This week, eyes are on Tesla Motors as it prepares to launch its second all-electric vehicle this Friday, the Model S electric sedan, which will come in three different drivetrain configurations.
Founded in 2003, and having seen a significant measure of success with sales of over 2,100 critically acclaimed Roadsters from 2008-2011, the company now boasts over 10,000 Model S reservation holders waiting patiently, but has lost money every year including a reported $254 million last year.
Tesla has however been a high-profile rock star among the still quite new electric vehicle movement, with some foibles expected, and benefit of the doubt granted by those who wish to see it succeed.
Having interviewed some people in the know, an article by SF Gate today posited that Tesla’s S stands to become a “halo” shining over the entire plug-in car industry. If it succeeds, goes the thinking, it could extend a measure of credibility to other makers’ models, including the Chevy Volt, and Nissan Leaf which have experienced their own PR gains and losses, and also are perceived by some as having the jury still out.
In order to get Tesla financially in the black, company head Elon Musk has said it will need to sell 8,000 Model S vehicles annually, and estimated it will by next year. This year, an estimated 5,000 units are penciled in for delivery, but when we asked, Tesla said it would not specify actual projections for 2013.
That said, Tesla otherwise takes every opportunity to turn the focus on positive news, and each week for the past month it has issued a blog post highlighting aspects of the behind-the-scenes process involved in getting the car to market.
In this week’s installment of taking what could seem mundane, and making it arguably exciting, Tesla featured some of the Model S final assembly work replete with background music suitable for a suspenseful and epic drama. You can watch for yourself, but Tesla describes a process of shuttling the not-yet-complete cars on “SmartCarts” in which the drivetrain and battery modules are secured along with the rest of the components prior to being powered up for the first time.
“Before leaving the factory, every Model S undergoes stringent quality tests on a uniquely designed final inspection platform with premium quality bamboo flooring and LED lighting,” writes George Blankenship, vice president, worldwide sales and ownership experience to prospective owners. “Your Model S then enters the industry’s first all-glass water test booth, where it is sprayed by water from 360 stationary nozzles to ensure your car has perfect water tightness. Tesla’s water test booth holds 1,500 gallons of water that is purified and re-used for each test to minimize wasted resources.”
Another North American “first” is Tesla’s “indoor confirmation track” which is possible because the cars emit no exhaust to foul the air for workers making sure the cars are to specification.
Of course, Tesla is in the business of marketing these vehicles, so you may note an absence of anything that would give ground to criticism, and on the contrary, the company has been masterful at “selling the sizzle,” as the old salesman’s adage goes.
Keeping it closer to real however, the SF Gate article notes not all believe in Tesla’s ultimate success, and some are yet criticizing the Obama-backed $465 million loan in June 2009 received by Tesla to help refurbish its former GM/Toyota NUMMI assembly plant in Fremont, Calif.
Among those who’ve offered their opinions decrying Tesla – and Fisker Automotive, for that matter – for taking taxpayer dollars to – as they spin it – create subsidized toys intended to first benefit the rich, is Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
To anyone who’s followed the politicized debate over green energy so far, Romney’s angle of attack last October in the Orange County Register may be no surprise as he points out purportedly questionable policies by the democratically run administration, and a lack of results to his satisfaction produced by Tesla and Fisker.
“Alas, like Solyndra, these loans are turning out to be historic opportunities to line the pockets of major campaign fundraisers. Fisker investors, including Al Gore himself, have donated more than $1 million to political campaigns – primarily Democrats,” Romney said. “Tesla, for its part, has financial backing from a fundraiser who bundled hundreds of thousands of dollars for the President’s campaign; Tesla’s CEO is also a major Democratic donor who has poured money into Obama’s campaign coffers.”
Romney’s line of reasoning expressed last fall is still very much alive by critics today, but this week we’ll follow Tesla’s lead and accentuate the positive.
Friday will mark a new milestone for Tesla, which so far has sidestepped more negative press than Fisker unfortunately has, and according to the news cycle du jour, Tesla is cresting high indeed.
Reports are also that TSLA stock as listed on NASDAQ has risen to the highest it’s been in the past 30 days as the Model S launch date nears. Today the stock is hovering between $31.50-$32.65 per share – down from a peak of $39.95 in the past 52 weeks, but definitely up from a low of $21.50.
So what does it all mean? In the long run, much still needs to be proven, but industry watchers are heartened to see a balance of good news momentarily drowning out questionable diatribes against the California startup – and subsidized clean energy in general.
“The S is supremely important, just because of the moment it’s arriving,” said Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars, a plug-in vehicle advocacy group. “It’s at this moment when electric cars are finally coming, and their success isn’t guaranteed. Getting some home runs now would really help. The S looks like it’s going to be a home run.”
For those rooting for American alternative energy transportation, let’s hope he’s right.