Published on January 1st, 2020 | by Zachary Shahan0
Who Got The Tesla Story Right In The 2010s?
January 1st, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
There’s a bit of a problem in much of the media these days. There’s a broad assumption — from both media consumers and members of the media — that media outlets are always supposed to present “two sides of the story.” The problem doesn’t arise when there are indeed two legitimate sides to a discussion. It arises when one side is clearly right and the other one clearly wrong. To give equal weight to a correct argument and an incorrect argument and “leave readers to decide” is unhelpful, and can even be harmful for society.
It’s like publishing the viewpoint that it’s bad to get burnt and the viewpoint that being burnt by fire is actually fine and can make your skin stronger, and then leaving it up to readers to figure out what’s true. This sounds ridiculous since we all know you don’t want to get burnt, but this happens when it comes to other more complicated topics in real life (like climate change, political matters I’m not going to go into here, and other political matters I’m not going to go into here). The term for this problem, logically, is “false balance.”
Even worse than false balance, though, is if you give much more weight to the false arguments. Unfortunately, that’s also a thing. In fact, it’s a tactic that is always used when turning democracies into dictatorships — but, again, we’re not going to go there today. More or less, this is a problem we have probably incorporated into our own lives in various ways, somehow falling for and sticking to incorrect assumptions about a variety of topics, and maybe even spreading them to others. The challenge for any mere mortal comes when we are bombarded with false information over and over again. If you are told every single day by a source you trust that the sky is actually yellow, you may even end up believing that and questioning your own eyes. Much more subtle than that hard-to-believe example, we absorb information routinely from sources we trust that’s just plain false.
That leads us to Tesla. CleanTechnica gets a bit of shit for being “biased” when it comes to Tesla. We are certainly pro-cleantech (because it’s critical to the future of human society), and Tesla is a cleantech company, so we’d like to see it succeed. But it’s not helpful in any real sense to report misinformation or incomplete information to make Tesla look good if it’s not — the truth would come out anyway. It wouldn’t be helpful for us or others to be illogically biased, with regards to Tesla, Elon Musk, or anyone else. So, we do try to bias ourselves toward the truth, and toward providing the most complete context possible. Our genuine expectations for the future are built into stories in many cases, but we just try to make it clear when these expectations are built on certain assumptions or opinions. In the case of Tesla, the problem is that there’s just a ton of nonsense out there, so we regularly work to counter that nonsense in order to provide a more balanced view of the company for society.
It seems that every time I talk to a stranger about Tesla (that is, someone who didn’t come up to me with a smile on their face simply to talk about our Tesla Model 3), they bring up battery fires, Autopilot (often in a negative way), a supposed “druggie” CEO, or the possibility of the company going bankrupt — or some combination of those. The problem with those thoughts being so common are that gas cars are much more of a fire risk than Teslas, Autopilot improves human safety (and bird and animal safety for that matter), Elon Musk isn’t a druggie (as far as I can tell), and Tesla isn’t going bankrupt. Those are just the topics that have seeped through to the common man the most, though. There are countless individual stories misleading the public on Tesla. Being in the business we’re in, and Tesla being such a prominent cleantech company, we spend a lot of time trying to set the record straight and trying to put important news in better context — which I guess makes us look “biased.”
(By the way, if this site was called FireTechnica and there was a lot of misinformation in the media about whether fire is really a risk to humans, we’d spend a lot of time trying to explain to people that fire is harmful and that it’s sort of important to not start fires.)
Perhaps the best way to consider the topic is to look back in time and consider who got the story of what was to come more right in retrospect. Let’s roll through some Tesla history, consider how “balanced” coverage reported on that topic versus how we did so, and reflect on how things turned out. As a simple preview question, think about this: Would CleanTechnica coverage of Tesla this past decade have been more useful and accurate if we had routinely interviewed or quoted Tesla skeptics and critics?
