Tesla Litmus Test: Developing Entire Lineup of Tesla Models

By · October 30, 2013

Tesla's Santa Monica store

For the next year, Tesla will continue to have only one model to show in its stores.

Tesla Motors last week hired Doug Field, the Apple exec who oversaw development of groundbreaking products such as MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and iMac. The idea is for Field to bring some of that product creation mojo to an entire lineup of Tesla models.

Tesla was incorporated more than 10 years ago—so you might say that it’s a precocious adolescent. Maybe “wunderkind” is a better term. Regardless, you have to wonder what Tesla wants to be when it fully grows up.

Musk’s comment about hiring Field doesn’t answer that question. “Doug's experience in both consumer electronics and traditional automotive makes him an important addition to our leadership team,” said Musk. Field’s equally banal statement doesn’t add any detail. He said, “As the first high-tech auto company in modern history, Tesla is at last an opportunity for me and many others to pursue the dream of building the best cars in the world.”

But last year I had a conversation last year with a Tesla exec—sorry, name withheld—to learn what Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, really has in mind. I asked if Musk wants Tesla Motors one day to become like a BMW, which through September, represents 2.2 percent of the U.S. market. That would be an incredible achievement, right? He shook his head.

Well then, I asked, is the Muskian view that Tesla could become like a Honda, which so far this year took 9.8% of American car purchases. “Nope.”

I asked if he meant that Musk believes Tesla can become—hard to believe—like a Toyota, with its 14.4% share of the U.S. auto market—or even a Ford with 16.0%.

“Bingo.”

Reality Check

Tesla sells only one model today. The Model X is scheduled for its first sales in late 2014, and the third of Tesla’s models—its first lower priced model—is slated for the end of 2017. Meanwhile, Toyota, if I count right, has 17 models.

What does a world of multiple Tesla models look like? What's on the to-do list for Doug Field? And how much fun would it be to work toward this vision of an entire lineup of Tesla models?

That’s only the beginning of the questions raised by Musk’s ambitions for Tesla. It was challenging enough for Tesla to create a single hit vehicle in the Model S. But can it create a mature company with all kinds of successful Tesla models—including a city car, an affordable family sedan, small and large SUVs, a wagon and maybe a pickup truck?

Remember: the California Air Resources Board has a vision for 2040, in which every single vehicle sold in the state—and in other states that follow CARB rules—is zero emissions. That begs the biggest questions of all regarding the prospects for multiple Tesla models: At what speed can Tesla produce a lineup of multiple models? And can it achieve that scenario faster than companies like Toyota, Ford and General Motors can adapt its technology (and its attitudes) for an auto market dominated by EVs.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.