Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Introducing new technology

In spite of the fact that change is pretty common, it is nevertheless extremely difficult to displace an existing industrial practice.  Even when the new technology is vastly superior such as when the transistor took on the vacuum tube, there is still a lot of resistance.  The new technology may have infinite advantages but it is untested, usually expensive, sometimes unreliable, and it is up against a mature, highly developed, well-entrenched competition.

Over time, several methods have been tried.  For example, there is emulation.  Plastics gained market acceptance by looking like their more expensive competition such as wood, leather, and stone.  Now that plastics have gained acceptance in their own right, these substitutes like Naugahyde or wood-grained Formica look utterly cheesy—but they once served a valuable purpose in gaining acceptance for a new material.

And so we turn to the electric car.  Such vehicles have been very expensive, not very reliable, and inconvenient to own.  So Tesla has ripped a few pages out of the old playbook by introducing an electric car that looks and is priced like a premium vehicle while having ridiculous performance specs.  The idea is that if an electric car can be made that appeals to the status trend-setters, the rich will help pay to develop technologies that can be used for more down-scale efforts.  Of course, catering to the rich has its own set of problems but this strategy has been widely used in the electronics industries so there is a possibility it might work with electric cars.  In any case, it has been a lot of fun to watch Elon Musk try.

Tesla Model S: First drive of the electric sedan that will change the world or die trying

The Lookout – Fri, Jun 22, 2012



Of all the new cars unveiled this year, none will be as hotly anticipated as the Model S from Tesla Motors (TSLA), a luxury sedan doubling as a brash, billion-dollar bet that the era of the electric car has arrived. As the first journalist to test-drive one, I can report the Tesla Model S successfully challenges a century of assumptions about what a great car can be.

The Model S launching today from a Fremont, Calif., factory represents four years of work by Tesla engineers, fueled by $465 million in U.S. government loans and $220 million in Wall Street money (along with $50 million and the factory itself, which was originally built as a joint venture between GM and Toyota). Elon Musk, Tesla's co-founder and CEO, has vowed to make the Model S the best car in the world, and hopes to sell 20,000 a year -- at prices between $54,700 up to $105,400 -- once the factory ramps to full speed.

The last successful American startup automaker was Chrysler, founded 87 years ago. Every genius, huckster, and combination thereof who's tried since has been ground into a fine powder by massive up-front costs combined with meager profits and ruthless competition. Musk, a South African-born entrepreneur who's also founded the SpaceX rocket company, says he believes in electric cars as the necessary future of driving, and only someone with true fervor would put so much of their life into this machinery.

While the Tesla Roadster was basically a battery-operated Lotus with an electric motor, Tesla designed the Model S as an EV from the start. The all-aluminum car they've built stands as a sleek luxury sedan, a little larger than a BMW 5-Series, and from the outside there's no indication that it's electric (even the charge port is hidden behind a side reflector in the rear taillight assembly). That's by design — Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen wanted a car that wouldn't scare buyers away. But the hints of revolution within the Model S begin with the door handles, which slide out of the body with a motorized purr when you touch them, then retract once you're behind the wheel — the kind of detail perfect for leaving valet parkers slack jawed.

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The revelation of what Tesla has accomplished sunk in when I returned to a gas-powered vehicle. Other luxury cars will keep pace with the Tesla, but after driving the Model S, suddenly you notice the lag between accelerator and power, the exhaust noise, all the energy necessary to keep those parts hurtling forward. It makes a fossil fuel-powered car seem to be working so much harder than necessary. Which is the point.

Even a luxury car like the Model S remains one of the larger purchases its customers will make, and the Model S carries a long list of risks, from the mundane to the serious. The Model S range will still depend on how you drive it, and needs a plug more powerful than a standard household outlet for any sizable amount of energy in under a few hours. Tesla has sold a total of 2,150 cars to date; it's never dealt with thousands of customers, nor run a high-volume factory. The launch of the Fisker Karma has been plagued by software bugs and battery recalls, and while Musk says the Model S passed all crash tests with flying colors, Tesla's customers -- more than 10,000 of whom have already paid $5,000 deposits -- will be the test bed of a new company with a new model in what's essentially a new factory.

Yet if Tesla fails, it won't be because the Model S misfired. It's a car that runs from the blocks with the Cadillac CTS-V, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Maseratis of the world, and it will be far easier for Tesla to close any gaps with the competition than vice versa. From behind the wheel of the Tesla Model S, you feel you're driving the future, instead of burning increasingly limited gallons of the past. more

1 comment:

  1. It was just a couple of weeks ago when I was reading about a Tesla electric car. It was sitting in the garage at night and due to some malfunction, it had burned the whole house down. I am not against electric vehicles, but when it comes to companies of repute like Tesla, it is quite mind boggling about such a situation. As for me, I would prefer a hybrid over an EV anyday.
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