Fri Apr 8, 2016
Tesla’s Model 3 is not only a jaw-droppingly stylish car, it is also a compelling window into a future world where the electric car is king.
It certainly has anyone who is interested in technology and design drooling. Tesla’s electric cars come across as gadgets, complete with over-the-air software upgrades - not boring utilitarian vehicles.
Indeed, the Model 3 truly is a product of the tech industry. It’s also an eccentric genius billionaire’s baby. Which makes Tesla a truly unique company, and the Model 3 an astoundingly fresh entrant in a stale car industry. An industry, by the way, that last saw true innovation over a hundred years ago with the debut of Henry Ford’s Model T.
But is the Model 3 really a vision of the future, or merely a mirage?
Seven years ago I wrote an article called The Eco Dilemma about the electric car as a utopian fantasy. At the time, the economy was in shambles, gas prices were sky high, climate change was scaring the hell out of us, and there was strong interest in alternatives to fossil fuels.
Today the economy is better, gas is dirt cheap, and people are sick of hearing about climate change. Besides from this, my article still stands true. I stand by my conclusion that what we need most are sustainable communities based on an analysis of local needs, whether that be effective public transit in urban areas, or telecommuting in the suburbs. The car, after all - whether electric or gas-powered - does reek of that entitled Western mentality born out of the 1950s American dream of mass suburbia.
Unfortunately, although going car-free is a laudable option, it is probably most appealing to that small subset of Earth’s population who want to save money and have access to decent public transit (being green is just a bonus title they can claim for brownie points). Totally doable if you live, for example, in New York.
But for the vast majority who must drive, or prefer it, electric cars seem like a way to have your cake and eat it too. Assuming, of course, your local electrical grid sources its power from clean energy. I mentioned this particular quandary in my article and it still stands true today.
Scaling up an electric car infrastructure for mass adoption is arguably a more insurmountable problem than engineering appealing and relatively affordable electric cars. In fact, General Motors will actually beat Tesla in bringing a $35000 electric car with a 200-mile range to the masses.
Tesla has some answers to the infrastructure problem. Their supercharger network may ease range anxiety for the few times a year that you go on a road trip. A more pressing infrastructure challenge may be building enough centres to service a massive influx of new customers. The same challenge will apply to any manufacturer who has invested in a gas-centric infrastructure for the past 100 years - pivoting is no easy task (GM take note).
After getting an astounding number of pre-orders, there is also some doubt as to whether Tesla can ramp up production fast enough to meet all the pent-up demand. And do so with sufficient quality control so that there aren’t too many defects introduced with such rapid production.
Anyway, this is all conjecture at this point - I’m willing to give Tesla the benefit of the doubt and see what happens.
Personally, I would love to own a Model 3, despite these uncertainties - and I’m no car guy. Maybe it was reading Elon’s biography (by Ashlee Vance) that sold me on Tesla as part of a grand vision (that culminates in sending people to Mars). Or maybe it was insane blog posts like this one. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for shiny new tech, and as I mentioned earlier - Tesla is basically software on wheels, not a bunch of controlled explosions stuffed into a tin can.
Ultimately though, I’m probably not going to end up in the Model 3 driver’s seat (note that I did not say “never”, because hopelessness is so gauche, you know).
The sobering fact is that the Model 3 is still unaffordable.
The Model 3 may be priced to sell (whatever that is supposed to mean) in the US at least. However, with the Canadian dollar at an all-time low, $35000 US ends up being almost $46000 at today’s exchange rate.
The good news is that British Columbia’s energy supply is relatively clean, with 86 percent generated by hydroelectricity. The bad news is that BC’s subsidy for buying electric cars is only $5000, or up to $8250 if you scrap your old car. In Ontario, you can get up to $14000 off. Norway has insane incentives - in fact, the Model S is actually the overall number one selling car over there.
Also, for electric cars to be practical, you need to live in a detached house with a garage. When charging the batteries overnight, street parking isn’t going to cut it. In Vancouver, the average price for a detached home is almost $2 million dollars (as of March 2016). Yes, you read that right. Vancouver has the most expensive real estate in Canada, so most of us, including our family, live in a condo.
Sadly, most condo strata councils aren’t exactly forward thinking. You could end up like this guy, who was forced to move because his strata refused to let him charge his electric car (now that is a true green warrior - he would rather sell his condo than sell his car). He offered more than enough money to cover the costs, so it wasn’t even a financial thing.
So, in summary, to get a Model 3, you need to spend at least $40000 to buy it new (you could buy a new Mercedes-Benz for that price), and own a detached house so that you can charge it every night.
Clearly, this is no car for “the everyman”, especially in this city, where you’d have to be a millionaire to afford it.
So, does my dream to own a Model 3 die here, in this obscure blog post at the end of the internet? Well, there is always hope. Hope and the kidney black market.
Perhaps it is easier to just sit back and appreciate the turn of the tide. To bear witness to a new era of innovation in the auto industry. That in itself will be a boon to our battered planet, because yes, I still care about our planet a little, even if I won’t be driving a green dream machine to prove it.