Tesla Model S (2011–2013)
Expert after expert after expert, often referenced in other media outlets: Can’t be produced with the specs and price that Tesla indicates. Tesla doesn’t have the money or production capability to get this vehicle to market — it will go bankrupt trying to
get it to market mass produce it.
Demand is limited and will die off quickly, which means Tesla will go bankrupt. Who’s going to want a car with a giant touchscreen in the middle? Few consumers want an electric car. Plus, range anxiety.
Okay, it’s a cool and fun car getting a lot of great reviews and buyers love it, but demand is falling off now and Tesla is running out of money and is going to die. Fun time is over.
- Tesla Model S launch is indeed a make-or-break moment — let’s see what happens.
- The reason Tesla isn’t providing test drive cars to the media is not that the company’s about to flop, it’s just common sense in this case.
- Tesla Model S deliveries are starting early, a good sign for the company and an initial step towards the company’s long-term goal of providing affordable electric cars for the masses. (That one was actually my first article about Tesla.)
- Auto journalists love the Model S. Is it this century’s Ford Model T?
- Range anxiety stems from people (who don’t own EVs) not understanding how little they actually drive in a day.
- Tesla Model S owners show how easy it is to make the long-distance drive the New York Times screwed up. “From TIME to MIT Technology Review, writers with very large audiences are blowing the story.”
- Tesla expects a profitable Q1 2013.
- Tesla Model S sales exceed expectations, leading to a probable profit in Q1 2013.
- Tesla may pay back its US Department of Energy loan 5 years early. (It did so.)
- Tesla Model S is already outselling competitors in USA in 2013.
- Some owners have discovered clues about Tesla easter eggs.
- The Tesla Model S works fine in cold weather.
- The most “fuel efficient” cars in the USA are electric cars.
- Model S demand is not falling off a cliff.
- And, by the way, you can drive on sunshine.
Other media outlets: Range anxiety, range anxiety, range anxiety. Oh yeah, and range anxiety. Also, Tesla can’t afford to roll out a large network of high-power chargers. And once in a while one of the stories like the ones highlighted below.
- These are Tesla’s Supercharger plans — cool, no?
- Tesla Model S owners show how easy it is to make the long-distance drive the New York Times screwed up to test out Tesla’s initial Supercharger idea. “From TIME to MIT Technology Review, writers with very large audiences are blowing the story.”
- May 2013: “Rumor Has It — Tesla To Triple Supercharger Network Size.” 😱
- May 2013: “Tesla Supercharger Network Will Help You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse.” 😱 (Nailed it.)
- May 2013: “Interview With Elon Musk About Tesla Supercharger Expansion In Europe.”
- September 2013: “3.2 Million Tesla Supercharger Miles Already Logged.” How quaint.
- September 2013: “Tesla Superchargers Roll Out In Europe (VIDEO).”
- November 2013: “Tesla Model S Can Now Travel From San Diego To Vancouver!“
- More updates from 2013 here.
- January 2014: “Tesla Has Supercharger Routes Up & Down & Around The US.”
- January 2014: “Tesla Superchargers Now Serve Several European Countries.”
- February 2014: JB Straubel notes that there’s no end goal for the Supercharger network, but it’s something like the road network — it will just keep growing and growing.
- (Brief intermittence in the timeline here to highlight that we didn’t continuously write, “but range anxiety … and potential bankwuptcy.”)
- March 2014: “Tesla Driver Going From Coast To Coast To Coast, Snapping Awesome Pics.”
- August 2014: “Tesla Supercharger Network Grows In Europe & Asia.”
- September 2014 (regarding Destination Chargers, not Superchargers): “Tesla’s Covertly Installing Wall Chargers At Locations Across The Country.”
- September 2014: “Tesla Opens Supercharging Station In Chengdu, China.”
- December 2014: “North American Tesla Supercharger Network Surpasses CHAdeMO In Charging Points.”
- April 2015: “Tesla Motors Unveils First Location Of Superchargers In Australia.”
