Tesla 2019 Highlights & Lowlights — Electric Vehicles

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The Tesla 2019 annual report hasn’t been filed yet, but already Tesla fans and skeptics have drawn conclusions about the merits of the combined EV–clean energy–battery storage company and its Big Picture over the past year. Let’s step back and take a look at what’s happened this year at Tesla and what those events might portend for 2020.

Teslas EVs are so exciting, so let’s start there as we look back at the company in 2019.

Tesla reported record vehicle deliveries in the third quarter (Q3) of 2019, putting the electric-car maker within reach of its goal for the year. The company said it delivered 97,000 new cars in the third quarter, which was nearly a 2% increase over Q2. Production rose to 96,155 cars, a 10% upward movement, and a growing backlog of orders made the Q4 picture look quite rosy.

The Tesla Model 3 in 2019

The big news from early 2019 was the availability of the Model 3 Standard, with 220 miles of range, a top speed of 130 mph, and 0–60 mph acceleration of 5.6 seconds. At $35,000, the standard Model 3 hit the company years-long target of offering a $35,000 car, yet was still able to meet the same 5-star safety rating as the longer-ranged version and provides most of the benefits of any Tesla. The company also introduced the Model 3 Standard Range Plus, which offers 240 miles of range, a top speed of 140 mph, 0–60 mph acceleration of just 5.3 seconds, and most premium interior features. At $39,990 before incentives, a buyer gets 20 more miles range, more power, and an upgraded interior (the “Partial Premium Interior”).

USA Today said, “the all-electric Tesla Model 3 drives likes a sports sedan and boasts cutting-edge technology,” and proclaimed it was right at “the top of our luxury hybrid and electric car rankings.” Squeezing it into just the hybrid and electric world, though, doesn’t do it justice. MotorTrend guest judge Chris Theodore declared, “it’s the best sport sedan on the market,” after he drove the Model 3 Standard Range Plus.

Photo by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica

With its low price, low operational costs, and expected low depreciation, the Model 3 is in many cases cost-competitive with lower-end gasoline cars like the top selling Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, and perhaps even the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.

The rave ratings, low cost of ownership, and unique features of a Tesla combined to make the Model 3 the top selling luxury vehicle in the United States, by far. It did even better, relatively speaking, in some overseas markets. In the Netherlands, its 2019 sales will be approximately double the 2019 sales of the second best selling vehicle on the market, the Volkswagen Polo. It may be the best selling vehicle of the year in Norway as well. However, deliveries to the Netherlands have been prioritized in Europe, so customers in other markets have been waiting longer to get their cars.

Tesla 2019 — Factory Opens in Shanghai

Tesla’s Gigafactory in Shanghai is already rolling out Model 3’s, and after choosing a location the company is planning to start construction on its next Gigafactory in Europe in 2020. It took Tesla just 168 working days to go from permits to a finished Shanghai plant, an astounding feat in the eyes of both fans and critics.

Tesla broke ground on the Shanghai Gigafactory in January, and chief executive Elon Musk has said the facility will be capable of producing as many at 500,000 cars a year in time. The company rationalizes that, by building and selling cars directly in China, it will be able to get its vehicles to customers faster and cheaper than by importing the cars directly from the US. Possibly most importantly, Tesla will avoid tariffs imposed on cars made in the US and shipped over to China.

Tesla Cybertruck Unveiled — Dismay & Delight

Any retrospective of Tesla 2019 would be remiss not to mention the unveiling of the Tesla Cybertruck. The (ahem) unusual styling was the topic of many critiques, even though Musk had forewarned that the Cybertruck would not look like a normal truck. “It’s going to look pretty sci-fi, it’s not going to be for everyone,” he had stated on the podcast Ride the Lightning.

Sci-fi design didn’t interest some truck dieharders whose daily ride is a pickup truck. Others felt that the features truck buyers want weren’t included in the Cybertruck options. Would the bed in a traditional truck be easier to load than the Cybertruck design? Others were concerned that it would be too difficult to mass produce stainless steel for the anticipated exoskeleton.

However, the company pulled in more than 250,000 preorders quite quickly, there’s an enormous amount of positive passion about the Cybertruck, and many traditional truck owners have stated this beats any truck they’ve ever owned.

The truck’s dimensions are comparable to other full-size trucks on sale today, but the “tough,” stainless steel, semi-bulletproof design for many makes traditional pickup trucks all of a sudden look less “macho.” For others, the unique benefits of a Tesla combined with new features specifically for the Cybertruck make it the most compelling vehicle coming to market in the next few years. Some in the mainstream media questioned whether it would be aerodynamically efficient, while acknowledging that Tesla would probably be able to employ its formidable “magic” and “usual tricks” to pull off what might to others be nearly impossible.

Tesla Cybertruck reveal

Tesla Cybertruck reveal
Photos by Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

The most surprising thing to some close followers of the company wasn’t the design, though, it was the extremely low prices shown at the unveil. The prices for what you get from the vehicle and especially the range don’t seem to match up with current battery prices and technology, so there’s speculation Tesla will reveal some battery breakthroughs or at least notable advancements in 2020.

