Turbo Charged Disruption
Tesla’s race to bring electric cars to the masses – with all its closely-observed delays, setbacks, and milestones – is the triumph of a disruptor
California-based Tesla is famous for driving innovation in the electric car sector. A disruptor brand that shot into the limelight in 2008 with a high-performance electric sports car, it set out to challenge the two key obstacles that had beset the electric car dream: low speeds and insufficient battery ranges.
Sexy design coupled with precision engineering has had a pivotal impact on the brand’s desirability and Tesla has been embraced by the rich and famous from the beginning. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously bought that all-electric Tesla Roadster fresh off the shelf in 2008. Others followed suit, using the car to badge themselves with its eco credentials as much as its tech ones. Now Millennials want to drive these luxury cars and the sales of pre-owned models are taking Tesla’s brand to a wider demographic.
Tesla may have captured the imagination of the driving public but the road is rockier for its corporate brand. Alongside the long-standing seductive headlines about game-changing electric propulsion, there are significantly less positive storylines to confront. Tesla is arguably plagued by a disproportionate level of bad press around everything from missed production targets and product recall to the company’s attendance policy and PR. Do people want to shoot down the pioneer?
In the Press
A recent week of Tesla press characterises it as a brand beset by multiple challenges. The Washington Post argues, ‘At Tesla, Elon Musk casts himself as a superhero. But he sweats the details on the factory floor’; while CNBC delves into why a new China-based Tesla factory does not equate to growth for the brand; India’s Financial Express looks at ‘How Elon Musk Tries To Control His Public Narrative’. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Pit asks ‘Is Time Running Out for Tesla?’
Whilst acknowledging the company has its issues, some commentators – and most conspicuously, Musk himself – say there is a negative bias against Tesla. Musk has even proposed a “media credibility rating site” to counter it.
Opinions on the need for this site aside, I would like to honour America’s youngest car maker and its very real role in the story of EV development. Having an innovator like Tesla in a marketplace has allowed previously unimagined concepts to become reality. It is the disruptor brands that serve to galvanize others to be more competitive and Tesla is pivotal to the automotive industry. It has given the electric car range and style and led the charge for the likes of Jaguar to launch its first all-electric car, the I-Pace, this summer and Audi to promise its first fully electric sports car by 2021.
We can’t underestimate the significance of the disruptors to the story of our civilisation. The hall of fame of pioneers should include the Scottish inventor James Watt, who made crucial improvements to the steam engine in the 1760s; mathematician Charles Babbage, who envisaged a programmable computer back in 1820s London; and early 20th century great Henry Ford, whose car factory in Michigan incorporated the world’s first moving assembly line. In was on their shoulders that the industrial, tech and mobility revolutions were born.
The great businesses and thinkers of tomorrow will build on the work of the pioneers of today. We need our innovative thinkers and our disruptive businesses in order to move forward. Tech billionaire Musk – much like those early business pioneers – is a polymath. His decades-long focus on changing the nature of transport whilst celebrating the emotional nature of travel has produced the first mass-produced electric sports car; an all-electric battery-powered truck; and the ‘Hyperloop’ vision, where pods of passengers and freight are propelled through tubes at speeds of up to 700mph. He’s also got plans to colonize Mars – here’s hoping!