Until recently, Tesla was the king-in-waiting for the automotive throne. As traditional automakers turned tank-like towards an electric future, the firm looked set to whizz past in a frenzy of bold publicity and Musk-worship. Then 2018 happened and those in the know started to quietly turn their eyes to China.
“I’ve got a max spec Tesla Model X and a solar panel charging at my house,” says Ste Thompson, a 33-year-old British entrepreneur based in LA. “I passed my driving test just before moving here from the UK last year. I wanted a car with the best technology as my first car, kind of skipping non-electric.”
Buying an electric vehicle, or EV, for a first car may sound unusual (especially when it’s a $132,000 Tesla Model X like Thompson’s), but it’s set to become the norm in the next decade once prices start to drop. For Tesla, the Model 3, which starts from £35,000, is being pitched as one of the first mass-market electric vehicles. If only Tesla could make enough of them quickly enough.
Headquartered around the corner from Facebook in Palo Alto, California, Elon Musk’s company has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2003. Today it is widely regarded as the superhero of the EV world, known for selling fast, luxurious, and technical machines. “It auto updates,” Thompson says of his Model X, adding that the patch notes remind him of gaming. “It’s cool to see what new features you get.”
But, for so long seemingly all alone in our EV future, Tesla now faces serious competition. In China, car companies are pumping out EVs at an astonishing rate. In the west, Tesla is still the pinnacle of the industry. In China, it is anything but. “I think China holds the major cards, and electrification of transport will be led by China,” says Professor Patrick Luk, head of the electric power and drives group at Cranfield University. William Ford, the executive chairman of Ford, agrees with Luk, according to a report in The New York Times more