Already working its way into pop culture, there’s a proposed LEGO Cybertruck and the vehicle was just featured in a rap video (after also getting a nod of approval from LL Cool J).

Model Y Announced

The Cybertruck reveal generated so much attention and was so recent that many forgot another major Tesla model reveal occurred this year. In March, Tesla introduced the Model Y Long Range RWD, which will accelerate from 0–60 mph in 5.5 seconds, according to Tesla. With a starting cash price of $47,000 (before incentives and estimated fuel savings), it should easily be the quickest crossover or SUV under $50,000, and also the safest.

With shipping dates anywhere from early 2020 (based on rumors of accelerated production and early distribution) to, as the Tesla website says, Q1 2021, the Model Y is probably the most anticipated electric vehicle — or vehicle of any kind — of the coming year or so.

The Model Y is also coined as a vehicle that combines safety and acceleration — unusual in the car industry. Our own Zachary Shahan calls it “the most efficient crossover on the market, the best crossover for road trips, the best crossover for passengers, the most autonomous consumer crossover, and the crossover with the most Easter eggs.” The process behind the scenes to bring the Model Y to the European market will be interesting to watch…

Tesla Insurance Begins in California

In August, Tesla launched competitively priced insurance offerings so that many California Tesla owners could achieve 20–30% reductions on their car insurance rates. Initially, errors in the algorithm used to price policies for some customers had resulted in higher insurance rates, but that problem was fixed.

Tesla is reportedly not drawing on individual driver data to set custom car insurance prices, as that’s not legal.

The policy management and claims process is handled through Tesla Insurance, while State National Insurance is the underwriter. Underwriters take on the financial risk of the policies. Eventually, it is understood that Tesla Insurance will become a full-service insurance carrier, meaning it will underwrite its own policies. The entry into auto insurance is another feature of Tesla’s unique stance working directly with its consumer base and declining to rely on intermediaries along the route from production to consumption.

The comprehensive coverage and claims management is supposed to expand from Tesla’s largest car market in California to additional US states in the near future. Exactly when that opportunity will occur is uncertain.

Additional Range for the Model S & X

Tesla made changes to the Model S and Model X that allowed them to travel longer distances without needing to recharge. The update exceeded the company’s own record for the longest-range production EVs on the road. What seems remarkable is that Tesla accomplished this without increasing the cars’ battery size, drawing upon internal expertise in system-level design to increase efficiency.

The new drivetrain design for the Model S and Model X increases each vehicle’s range, achieving 370 miles and 325 miles on the EPA cycle for Model S and Model X Long Range, respectively. The company claims that, using the same 100 kWh battery pack, these design and architecture updates allow drivers to travel farther than ever before, charging less frequently and getting more range out of every dollar spent on charging.

Tesla Sales Will Be Only Online — Not

To achieve targeted vehicle prices while remaining financially sustainable, Tesla announced it would be shifting sales worldwide to online only. Furthermore, many or even most of the company’s stores and galleries would be closed. Yet, when this article was getting ready to go to print, the Tesla website listed several dozen brick-and-mortar stores.

At the time of the announcement, periodicals reacted to the Tesla announcement to withdraw from physical stores variously as “risky” (CNN Business) and a “sign of turmoil” (New York Times). Even many Tesla fans freaked out, not to mention staff at stores around the world.

Fairly quickly after the initial announcement, though, Tesla acknowledged that it had been “closely evaluating every single Tesla retail location” and had decided to keep many more stores open than previously announced. The company maintained that it would continue to evaluate financial profitability over the course of subsequent months and the usefulness of individual stores.

Tesla Infotainment & Autonomy

In the second half of 2019, Tesla implemented something owners have long wanted and long expected — the ability to watch Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu in the car. The company also introduced Caraoke, more music streaming options (including long-requested Spotify in the US), and numerous games. In other words, a Tesla is now like a second living room.

It also introduced Sentry Mode to help owners catch thieves, vandals, and cute videos of passersby.

On the autonomous driving front, Tesla repeatedly improved the capabilities and visualizations of Tesla Autopilot (especially the land change feature and Navigate on Autopilot) and rolled out Smart Summon, which allows Tesla owners to summon their car to themselves from across a parking lot.

Final Thoughts for All-Electric Tesla 2019

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has not let any challenges dampen his conviction that his company will beat the odds. Revenues, efficiency, and profits are likely to increase substantially for Tesla, Inc. in future years (and I presume the company’s share price, but don’t take this as investment advice). Optimism reigns not only for the company’s all-electric vehicle line. Tesla’s ability to convert sunlight into clean energy with solar panels on an existing roof, or power an entire village, or offer grid alternatives to utilities, is more than big news — it’s the underreported linchpin of the company’s fiscal future.

In the next segment of this “Tesla 2019 Highlights & Lowlights” series, we’ll turn to Tesla energy products and look at progress and hindrances that add up to the full picture of Tesla, Inc.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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