Sometimes the Disrupted Fight Back

When you get right down to it, Tesla has only one real problem right now: it can’t seem to make enough cars. Well, one and half problems: it has too much debt for a company that can’t make enough cars. As far as problems go, these are pretty much the worst ones a car company can have.

Still, Tesla has one ace left up its sleeve: the global auto industry has very long product development lead times. When you see that brand new model in a dealer showroom, the technology inside is already 3 years old, at a minimum. This isn’t because automotive engineers aren’t as bright as their tech counterparts. Rather, it is a combination of complexity (both design and manufacturability) and regulation. Think of all the times you’ve had to reboot your computer or phone. That would be a totally unacceptable failure rate in a car.

All this makes electric vehicles the most interesting case study in real-world disruption out there. You have Tesla, the agent of change. And then there is the global auto industry, which is working hard to remain relevant. The research and development costs for EVs run into the tens of billions of dollars, and the outcome will not be obvious for a decade or longer.

So what does the global auto industry have to offer by way of response? For the purpose of this comparison, we will stick to premium brands even though GM, Ford and other mass-market companies have offerings both for sale now and more to come.

Jaguar I-Pace, coming to the US in the fall. 240-mile range, 400 horsepower, and starting at $70,000. Based on an existing SUV platform, we doubt Jaguar (owned by Indian truck company Tata) will face the same production ramp problems as Tesla.

Audi e-tron, scheduled for a 2019 US launch, earlier in Europe. 250-mile range, and reported horsepower of +450. Like the Jaguar, it will be an SUV and likely cost slightly more but less than a Tesla Model X.

Mercedes EQ C, first sales expected in 2019. 310-mile range, and similar horsepower to the other two vehicles above. Also an SUV, as the prior examples. Mercedes has announced it will roll out 10 EVs by 2022. That may sound like a long way off, but in auto industry terms that’s basically the day after tomorrow.

Porsche Mission E, sales expected in 2020. 310-mile range, with horsepower options between 402 and 670. Press reports put pricing in the $80,000 and up range.

BMW is adapting its popular X3 small SUV to all-electric, with a scheduled launch in 2020. Press reports state it will be manufactured in China.

Those are enough examples to prove our point: Tesla still has a window to get things right with the Model X, keep sales going for the sedan and SUV, and still come out ahead. The timelines for competitor’s launches are months (Jaguar/Audi) to years (everyone else) away. But every day, the window closes a little bit.