If you are launching an SUV to prove to everyone you’re not as chaotic a company as the media makes out, then start on time.
The Tesla Model Y launch live stream was delayed. As I sat waiting all I could think was here we go again. Maybe I’m just a stickler for being on time, but when everyone is suggesting your CEO, Elon Musk, doesn’t run a tight ship and you make only a handful of unveilings a year, start on time. After 15 minutes the screen went black, and rather than increase my excitement I was just annoyed. It then told me to stay tuned. After 20 odd minutes, it began.
First, there was an advert for Tesla generally. Then Musk came out to give a monologue about the origins of Tesla in his unique stuttering, off the cuff, style while they showcased the product line, starting with their first ever car (serial number 01) and working through the different models.
Two awkward jokes about making a model E (ultimately 3) to go between the model S and X and the word Semi and we were finally ready to see the car. Or so I thought, there was a bit more blurb to go and a jovial musk was clearly in a good mood having made it through a tough 2018 and was enjoying his time on stage. Hot off the press: Tesla will build superchargers in Kazakhstan, and a Tesla could be driving on Mars in 10 years. You didn’t come for that info, but there you go.
Some told you so quotes from naysayers in the past and here comes the Y. Oh my. It’s a model 3 utilizing the ugliest parts of the X. Probably a brilliant car functionally, however, and it makes sense they would reuse all the components in the other vehicles to makeshift an SUV in a limited time-frame. You can’t help but think it looks like a bit of a rush job though. The Y isn’t a ground-breaking car; it’s a necessary push into the mainstream. A cash cow if you will. All of a sudden Musk disappeared into the night, and it was over. No surprises or Easter eggs this time.
Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, and Bentley are all companies you wouldn’t expect to make an SUV, and yet they do. The market just told them they should make one, and here comes Tesla to join them. I can’t help but feel like it’s a mistake, but time will tell. Existing Tesla owners will probably be worried about the company biting off another considerable chunk of car production to chew at a fiscally tight time for the company.
If Tesla isn’t in chaos, then it must be close. The staggeringly loose management style of Musk has been attracting a lot of attention lately, as he faces a sea of legal troubles. Lawsuits from both shareholders and a case filed against him by the SEC take aim at Musk’s tweeting as CEO. Next, take a look at the economy-drive which has seen Tesla close stores, then re-open them, cut prices and then hike them again. Its a wild time for Tesla fans.
I was curious to see whether the chaos is an illusion or a reality, so I contacted my friend who had just taken delivery of his Model 3 Performance. I know one person isn’t a significant sample size but what he has to say is pretty damning. Firstly, he had been given free supercharging for six months, but Tesla was still billing him. Efforts to contact Customer Service, with numerous emails and texts have been in vain, and he is still receiving charges (no pun intended), and thinks the handling of his case is shocking (pun intended). He also has a problem with the seat-belt on the driver’s side. A Tesla representative eventually got back to him regarding this issue, said it would be three weeks to get the replacement part, then went silent.
It seems he is not alone, as an acquaintance who also drives a model 3 told him there is a three-month wait to replace a damaged front bumper. If ever there was a stark reminder of just how young Tesla is as a company, this is it. A quick search on Twitter, and there is even an account dedicated to one mans struggle to get his car fixed.
My contact struggling with his model 3 is a CFO with experience both in tech start-ups and established companies.While he loves his Tesla and thinks the product and the engineering are world-beating, he thinks the “back-office” culture (customer service) is closer to a startup than a $50 billion behemoth. He believes this possibly comes from the light-speed development plan which has neglected the less “sexy” parts of running a car business.
So if Musk’s Tesla hasn’t matured enough to handle a three-car product line, why pump out the Model Y in Fall 2020. The new roadster is coming after this. Don’t even get me started on when the semi-trucks (which look incredible by the way and will make roads so much safer if they work) are coming. Musk said 2019 a while back but surprise, surprise, that was a bit ambitious.
What bugs me about the Y’s launch is it feels like Donald Trump’s second North Korean meeting all over again. Musk is trying to suck all the oxygen from the negative coverage and manufacture a good headline. Namely the news of Tesla entering the most lucrative, popular and competitive segment of US auto-sales. One has to question if Tesla has the infrastructure to provide adequate service to another fleet of owners. I hope this launch is not just a testosterone-fueled response to recent criticism, because the Y is unquestionably a risk.