From The Mobilist Inbox This Week

Volkswagen’s looks, Tesla’s quality problems, Elon Musk on SNL

Each Wednesday, The Mobilist highlights reader articles on Medium, comments, and updates.

A mandate for style: Last week, I wrote about a week’s test drive of Volkswagen’s electric crossover SUV ID.4. The car is mechanically outstanding. Physically, it is meh. Why are this vehicle’s looks so important given the industry’s overall penchant for frumpiness? Because of the very specific interregnum in which it finds itself. This is the expensive transition period before sticker-price parity with combustion vehicles — for the next four or five years, automakers, if they want to sell their EVs, need to put extra effort into design and style.

On the larger canvas, the legacy automakers and Tesla have opposite advantages and disadvantages: The traditional automakers produce reliable, high-quality EVs lacking pizazz. Tesla makes highly stylized EVs with huge quality issues. Both have work to do. See the next item for more.

Clarification: In the story, I wrote that VW’s charging network, Electrify America, only has a working app for the iPhone. Though that’s what I thought I was told, it turns out that there is a separate app for Android. Here is the app in the Google Play Store.

Tesla’s coming quality reckoning: Apropos of the above, in yesterday’s issue, I wrote about Elon Musk’s triumphant appearance on Saturday Night Live, the result of which was to widen the moat separating Tesla from the rest of the field. But, once we hit the mid-decade mark, none of the laughs that Musk elicits will make up for Tesla’s quality issues and its sometimes haughty neglect of customer complaints. Once Tesla’s prices are similar to conventional rivals, it will attract ordinary motorists who will be far less forgiving of flaws than first-movers. Musk got an early taste of this new reality last month in Shanghai, when a woman disrupted an auto show by shouting about faulty brakes, and public and state opinion turned against Tesla. Tesla sales in China plunged by about 27% compared with March.

About those laughs: Musk’s appearance had the same polarizing effect of his tweets. His detractors hated him on SNL, and his fans thought he was hilarious. Mobilist reader Richard Miller falls into the latter camp. He wrote (edited for clarity):

I have to say given the hype, it was easy to miss [that] he actually did a pretty good job of his accents and delivering the lines. I mean, we always see folks reading off of cue cards. Come on, all the time — even and especially the cast. But it did make him appear a little more human. … He did not come across as a jerk (Steve Jobs) or arrogant (pick most any uber-billionaire other than Warren Buffett). And he delivered a show towards the top of the last few years. … The Mars skit was classic.

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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