7 Things Tesla Couldn’t Do

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One year ago this week, I published a story about 8 “impossible” goals that Tesla had achieved. The idea actually stemmed from a simple joke I sent Elon Musk. I thought that was so funny (the joke somewhat, sending it to Elon Musk more so) that it inspired a full article. In fact, it and a few other pieces inspired a whole “Tesla flashbacks” series. The fact is, on any given day, there are various “concerns” about Tesla’s future from Tesla short sellers and other people who benefit if Tesla fails, but when you look back on those after a year or more, it’s clear they were typically nonsense that didn’t warrant a minute of anyone’s time.

Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that Tesla has achieved some very unexpected successes. One of my favorite songs of all time is “The Impossible Dream” as sung by Roberta Flack. While the dream alluded to in that song is a different one, it does make me think of Tesla. The company surviving long enough to build a car was an early “impossible dream” come true, but the dreams didn’t end there. By the time the first Roadster rolled off the line, Tesla had much bigger plans in store. They were so ambitious they were laughable. For sure, Tesla couldn’t achieve them.

1. Produce the Model S before the end of 2012. A certain automotive journalist (who is now super bullish on Tesla) bet Elon Musk in 2009 that Tesla couldn’t roll a production Model S off the line before the end of 2012.

Whoops. I’m not going to pick on this journalist, since it was widely accepted back then that Tesla couldn’t achieve that. The journalist was the norm rather than the exception, and Elon seemed to be facing impossible odds. However, as we should all know by now, Elon won the bet, the Model S started making it into customer hands in the middle of 2012. (Elon donated $1 million to charity anyway, which is what he promised to do if he lost the bet.) No doubt, though, the task couldn’t have been easy, as no automaker to date has produced an electric car that fully competes with the Model S of 2012.

2. Sell more than a few thousand Model S sedans in the USA. Aside from being skeptical that Tesla could even produce a single Model S, it was conventional wisdom in the auto industry that there was no way in Dante’s inferno that more than a few thousand people a year would buy a Tesla Model S. Summarizing the intelligent skepticism, widely respected analysis firm IHS stated:

“It’s possible to sell a few thousand of anything in this country, on novelty value alone. IHS Automotive forecasts that if Tesla can get the car to market, it will likely sell at least a few thousand.

“But the idea that Tesla could sell tens of thousands of Model S sedans in the U.S. is folly. The most popular vehicles in that segment only sell a few tens of thousands themselves, with some models–Audi A6, Jaguar XF, Lexus GS–well below 10,000 sales a year.”

Whoops. As it turned out, Tesla had no trouble selling tens of thousands of Model S sedans a year, crushing its competitors in the large luxury car market. For example, in 2018, the Tesla Model S accounted for approximately 37% of large luxury car sales.

3. 48% CAGR from 2013 to 2020. Tesla had bold dreams back in 2011, 2012, 2013. Well, bold was one way to define them — completely unrealistic was another. With the Tesla [TSLA] share price sitting at $121, Bank Of America’s analysis team for Tesla had a price target of $39 on the stock. The idea that Tesla could meet its growth goals was just absolutely absurd. The company summarized, “we estimate that a $120 share price implies over 321K vehicle sales in 2020, which is a full 300K units higher than our current 2013e and would represent a 7-year CAGR of 48%.” Bank of America didn’t consider that realistic in the least, hence the $39 stock price target.

A consistent Tesla critic on Business Insider added some fuel to the burning critique: “A 48% growth rate has never been achieved by any other auto manufacturer ever.” (Hasn’t been done = can’t be done. That’s what the non-dreamers teach you.)

Whoops. Not only has Tesla crushed that 7-year growth forecast, but Bank of America’s $39 TSLA price target was woefully off. Not to worry, though, Bank of America has a new depressingly pessimistic forecast for Tesla. After all, one of these years, Tesla sales will have to collapse. (Won’t they?)

4. Have a Tesla Model S automagically change lanes at the touch of a turn signal (in 2015). It may seem like a simple, mundane feature for a Tesla now — the car being able to change lanes smoothly on its own — but back in 2014, it was widely considered impossible. Okay, maybe cars would be able to do that in the 2020, but certainly not before then. One prominent auto journalist was so confident in the conventional wisdom that, in 2014, he wrote, “If that Autopilot changes lanes automatically at the touch of a blinker stalk by, say, one year from now … I will publicly eat a Tesla baseball hat on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.” Good thing he and others knew all about Tesla’s limits and the fact that this was definitely not going to happen. Otherwise, he’d have to gobble up a disgusting, dry baseball hat.

Whoops. In October 2014, Tesla had a big public event where journalists, early Model S owners, and other Tesla guests got to experience the first version of Tesla Autopilot. The cars could indeed change lanes with owners only having to put on the turn signal. Shockingly, the critic noted above did not eat a hat, Tesla branded or otherwise.

I’m sure he didn’t have much faith in Tesla rolling out Smart Summon either, but at least this time he didn’t make any bets in which eating a hat was on the table.

5. Mass produce the Tesla Model X. One of the most famous “impossible dreams” of Elon Musk and Tesla was the dream of mass producing the Tesla Model X, falcon-wing doors and all, which everyone knows is just a technical impossibility. Again, it’s not necessary to single out one critic here since this was a broadly assumed fact back in early 2016 and beforehand, but it is probably true that Bob Lutz had the most prominent and straightforward expert commentary on this vehicle. “The Model X appears to be unbuildable with those automatic gull-wing doors, which everyone in the industry always said were not going to work,” he noted. Indeed, everyone in the industry knew it. They knew it was either an unrealistic dream, a total con, or something in between.

Whoops. Perhaps if the critics knew the difference between gull-wing doors and falcon-wing doors they would have gotten this one right. Alas, their claims that Tesla could never mass produce the Model X proved unwise and inaccurate. Tesla produces tens of thousands of these SUVs a year.

6. Reach high-volume production of the Tesla Model 3. The Model S and Model X weren’t the only vehicles Tesla couldn’t produce, though. The somewhat affordable Model 3 was also on the list. Tesla had produced tens of thousands of Model S and X vehicles, but there was no way the company could ever produce hundreds of thousands of Model 3s a year. Everyone knew that. That goal was simply insane. Alongside that insanity was the fraudulent idea that Tesla could sell a Model 3 for under $40,000. Haha, what a joke of a promise.

Whoops. It turns out Tesla could mass produce the Tesla Model 3, and could offer a sub-$40,000 Model 3 to the middle-income buyers looking for such a car.

7. Tesla Gigafactory 3. Pfff — you’re kidding. Tesla’s statements about so quickly building a gigafactory in China had to be fraud, lies, smoke & mirrors, and unicorn flatulence. There was no chance Tesla was going to hit its targets. The stated timeline and forecasts were so demonstrably false that they must have been criminal. Plus, Tesla would crash and burn, probably filing for bankwuptcy, before a single car produced in China could roll out to customers.

Whoops. Not only did Gigafactory 3 get built at a shockingly rapid pace, but it also showed that Tesla critics getting the story wrong again and again don’t have a problem doubling down and increasing their skepticism in the face of real facts.


Bummer. Maybe next time.

Got any more impossible goals Tesla couldn’t achieve? Any more ideas for things our Tesla vehicles can’t do?

If you’d like to buy a Tesla Model 3 and want 1,000 miles of free Supercharging, feel free to use my referral code: https://ts.la/zachary63404 — or use someone else’s if you have a friend or family member with a Tesla. I won’t cry.

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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.

Zachary Shahan has 7295 posts and counting. See all posts by Zachary Shahan