In 2014, after driving a Tesla Model S 45 minutes, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk declared his desire to “mass-market” Tesla’s Autopilot tech at the end of that year. However, Musk wanted to make sure the tech reached the company’s core market first, meaning a more lucrative rollout. So he pushed the rollout to March 2015, then March 2016, then later still. He also didn’t make sure Autopilot’s safety features were ready and, consequently, deployed Autopilot sooner than required. In hindsight, it appears Musk lost sight of the true purpose of Autopilot.
According to CNET, “Elon Musk was attempting to wean Tesla owners off free, unlimited long-range electric cars and move toward a transition to more equitable business model” where “long-range electric cars are abundant and the only leased cars are leased to people willing to take an [electric-car sharing] test drive, resulting in less overall use of Tesla’s electric cars. In this model, individual Tesla owners would pay monthly fees to lease cars from the company instead of owning them.”
It was in the following years that Tesla really caught on to what Tesla’s customers want and need. Tesla launched the Model 3 in late 2016, and Tesla was so eager to get the car out, it designed the car with an underwhelming range to ensure it achieved top quality. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that while Tesla customers “loved the cars,” consumers were not used to “anything like that.” Musk also said that while Tesla’s customers were rich enough to purchase a Tesla, they wanted a smaller car, “not a luxury car.”
However, it was in this year, with its most affordable car available for an equally affordable price, that Tesla began to truly hit its stride as a company.
Tesla’s Supercharger network is growing exponentially and the automaker is set to expand its network of store locations to more than 500 in North America, Europe, and Asia. As it did so, Tesla’s average online order time for the Model 3 dropped to 50 days – a major milestone in the acceleration of Tesla’s product rollout.
CNET said it’s now unclear whether the accelerated rollout is sustainable as a carmaker. While it helped the carmaker keep pace with demands for Model 3 deliveries, it cost Tesla money and tied up many resources.
It also hurts consumers who wanted to benefit from Tesla’s revolutionary cars (Tesla told CNBC in a statement that the company wouldn’t be able to deliver “all orders when the Model 3 was initially produced” but that would be adjusted over time). And consumers who hold the iconic name of Tesla in the public’s mind now have the choice of buying BMWs instead.
Tesla’s Model 3 is already considered a success, but the real credit goes to Musk’s ability to shape the Model 3, says CNBC.
“What Musk did was push Tesla toward a more real commitment to its customers. In turn, that made for a better experience that built trust in the brand,” writes CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal.
With the Model 3, Musk made electric cars a part of mainstream culture, and Tesla officially became the first US automaker to IPO (directly sell shares on the stock market) when it went public in June 2010.