In 10 years, Tesla has gone from a one-car company to being compared with Porsche - here's why that's incredible
- A decade ago, Tesla was selling one car, the original Roadster, and barely staying in business.
- Porsche has been around for over 80 years and is a motoring legend.
- But in just 10 years, Tesla's cars are routinely compared with Porsche's first all-electric effort, the Taycan.
- That's absolutely stunning.
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Porsche officially launched its first all-electric vehicle, the Taycan. The car has been much-anticipated, and invariably has also been compared with Tesla's offerings. You've seen the headlines: "Tesla Killer" and so on.
The German automaker put together some early media drives in Norway, and so far the reviewers have been impressed if not staggered by the devout Porsche-ness of the Taycan.
But they've also done what they've had to do, which is bring up Tesla as the Taycan's precursor and chief competitor.
In The Wall Street Journal, the redoubtable Dan Neil enthused over the Taycan Turbo (there's also a faster and more expensive Turbo S, and no, the Taycan doesn't have turbocharged electric motors - that's just how Porsche ranks its vehicles within the brand's nomenclature). But Neil had to bring up the supercar-fast Tesla Model S P100D and label it the EV champ that the Taycan is taking on.
Maybe this seems perfectly natural, if all you know of the automotive realm is Tesla and Toyota. Cars are cars. A-to-B machines. Most run on gas. Tesla's run on electrons. You're aware of this at least.
The King of Petrolandia
But in the land of petrol, Porsche is a king - and arguably the finest car maker on the planet. The 911 sports car has been in production since the 1960s and is considered by many if not most to be the best go-fast ride that money can buy. Meanwhile, Porsche basically invented the luxury sport SUV market in the early 2000s with the stunningly good Cayenne. The Panamera sedan has its detractors, but there's no debating the cumulative impact of the Porsche portfolio: the profit margins are the envy of the industry.
Sports cars are irrational; just ask anybody who has ever owned a Ferrari. But Porsche captures hearts and minds. It might lack the overtly flamboyant fizz of a Lamborghini, but a Porsche is probably the car you'd choose if you had to drive for your life.
Enter Tesla, which has existed for about 15 years (Porsche has been around for 88). When Elon Musk's company started out, it was selling a single car, and not very many of them: the original Roadster, with volumes in three-digit territory. It was an undeniably cool car, but it was a curiosity.
Matters got more serious in 2012, when the clean-sheet-design Model S sedan arrived. But still, Tesla has been seriously manufacturing its own vehicles for about ten years. If you round up.
For comparison, cars such as the Ford Mustang (born in 1965) and the Chevy Corvette (born in 1953) have established Porsche-beating credibility in just their most recent iterations, when Ford and Chevy decided that they should be capable of challenging Europe's best.
The car business isn't hard - it's impossible
Ask anybody in the car business if the business is hard and they'll look at you as if you had a second head. It isn't hard. It's impossible. The destiny of aspiring car makers, almost uniformly, is to fail. See Tucker. See Fisker. Even relative legends struggle: Aston Martin has gone bankrupt seven times.
Tesla hasn't just not gone bankrupt (despite being close in 2008) - it's become Porsche's biggest rival for the future of driving, at least according to some.
I actually don't think Tesla and Porsche are rivals in any meaningful sense. But there's no avoiding the discourse. When the word "Taycan" is uttered these days, the world "Tesla" typically follows.
Generally speaking, it's possible for niche players to steal mindshare from industry icons. Since 1992, Horacio Pagani has built his eponymous exotic nameplate into a brand that's talked about as a modern-day Ferrari or Lamborghini - and in the estimation of some pundits, builds more compelling cars. Likewise Sweden's Koenigsegg, founded in 1994.
But those guys make bonkers supercars that sell in minuscule quantities and cost lots and lots of money. Tesla, meanwhile, isn't simply aiming to top vehicles such as the $100,000-plus Taycan with the $100,000-plus Model S trims; it also wants to take on Porsche's parent, the VW Group, in the mass-market.
In that, success has been mixed. The relatively new Model 3 endured a fraught debut, but it did help the company to sell nearly 250,000 vehicles in 2018, a record. Tesla now dominates the EV market worldwide (don't get too excited - the worldwide EV market is tiny). Managing the situation is Tesla main concern. And that makes the reflexive Porsche comparos all the more remarkable. Because Porsche cares not one bit about the mass market. You settle for a Corolla. But you dream of a 911.
Or perhaps a Taycan.
That's Tesla. In 2009, a one-car company. In 2019, a worthy opponent for Porsche. Tesla has indeed come a long way, baby. And probably more than that.
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