EVs, Smartphones on wheels

Like many of you, I suspect, I’m a little bit of a fan of cars. There’s just something interesting about a controlled explosion that propels you — sometimes frightens you — safely to your destination. In no way could I be called knowledgeable about cars, but I take an interest in what’s happening, new designs, new ideas and the general car market. I keep up to date a little via Twitter and the various press associated with the industry.

I’ve owned very few cars in my life, 2 to be exact, always having benefited the use of Company Cars. I’m independent now and I currently own a beaten up mini that gets the job done for now. But it’s not what I want. In no surprise at all, what I really want is an EV, but something with a little more style and class than a basic Zoe/e-Golf. I want a Tesla.

The price of a Tesla however, is somewhat prohibiting for a large majority, including me, being that it it around the price of a highly specced BMW. But I fear not. Like most things tech, the price always comes down. Once the new generation is developed and battery technology is vulgarized and once the drive train becomes commoditized, there will be a plethora of manufacturers offering different ranges of car at different price points.

And so it is the case for Tesla.

In 20XX Tesla unveiled and started selling a 100% EV based on the Lotus Elite. Many thought it was a joint-venture but it was a complete refit. It sold for $ and was destined for the rich who loved sports cars. They made and sold XX. Tesla accumulated much experience in the design, manufacture, sales and support of that vehicle, which was in scientific terms a small-scale experiment to deduce learnings for a much bigger project.

That experience led to the build of the Tesla Model S, which kind of shocked he world. Many thought it was never going anywhere as it was too cumbersome to own — you had to plug it in at home, or hunt around for the virtually non-existant SuperChargers Tesla were racing to deploy — and nothing like the refined experience of an equivalent Mercedes. But as I said, technology has a habit of gaining on the traditionnel … Some say software is eating the world. More on that later.

Moving on, Tesla then introduced the Model X, a sort-of supercharged SUV that could out accelerate a “real” sports car. Again way too expensive for the grenela public.

As tests, they have been pretty successful in my eyes. They have allowed Tesla to refine its processes from manufacturing to support (notice I didn’t say maintenance) and have tested the market for desire of EVs in a fashion that has largely embarrassed the likes of Ford and Volkswagen.

Then the bombshell came in march 2016 ; Tesla announced the Model 3. The everyman’s EV. Starting price of just XX$. Sure, its still a lot of money, but when you compare existing cars’ offerings and the range of technology built-in to a Tesla they’re not that far apart. Tesla offers an onboard experience that is a USP but also pleasurable. Existing car makers target the reliability, ride and handling only giving second-thought to the onboard experience outside of the dash and seats.

And it is here that the idea that an EV is more like a Smartphone on wheels than a traditional car. The break-down of parts is much more rationalized in an EV camper to a CEV (Combustion Engine Vehicle). Take a look at Ben Evans’ excellent article for more detail. An EV, particularly the likes of the Tesla, are essentially software driven devices that happen to have a drive train and a bloody great battery.

Tweaking, repairing, modifying is largely done through software updates, and in Tesla’s case, often OTA automatic updates while you sleep. I’m not going to get into the tex cases of bad firmware updates, thees will inevitably happen, but the idea is fundamentally different. Doing the same to traditional cars is, put bluntly, a royal pain in the arse. Just look at the difficulties car makers have had over airbag issues, or brake handling issues. The recall, the publicity, the awareness campaigns, the delays and there’s still no guarantee the end-user will book the car for repair during the window of opportunity, leaving potentially dangerous vehicles circulating as ticking time bombs.

Contrast that to the recent brake issues on the Model 3, Tesla fixed it with a OTA update in a few days. No shop visit required. This is the future. Sure there’ll be issues that are hardware that will need a visit, but over time the integration of the various parts will reduce not only the maintenance requirements, but also the repaire requirements as whole integrated pieces will just be swapped out. Remind you anything ?

When Apple had a series of issues with their graphics cards on the MacBook Pro line, the integrated motherboard was swapped wholesale in the repair program. The same goes for smartphones. The real issue Tesla has, is the production problems that are currently difficult to get over. But get over them, Tesla will. Integration will see to that.

One of the first reviews of the new Model 3, that was conducted with the very generous help of its new owner (a current satisfied Model S owner) objectively critiqued the car, pointing out the foils and fables and talking up the advantages, its worth a read. But one remark particularly stood out to me :

“I love that these cars are always full of juice when I leave my house,” he said to me, explaining that he thought it was a pain to refuel his high-performance VW after having been spoiled by his Tesla.

This. Is. The. Future.

Image : Michelles-Photograpy on Pixabay