Senior board members from Audi, Porsche and BMW preceded Elon Musk on stage at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, the audience full of other high-ranking executives who had paid US$1,600+ per person to attend. Or more likely, audience members had employers or companies that had deemed it a worthy investment for them to attend, to absorb cutting edge thinking from some of the leaders in the luxury vehicle universe. Plus Tesla.
Strictly by the sales numbers, this small, California start-up is a mere annoying fly in the stables of these luxury powerhouses. In its eight years on the market, Tesla has sold fewer than 50,000 cars in total, compared to 1.8 million BMWs sold in 2014. Even just last year’s BMW 3 Series sales dwarfed Tesla’s cumulative production so far, with BMW selling 476,792 3 Series models in 2014.
And yet, there’s no doubt as to whom this well-heeled audience was most interested to see. Both in the banquet room where it was held, and the media room where Musk’s on stage interview was broadcast live on monitors, the room inflated with onlookers as Musk’s appointed hour approached. Unlike the three other executives, he didn’t have a slick 20-minute corporate presentation that seemed to tout the brand’s products and research in similar areas: autonomous vehicles, mass urbanization, and yes, alternative energy vehicles, mostly plug-in hybrids, but also some diesel talk as well.
No, Musk’s speech was shorter than his introduction. Automotive News editor and publisher Jason Stein touched on Musk’s Canadian background (his mother’s Canadian) and success with both Tesla and intergalactic transport company SpaceX, with no PowerPoint presentation at all.
“I believe that all transport, with the ironic exception of rockets, will one day go fully electric – it’s just a matter of when,” said Musk. He reiterated his invite to all automakers to use Tesla’s growing network of Superchargers, before laying down why he believes lower gas prices mustn’t slow EV development.
“Fracking probably increases the accessible oil and gas in the world perhaps by a factor of 10… so the potential harm to the climate is much greater than before,” he said. “We can’t rely on scarcity to drive the price of oil and gas high; so we have to figure out how to make electric cars themselves compelling, without the economic forcing function of high gas prices.”
No marketing plans. No whiz-bang preview of what Tesla technology or vehicle will come next, to a crowd of potential luxury car buyers. Where the other presentations were slick and polished, Musk’s was a short but cerebral mix of environmental evangelism and economics lecture.
As always, Tesla and Musk himself stood out from the automotive norm.
In Canada, though the Model S arrived slightly later than in the U.S., and the first Supercharger only arrived this past fall, Tesla appears to be racing to catch up the production schedule and Supercharger network here. The 691-hp all-wheel-drive Model S P85D super sedan started arriving in late 2014, the less powerful but similarly AWD 85D is set for this spring, while the long-awaited Model X is due in the third quarter of this year and the approximately US$35K Model 3 planned to arrive by the end of 2017.