FEATURED: Can Automakers overtake Tesla?

True-grit innovation, harmonious design, and a commitment to advancement. An American Stripe Original Piece.

March 2018. BY MULTIPLE AMERICAN STRIPE AUTHORS. Photos by Tesla.

American Stripe Index (ASI 7) score: Tesla Model X earned a 7 out of 7

Few companies have been called revolutionary in automotive history. In fact, most of todays companies choose to “evolve” rather than revolutionize in a never-ending march to better bottom lines.

Then there’s Tesla: the black sheep or the unicorn, depending on whom you find having dinner with that evening. The hallmark automakers call Elon Musk’s company one built on broken promises, too small to succeed, and even poor quality.  It looks like resting on laurels are the flavor of the day with these automakers… because now they are behind… waaayy behind.  Now with the Tesla Model 3 (featuring RFID credit card type key, AutoPilot, and well-designed interior) launch in the rear-view and the ramp up to production inclining (not without hiccups), the established boardrooms are really in a panic.  It is evident in their R&D products, the speeds promised to market, and challenge to maintain their own “Brand Value” in the age of Tesla.  The innovation of Musk and his team has caused a shakeup in the automotive world to force Brand Value to be determined again by innovation, quality, and enjoyment.  Not on a dripping sink of un-exciting features, “mid-cycle refreshes”, mundane interior/exterior styling, and fossil fueled movement.  Short of releasing an excellent, safe, and efficient flying car, the major automakers will find themselves with upset stock holders and changing board-rooms if they don’t take notice of the changing winds which require adjusting the sails. Make Automobiles Great Again, please!

Lets take an in-depth look at the areas where Tesla has the upper hand:

In-Car Technology:

A tablet as the dashboard.  And designed for simplicity.  Tesla must have looked at the changing consumer habits, with a tremendous movement to portable devices (Thanks Apple iPod!), and chose to apply it to their automobile.  If one examines the history of in-car navigation, vehicle setting controls, or even simply playing music, there is a stark realization that large, established automakers were already behind the times.  For years, many local audio shops and tuning shops, something like you see on the Fast & The Furious movie series, were AHEAD of these billion-dollar R&D departments.  Touch screen technology, better audio amplification, equalizer settings, smoother updated navigation, and even rear-view camera technology has existed in the smaller shops for years before you could check the option box on your next Toyota, Honda, Ford, or basically any other major automaker.  It is a wonder that bluetooth streaming and parking cameras with sensors is a “recent innovation” for these Goliath automakers (probably still not standard on most of them). And of course the simplistic screen on Tesla’s cars house all of the above… with a promise of ongoing updates over-the-air (time to toss those $500 upgrade Nav CDs the car companies have tried to sell us). How silly?

Electric Battery Technology:

AAA Roadside is a wonderful service for many consumers.  With one excellent service being a battery service or replacement on-the-spot.  With the adverts seen on TV, radio, billboards, consumers are led to think their cars can handle the toughest roads, the Sahara desert, or up the three feet of water.  But careful, that battery may give out without any advanced notice.  Tesla, on the other hand, is able to provide a minute-to-minute update on battery charge levels, load level, and even the overall range remaining (as it relates to recharging the car).  Not to mention, it runs on the batteries only. No Gas, Diesel, or anything else. Plus almost all the cars are above a 200 MILE range… well above the daily average commute and a range very few mainstream buyers will find a challenge to live with. Sorry, Another point for Tesla here.

Car Charging Infrastructure:

This is probably one of the most important areas of innovation.  Or what we call “common sensovation.”  We imagine a board meeting with Tesla’s top folks.  Now image the topic of the day is to locate and roll out the charging infrastructure.  The established German companies, in this scenario, might need to break for an 18-month long study of road surfaces, air densities, tire testing, and the like.  The established American companies may treat this exercise with a bit less importance, with Pick-Up Trucks being their bread-and-butter business product. The Brits may select major cities as the best location, with less focus on robust electronics, and more on the rarest seat hide.  Tesla, again, took the common sense (and incredibly expensive) approach of major roadways, taking into account range limits of the lowest-range cars and taking up real-estate that is otherwise left useless.  See examples like a New Jersey mega-malls most inconvenient (and rarely used) overflow parking area.  Or in the oversized lot of an Upstate New York diner with the best cookies.  Usually, the Tesla Supercharges are found in upscale, safe areas with easy access to food, restrooms, and the like.  Range anxiety only occurs if you purposely try to test your own metal limits.  Otherwise, let the car tell you where to stop to juice up, stretch, and grab some snacks to keep going! Well-played, Tesla, Well-played.