- July 2015: “Liquid-Cooled Superchargers From Tesla (Video).”
- August 2015: “EV Manufacturers Need To Understand Disruption vs Technology Transition.”
- September 2015: “Tesla Supercharger Use Increased 5x Over In 1 Year.”
- January 2016: “Tesla Invades Poland.”
- January 2016: “An Epic Tesla Road Trip.”
- January 2016: “Across The Country: 4,180 Kilometers In A Tesla Model S.”
- January 2016: “Tesla Supercharger Stalls Increased 71% In 2015.”
- 2015/2016 CleanTechnica EV driver report and presentation: “Importance of Tesla Superchargers, Battery Upgrades, Electric Car Benefits….”
- 2015/2016 CleanTechnica EV driver report: “What You Want In An Electric Car.”
- 2015/2016 CleanTechnica EV driver report: “Electric Car Buyers Hugely Attracted To Tesla Supercharger Network.”
Tesla Model X (2013–2016)
Expert after expert, often referenced in other media outlets: Tesla can’t build this. This vehicle can’t be mass produced. Tesla is going to crash and burn trying to produce the Model X. All signs indicate corporate collapse due to this crazy SUV. Okay, maybe there was some good stuff, too. We’ll try to dig some of that up via good old Google for a future article.
- March 2013: Tesla Model X production pushed back because of how popular the Model S is.
- April 2013: “Elon mentioned that they are working hard on Model X product development and making it even better than the demonstration prototype that was already unveiled to the public. He said he’s spending a lot of time on the Model X, trying to get the details right.”
- Tesla plans a S-E-X-Y revolution.
- November 2014: “The news from Tesla’s quarterly financials call last night that seems to be biggest is that the Model X is being delayed again. This seems to be the 4th time. The reason given is that Tesla is trying to make it close to perfect, and that is causing delays. It is now supposed to be hitting the market in Q3 2015, a good 2+ years after the initial launch time.” In Elon’s own words (which echo what he’s said several times before): “Demand is not our issue. Production is our issue. And being too perfectionist about future products. Those are legitimate things to be concerned about, but not demand. We have more demand than we can really address. And there are a lot of things, levers, that we could pull to increase that demand, that we’re not pulling.” Incidentally, nearly 90% of CleanTechnica survey respondents indicate they think the delay is a good thing.
- December 2014: Model X looks like it will be very competitive in its class.
- June 2015: Tesla Model X production line uses 3-4× more robots than Model S production line.
- July 2015: Tesla Model X reservations = ~24,000, about twice what Model S reservations were.
- August 2015: “X production looks like it might present more challenges than previously anticipated, particularly due to supply chain issues. As Elon has stated a few times, you can’t ship a car if it is missing a part or two. … Model X launch is still set for September. Configuration should begin in 2–3 weeks, and it will be live on the website by the end of August.”
- Model X arrives, is quicker than Porsche Cayenne Turbo … and every other SUV in history.
- November 2015: Tesla Model X base price of $80,000 announced.
- December 2015: Model X production kicks into high gear, Signature Series deliveries begin.
- December 2015: I explain how Tesla’s super secret master plan is coming to life.
- January 2016: I find out that Akon already has two Model Xs, and has gotten rid of dozens of cars because his Teslas are so much better.
- January 2016: We report on the causes of Model X production delays.
- January 2016: Model X wins CleanTechnica‘s first Car of the Year award.
- March/April 2016: Per our test drives, Kyle and I think the Model X is amazing.
Tesla Model 3 (2013–Today)
Expert after expert, often referenced in other media outlets: Hehe, Tesla cannot mass produce cars on this scale. It’s impossible to build an electric car at this price with these specs. Also, by the way, Tesla will go bankrupt trying. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
CleanTechnica: Yes, we basically covered what Tesla targeted, since CEO Elon Musk seemed to be an honest guy with a good track record of doing what he said he’d do, even if sometimes a bit late (which we took into account).
