The Chevrolet Bolt. The Hyundai Ioniq. Even the Nissan Leaf. All of these will be remembered as oddball electric also-rans, while the Tesla Model 3 will be remembered as the car that brought electricity to the masses. And the reason why is actually very simple.
There is one thing, and only one thing stopping electric cars from overcoming the dominance of gasoline on the world market: range. Eliminate range limits, range anxiety, and long charge times, and suddenly all of the arguments against electric vehicles are gone. Your car becomes a regular car, just like any other. You can drive it almost anywhere you want, without concerns about being stranded for eight hours while you wait for your car to charge up.
Because cars are about freedom to go wherever you want, at their very core. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said this almost exactly at the Model 3 launch last night, and he’s entirely right. Tesla knows this, and that’s why it’s built – and continues to build – its Supercharger network. The Supercharger enables direct current charging, and thus, enables drivers to get an 80% charge in as little as half an hour. In practice, it really doesn’t feel much different than filling up a normal car with a tank of gas.
As of today, there are 3,608 superchargers around the world, spaced optimally for long road trips. By the end of 2016, the North American Supercharger map should look like this:
You’ll be able to go pretty much anywhere you want, except for Mexico, and Saskatchewan, and no one wants to go to Saskatchewan anyway. By the end of next year, the number of Superchargers will be doubled, Musk said last night.
And in addition, he said that all Model 3s will have the ability to get filled at Superchargers standard. It’s that crucial for its success.
In effect, this is why Tesla will succeed with the Model 3, where everything else will fail. Because with the Model 3, Tesla sought to make a good car, one that can take you anywhere, with the notion of making a good electric vehicle being secondary. It makes any derision about electric cars being dumb little golf carts for the city instantly pointless, if it had any point to begin with.
Tesla, bafflingly, seems to be the only company that understands this. When I’ve asked various Hyundai and GM representatives whether or not their cars will be capable of fast charging, I get an enthusiastic affirmative response. But when I ask whether or not those companies plan on either making their cars compatible with Tesla’s Supercharging network, or building their own fast-charging network to enable true freedom of movement, I get confused, befuddled looks.
“We’re car companies,” they claim. “Not infrastructure companies.”
Which is a piss-poor, half-assed excuse. Because if you’re plunking down anywhere between $25,000 to $40,000 (depending on tax credits) for transportation, there’s no way in hell you’re then going to want to get on a Greyhound just to go to the next state.
And it’s those terrible excuses that doom them to failure. The competitors themselves may actually be great, before you run out of juice. But the all-electric version of the Ioniq, with its piddly 110-mile range, will still be considered a weird urban golf cart, no matter how good it may be to drive. The Bolt, though it may have Tesla-like range on a full charge, will suffer a similar fate.
Because cars aren’t about being chained to your home, or being chained to an eight-hour charge. They are, fundamentally, about freedom.
And when you build a car that’s just a good car, you win.