucid Air. We loved our time in the car and hope it comes to market, but it’s nowhere close to being a Tesla killer and Tesla will likely be selling millions of cars a year by the time the Air gets to a few thousand.
But I’m closing with my favorite. Bloomberg’s take last year was that the elusive Tesla killer wasn’t a car at all. Seriously.
The message seems to be clear: When life gives you lemons, squash them into your face and make sure the juice stings your eyes.
In the end, still no Tesla killer. Maybe this time around?
Note: We’ve counted 55 Tesla headlines so far this week in major media outlets. 36 of them have implied something negative about Tesla. 10 of them have implied something positive about Tesla. We will publish a weekly report on this research starting on Saturday, September 8.
This is part of our “Morning Monkey Business” series.