- April 2013: Tesla may get its 4th model, a semi-affordable car, to market by 2017.
- May 2013: Elon Musk says the model should have a base price of ~$40,000 and minimum ~200 miles of range. (Much skepticism ensued, but CleanTechnica thought the targets seemed reasonable.)
- November 2014: Tesla’s Chief Designer at the time, now President of Automotive, Jerome Guillen: Tesla will build and sell 500,000 EVs a year by 2020, thanks to Gigafactory and Model 3 (which didn’t yet have that name).
- Also in November: Only 37.5% of respondents in a CleanTechnica poll expect the Model 3 to arrive in 2017. (Note: it went on sale in 2017, but Tesla did have a lot of production challenges for about a year.)
- May 2015: I lay out Tesla’s 5 core competitive advantages, and why the Model 3 will be such a big hit.
- June 2015: We report that Model 3 may actually have 250 miles of range.
- August 2015: I express my opinion that automakers needed to better consider and understand disruption and tech transition, instead of scoffing at Tesla’s Model 3 plans.
- September 2015: We discuss the possibility that a Model 3 could accelerate to 60 mph in under 4 seconds. (The Model 3 Performance can do so in under 3.2 seconds.)
- January 2016: In our first annual EV driver report, we show that most EV owners plan to buy a Model 3. (I also started giving more detailed presentations around the world on the EV revolution and Tesla’s leadership in it, which I’m happy to say ended up being spot on the money, luckily.)
- March 2016: I fly from Europe to California to hang out in line for a Model 3 reservation while totally jetlagged, and then crash the Model 3 reveal event party, where Kyle Field and I are the only non-Tesla people on the test track for 2 hours. We take a bunch of photos and film the historic night for hours before interviewing early test riders. (Tesla took in 200,000 reservations in less than 24 hours. Who knows how many in the 2 hours we were on the test track?)
- April 2016: Google Trends data for Tesla Model 3 imply the vehicle will indeed find a lot of buyers.
- April 2016: Matt Pressman explains why the Model 3 may be the first self-driving vehicle.
- May 2016: Elon moves Tesla’s 500,000-cars-a-year goal from 2020 to 2018, and a rough target for 2020 is 1 million vehicles a year. (This is what ended up biting Tesla in the ass, or at least Tesla’s stock [TSLA].)
- May 2016: Mike Barnard points out that Elon Musk’s “crazy” goals are not that crazy after all, as they are becoming reality.
- May 2016: We report that Model 3 reservations from China only trailed Model 3 reservations from the USA. (This is before a Chinese Gigafactory was announced, but clearly helped lead to that decision.)
- May 2016: Some auto industry suppliers push back on Tesla’s aggressive production timeline.
- June 2016: Presenter at CleanTechnica conference in Berlin explains how high Model 3 demand will slam depreciation of competing gasoline luxury cars (which Capital One has now confirmed is happening), raise leasing prices on those cars, and really threaten the finances of these competing automakers. He also discusses why only electric cars, like the Model 3, make sense as robotaxis.
- July 2016: I examine whether Model 3 is already eating into “premium” gas car sales in USA.
- July 2016: Elon Musk pens “Master Plan, Part Deux” and briefly introduces idea of a Tesla Network of robotaxis.
- August 2016: I argue that 1–2 million sales a year of the Model 3 and Model Y seems too low of an estimate in the long run, presuming Tesla rolls out robotaxi service.
- September 2016: I pose the honest question, what can automakers actually do about the Model 3 and Model Y competition.
- November 2016: Michael Barnard explains why the Model 3 is not threatened by the Chevy Bolt, despite what much of the media keeps saying.
- January 2017: I ask if 2017 is the year an electric car (Tesla Model 3) breaks onto the US Top 20 Autos list for unit sales. (It ended up being 2018, not 2017.)