Driving Experience (Not including AUTOPILOT):

Its not surprise most cars are finally moving to “customizable” settings for driving experience… social media has made all of us more prone to changing preferences.  One moment we are catching up on the latest episode of Game of Thrones, the next we are learning how to make honey-roasted chicken with pecan crusting on YouTube.  And of course, Tesla, being plugged-in to the mainstream life experiences, molds their vehicles to the same.  Not only are Teslas cars and EUV(?)s relatively spacious for occupants, the battery packs make for ideal weight distribution, all placed and distributed flat across the bottom of the car.  Next time you go to a NASCAR, IndyCar, or F1 race, just ask any team engineer about “lower center of gravity.”  Add to this a FIVE-setting air suspension (because two or three options just don’t suffice), remarkably variable steering wheel (from soft to sport), and what feels like a million torque (a very rough estimate!), and you are now getting the first taste of a Jetsons type of life.  NOTE: Driving a Tesla in any tunnel can feel like you are a Star Wars pilot getting ready to enter battle. It is really an amazing experience.  Once again, you may just want to set aside that Ultimate Driving thing.

Fit & Finish:

Quality can be defined by automakers as terms that most don’t understand.  The phrase “panel gaps” comes to mind in this instance.  It is true Tesla’s historically have larger gaps between door panels, trim pieces, and detail trim pieces.  But it is a tremendous overstatement to say it is not par for the automotive industry; if not, a bit above par.  We’ve had cars from the large automakers, who tout their millions made (akin to McD’s millions of burgers theme) as a stamp of quality.  We beg to differ.  Small automakers have proven to be better and worse then their “mainstream” counterparts, reflective of a non-accurate correlation.  Tesla’s use of Diamler parts for electronics, suspension, and structural elements is a genius move to use well-reputed and proven parts for the details that small automakers typically find challenging (firms like Aston Martin even had issues with until more recently).  The Modern design of the interior, truly EPIC seats, and non-standard pieces are made well enough to not experience creaks or rattles that can drive you insane.  The seats are beautiful, and comfortable even for longer trips, save for a missing center console in the six-seat config (which Tesla has since remedied).  Fit & Finish is really a point of great achievement for Tesla, given that one long-term German SUV in our fleet rattles in very cold weather.  Tesla gets an above average rating in this department (especially when considering they don’t have a noisy engine or exhaust to “hide” any fit/finish noise).

AutoPilot:

Seriously folks, AutoPilot is really ridiculously amazing.  And freighting, and relaxing.  All at the same time.  In our Model X tester, we took several long trips across the mid-west (Chicago area) to the North East, and even up to the great Lakes in NY.  AutoPilot was extremely convenient for those long, lonely stretches which can put even the most caffeinated drivers into a stale mood.  And this was just AP 1 (the first generation).  We can’t even imagine how much better AP 2 will be with time.  Funny thing is, the big automakers already have the parts and pieces of this technology… but chose to slow the roll out in a bid to maximize profits and minimize R&D costs.  AutoPilot combines lane departure warning, radar cruise control (first found on German lux sedans decades ago), and electric steering, all into a bundle that just works.  If this car had an Apple logo on it, we wouldn’t have thought anything of it.  The only time AutoPilot struggled to keep up on our journey was during an incoming snowstorm and when lane marking were “modified” to be gentle to road works folks.  Otherwise, it was reliable, convenient, and an absolute necessity to make a long journey more enjoyable.  Tesla continues to promise updates to improve using only their built in cell-phone update system. Incredible.

Overall Design (AmericanStripeIndex ASI 7):

In daily life, social media and personal wants are always dancing around a balance between the “look-at-me index”, product quality, and personal enjoyment.  There is always a mix of all three when it comes to consumers considering basically any product.  So the American Stripe Index (ASI 7) is designed to follow the intention of the automaker, rather than the preference of our team.  NOTE: The best achievable score is a 7 (Seven) out of 7.  Tesla’s marketing is our yardstick with a focus more on personal enjoyment, innovation, and the “look-at-me” element only on special occasions as strong dose rarely enjoyed (like a rare cup of wine).  The Model X tester featured the gull-wingesque swan doors.  And they do attract attention when used.  Its a special type of attention similar to the feeling of a valet opening the door for you at a fine restaurant, or the feeling one may enjoy when getting fitted for a custom suit.  Special, with a purpose, and done with elegance.  So the doors, in this instance, are designed to have the Model X serve as a daily driver and yet a luxurious limousine for the weekend.  The Model S features unique pop-up door handles to a more muted, but similar effect.  So on the American Stripe Index (ASI), the Tesla Model X scores a 7 out of a maximum 7.