Late EV Makers Are Hoping for Redemption in Tesla’s 9-Year-Old Playbook

Tesla competitors are fighting the last war and missing the hot middle market

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The coming two or three years will finally bring rich pickings for anyone interested in checking out an electric vehicle. If announced debuts go as planned, there will be the $75,000 Rivian R1T pickup, the $70,000 Jaguar E-Pace SUV, and the $66,000 Audi e-tron, not to mention the $77,000 Lucid Air and the $150,000 Porsche Taycan.

Setting aside the relative virtues of each vehicle, the thread running through the group is their eye-popping sticker price, a stratum of the market where sales are typically in the hundreds or low single-digit thousands per year. Which is to say that, nine years after EV gargantuan Tesla captured the heart and soul of the American market with the luxury-priced Model S sedan, late-to-the-game rivals are seeking to make their own mark by trodding the very same ground. Tesla itself, meanwhile, is nowhere there to be found — it is instead concentrating on EVs selling at a mid-priced $45,000 to $55,000 and is engineering a new battery and body with hopes of a truly mass-appeal $25,000 model.

For several years, EV wannabes have watched at turns with contempt, envy, and finally, despair as Tesla has come largely from nowhere to create the modern EV era. EVs were just 3% of new vehicles sold globally last year, but the industry now estimates that the number will rise to 10% by 2025 and 28% by 2030.

If such sales pan out, this amounts to a paradigm shift and, out of fear of being made obsolete, virtually all the big automakers, in addition to numerous startups, have rushed to create an EV lineup and debut at least one model by the first half of the 2020s. But what they have largely come up with reflects that desperation, more or less precisely copying CEO Elon Musk’s 2006 playbook, nine years late.

“We believe the high end of the market is important, but ultimately Porsche and others are missing the boat and hearts and lungs of the EV consumer explosion of growth,” Dan Ives, an EV analyst with Wedbush, told me in an email. That explosion, Ives said, will be in the middle-priced market.

There are exceptions. Ford has released the Mustang Mach-E, an SUV starting out at $42,000 that Green Car Reports has named its EV of 2021. GM’s electric Chevy Bolt starts at $36,500. And Charlie Vogelheim, host of the Flying Car Show, a radio program, tells me that the strikingly styled Rivian pickup may succeed. “It’s a standout. It came out of the gate like Tesla,” he said. Amazon has placed orders for 100,000 Rivian electric delivery vans.

Electric pickups are another increasingly crowded space. In addition to Rivian, Ford says it will release an electric F-150 next year. GM will debut an electric Hummer. Then there is the Tesla CyberTruck, which the company says it will release by the end of this year, ranging in price from $39,900 to $69,900. In November 2019, Musk tweeted that Tesla had received 250,000 preorders for the pickup, which required a $100 refundable deposit. The company has since released no update, but the CyberTruck Owners Club, a website keeping track of vehicle order numbers, estimates that deposits have been placed for 820,426 of them.

This is to say that, when they finally get around to the main EV battleground, the major automakers will still have Tesla to contend with.

Editor at Large, Medium, covering the turbulence all around us, electric vehicles, batteries, social trends. Writing The Mobilist. Ex-Axios, Quartz, WSJ, NYT.

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