Don Peppers Influence
Prolific Business Author, Dynamic Speaker, Founding Partner at Peppers & Rogers Group, part of TeleTech
GM vs. Tesla – The Real Story
At the Detroit auto show, General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra announced that the company will launch a new electric car in 2017, the Chevrolet Bolt, designed to have a single-charge range of 200 miles, and to sell at a comfortable price point in the range of $30,000 (after the substantial Federal rebate on electric vehicles).
And the papers are now full of stories from the auto show painting this as a serious attempt by GM to compete directly with Tesla, which plans to introduce its own medium-priced electric car by 2017, the $35,000 Model 3. Auto industry reporters covering the story paint GM’s initiative as a challenge to Tesla, a company described as GM’s key rival in the electric car category. According to these reporters, this is shaping up to be a head-to-head fight for the mid-priced electric vehicle market which, by 2017, should also be joined by a variety of other carmakers.
But I think most of these industry pundits aren’t fully grasping the nature of this story. Tesla almost certainly welcomes competition from GM, as well as from Toyotaand any other traditional car manufacturer. Tesla wants GM and the others to be successful with their new electric car models, because the more success they achieve, the more credibility and infrastructure support will be gained for the entire electric car category, which will almost certainly benefit Tesla even more than the other companies.
How else can we explain the fact that just last year Elon Musk, Tesla’s iconic CEO, chose to freely reveal all of his company’s patents in the electric vehicle category? Musk probably hopes that GM has been able to accelerate its plans for the Bolt by capitalizing on some of these now-available patents.
Think about the costs that Tesla has been incurring, all by itself, to get this category kick-started. It has laboriously and single-handedly set up its own charging stations up and down the East and West Coasts. It has plans to set up quick-charge stations that will fully charge an electric car even faster than you can fill the tank of a traditional gas-powered car (essentially by dropping the battery out of the bottom of a vehicle and installing a fully charged one in its place). And Tesla is challenging state legislatures and car dealer lobbies in a number of states for the right to sell cars directly to consumers through Tesla stores, designed like Apple stores, rather than being required by outdated laws to set up franchised dealerships.
If they’re smart, companies like GM and Toyota will copy not just Tesla’s electric technology, but also the luxurious and completely frictionless user experience that makes the Tesla such a joy to operate in the first place. In many ways, Tesla isn’t really a car manufacturer at all. They are an information company with a high-end computer that has a surprisingly large number of car features. With just 17 moving parts, the Tesla Model S is almost constantly connected to the mother ship manufacturer, and its internal software is updated every week.
Nor are Tesla’s customers and fans just a bunch of climate-change do-gooders. They are mostly the kind of young, upper-middle-class early technology adopters who always have to have the latest i-Phone.
To paraphrase a famous GM tagline, the Tesla is not your father’s automobile.
Or, to use a word invented by the linguistically gifted George W. Bush, traditional car makers are constantly “underestimating” the nature of Tesla’s real challenge.