- January 2017: I argue that electric robotaxis “will be the most important technological development over the next 10 years that will have the greatest impact in reducing climate change risks.” Another CleanTechnica writer, my brother, makes essentially the same argument.
- February 2017: We report on Tesla’s target to produce more than 5,000 Model 3’s a week by the end of 2017. (It ended up taking Tesla ~6 months longer than that to do so.)
- February 2017: Elon mentions Tesla may consider selling insurance one day.
- March 2017: We cover JD Power report that Model 3 buyers likely to be less forgiving of quality issues with the Model 3 than Model S & X owners were of vehicle quality issues.
- May 2017: New CleanTechnica report based on surveys of thousands of EV drivers indicates that 23–50% of existing EV owners or lessees intend to buy a Model 3.
- June 2017: I run comparisons of Tesla Model 3 vs Audi A3, Audi A4, Audi A5, Audi S3 and Tesla Model 3 vs Lexus ES (& ES Hybrid), Lexus IS, Lexus GS (& GS Hybrid), & Lexus CT Hybrid and Tesla Model 3 vs BMW 2 Series, 3 Series, 4 Series, 5 Series, & i3 and Tesla Model 3 vs Mercedes 300, Mercedes 350e, Mercedes AMG C43 and Tesla Model 3 vs Acura ILX, Acura TLX, & Acura RLX. Tesla Model 3 is the winner.
- June 2017: Elon indicates plan to build 10–20 gigafactories around the world.
- June 2017: I gloat a little bit that Tesla won, and Elon proved the naysayers wrong. (That said, “production hell” was just beginning.
- July 2017: Tesla Model 3 production begins.
- July 2017: Tesla Model 3 deliveries begin … followed by “production hell” for approximately 1 year.
- July 2017: I predict again that the Tesla Model 3 will crush the gas car competition from BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Acura, Lexus, Jaguar, and Toyota.
- July/August: Initial Model 3 owners are in love with the car.
- The rest is history.
May 2013: Elon Musk says the 4th Tesla model should have base price of ~$40,000. Car reporter: "Also, it may cure blindness & walk on water.” CleanTechnica: "the $40,000 number definitely seems reasonable, especially if it’s offering a range of 200 miles!"https://t.co/j0iZb2qQJ1
— CleanTechnica (@cleantechnica) December 30, 2019
Like another lifetime.
What's your top prediction for Tesla in 2023 or 2024?
(4 years out like that one was.)
— CleanTechnica (@cleantechnica) December 30, 2019
I could also run through commentary and news coverage about Tesla Gigafactory 1, Tesla Gigafactory 3, Tesla Autopilot, and much more, but the story is generally the same on each topic. I think the above accounting gives a complete enough picture of the point. How did we cover Tesla? Instead of nonsensical bothsiderism and extensive quoting of Tesla critics (including Tesla short sellers), we reported on what the company was actually doing and also conducted our own analyses to add to the story and help predict the future, analyses which often turned out to be accurate and helpful. No, we didn’t get everything right (production hell went longer than expected, for example), but I think we covered Tesla in as comprehensively truthful a way as any other media site out there from 2011 to today, January 1, 2020.
Just one more flashback, from 2015/2016: CleanTechnica readers expected “EV Revolution” would really hit in 2020. More specifically, one third of them expected EV sales to make up 10% of US auto sales in at least one month this year. We’ll see how that expectation turns out.
Additionally, we now have to think about the next 10 years. What’s to come for Tesla?
Will talk about that on Q4 call
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 30, 2019
Using a Wall St. analyst's forecast the other day, we got 42x growth from Q4 2012 to Q4 2019.
If we go with Maarten's estimate, we get 47x growth.
Will find out soon what reality was. Either way, Tesla had insane — nay, ludicrous — sales growth in past 7 years.
Plaid in 2020s? https://t.co/mJgjEDL3zW
— CleanTechnica (@cleantechnica) January 2, 2020
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