The Tesla story is fascinating. Whether you love the company or hate it, it is easy to get pulled into the story like you’re pulled into a good movie. This is surely one reason so many people so obsessively check for Tesla news and op-eds every day.
Another reason is that Tesla’s vehicles are freakin’ wicked — in a class of their own. But I’ll come back to that in a minute.
People sometimes think or try to claim Tesla is all about hype. If Elon Musk wasn’t such a good hype man, Tesla would be nothing — so the critique goes. I think there is an element of truth in there. That element is that Elon Musk is a wonderful entertainer and storyteller. He’s freakin’ funny, and adorably candid, open, and stimulating.
As a sociologist by training, I do find this whole aspect of the Tesla story fascinating. No doubt about it, Tesla wouldn’t have sold as many cars as it has without that secret sauce. And the social movement aspect of Tesla, and Elon Musk’s whole life, could be the subject of a long book. Further, that element is often present with big tech shifts — look at Apple and Steve Jobs, or … hmm, maybe it’s not actually that common.
At the end of the story, the catalyst for a big tech shift is often the technology itself. You are probably reading this on a tiny, powerful computer called a “phone” because the technologies inside of it were developed consistently over the course of decades and became more and more accessible for normal people — all while doing more and more advanced tasks. The technology was ripe and some smart people took advantage of that.
Tesla is a great success because it came into the electric vehicle market at just the right time, further helped to drive down the costs of the hearts and brains of the machines — the batteries and the computers — and had the vision to pull all of the components together to make one sexy ass car, and then another, and another, and another. Tesla has been leading on electric vehicle battery development, motor development, inverter development, autonomous driving tech, computer hardware, computer software, seat production (exclusive story coming), and the overall package for years. Even looking at one of those matters in isolation, it can seem as though Tesla is years ahead of the competition in the EV world. Looking at them all together, it’s just hard to find the company that is closest behind Tesla in this marathon.
Before you think I’ve just gotten lost in a Tesla vortex of hype, though, consider what this leadership has translated into lately. Tesla has been absolutely dominating electric vehicle markets. It is also essentially the only automaker that has an electric vehicle on the market that is demonstrably competitive with top selling gas cars. As I pointed out a few days ago, the Tesla Model 3 was the top selling car (of any type) in the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland last month. Furthermore:
It was the #1 luxury car in the USA in Q1 2019, the #1 small or midsize luxury car in 2018, the #1 electric vehicle in the USA in Q1 2019 and all of 2018, the #1 top selling car in California in the second half of 2018, the 11th best selling car in the USA in 2018 and the 13th best selling car in Q1 2019, the #1 best selling car in the US in terms of revenue in Q4 2018, the #1 best selling car from an American car company in the second half of 2018, and together with the Model S accounted for 20% of US luxury car sales in 2018.
The Model 3 is the breakthrough car many of us thought it would be — but it’s still a bit shocking to witness these successes. The important thing, though, is that this market isn’t standing still. And Tesla, in particular, is a restless animal. With that in mind, what’s around the corner?
The question I’ve been struggling with for months is the question of consumer awareness.
The thing is, the Model 3 is much better than a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class, and is cost competitive with a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, but is invisible to many people or seen as something completely different from what it is (seen as too expensive, unsafe, complicated to drive, etc.). How long will it take for the next wave of technology adopters on the disruptive technology S-curve to find out about the Model 3 and its benefits — and then buy the car?
Also, while the Model 3 wallops the car competition, many buyers simply want a crossover, SUV, or pickup truck. It will take time to get models to market that are competitive in those classes in the same way the Model 3 is competitive in the sedan class.
To have a little fun and to have something to check on later to see how crazy I am, I decided to come up with a forecast on some major Tesla milestones. I have a feeling this is not a smart thing to do, but I’m going to do it anyway. Here’s my wild ass guess at how it’s gonna go down with Tesla:
- In 2018, Tesla Model 3 becomes one of the 5 best selling cars in the USA in the second half of the year and the 11th best selling car for the full year. (Easy one.)
- In second half of 2018, Tesla Model 3 becomes best selling vehicle in California. (Another easy one.)
- In 2019, Tesla Model 3 becomes best selling luxury vehicle (all classes) in USA. (Okay, the last “easy” one.)
- In 2019, Tesla Model 3 becomes best selling vehicle in Norway.
- In 2019, Tesla Model 3 is again one of the 15 best selling cars in the USA, and the best selling luxury car.
- In 2020, Tesla Model 3 reaches 500,000 sales in a year.
- In 2020, Tesla Model 3 is one of the 5 best selling cars in the USA.
- In 2021, Tesla Model Y is one of the 10 best selling vehicles in USA and Model is again one of the 10 best selling vehicles.
- In 2022, Tesla reaches 1 million vehicle sales in a year. (This is slightly behind Elon Musk’s forecast of 1.1 million sales in 2021.)
- In 2022, Tesla Model 3 is best selling car in USA.
- In 2022, Tesla Model Y is best selling crossover in USA.
- In 2022, Tesla Model 3 and Model Y are again two of the 10 best selling vehicles in USA.
- In 2023, Tesla reaches 2–3 million vehicle sales in a year.
- In 2023, Tesla Model 3 is again best selling car in USA and Model Y is one of the 5 best selling vehicles in USA.
- In 2024, Tesla becomes one of the world’s 10 largest automakers in terms of volume, sells between 4 and 5 million vehicles.
- In 2024, Tesla Model 3 and Model Y are two of the world’s 15 best selling vehicles.
- In 2025, Tesla is one of the world’s 5 best selling automakers.
What are your thoughts? Where do you think I’m crazy? Where do you think I’m spot on?
Note: Some of these forecasts could get screwed up if certain Chinese automakers blow up in size and their hottest models take control of global sales charts.
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