Tesla is one of the largest electric car manufacturers in the world. Born only 2 decades ago, the firm has managed to establish itself in the ruthless world of the automotive industry. It has also shaken it up by offering vehicles with unique performance and technology. But how did Tesla become popular?
From the ultra-confidential Roadster to the popular Model 3
Founded in 2003 in San Carlos, California, Tesla claims from its creation the ambition to bring out a 100% electric automotive industry. It markets the Roadster, its first model, in 2008. Sales of the sports car are confidential. Sold for around $100,000 (about €80,000 at the exchange rate at the time), only 2,680 copies were sold.
If the Roadster has not been widespread, it allows the manufacturer to show its ability to produce high-performance electric vehicles. A convincing demonstration, reflected in the success of the second model: the Model S, launched immediately after the discontinuation of the Roadster in 2012. The sedan received massive praise from the press and its first users. It is complemented by a large SUV from 2017, the Model X. To date, more than 520,000 copies of the two vehicles have been sold.
A dazzling success
The history of Tesla took a major turn with the launch of the Model 3, a more compact sedan and significantly less expensive than its elders. Starting at $35,000 (€31,800) in the United States and around €45,000 in Europe, the vehicle is a global success, so much so that the manufacturer is having difficulty meeting demand.
Tesla, however, manages to increase its sales scores dizzyingly year after year. In 2021, it sold 936,172 vehicles of all models, i.e. 87% more than in 2020 (499,550 units). In total, more than 2.3 million Teslas have been put into circulation on the planet (not counting those sent into space, etc.).
Affluent and more connected customers
What can explain this Global Tesla Rush ? If the bulk of sales concern the more affordable Model 3 and Y (its SUV equivalent), theThe expensive Model S and Y also enjoy notable success. The price of vehicles, still far from being accessible to all populations, is therefore not the main reason.
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The Tesla brand attracts above all for the performance and technologies offered by its vehicles. It thus attracts the upper middle class of developed countries and the growing one of emerging countries such as China. In France, 31% of Tesla registrations are in Île-de-France (mainly Paris and Yvelines), betraying a fairly wealthy clientele.
The allure of the ultimate
The manufacturer captures younger buyers (44.7 years old on average in France against around 60 years old for the others), generally followers of innovations and new technologies. For this, Tesla seems to delight them. With its “Autopilot”, for example, it offers the most advanced driving assistance system currently on the market. The models are all equipped with very advanced digital features (remote vehicle control, large connected on-board screen, over-the-air updates, etc.).
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The firm is also the one that launched the first long-range electric vehicle. When the Model S appeared in 2012, the zero-emission offer was made up of only a few city cars that painfully exceeded 100 km of autonomy. The American sedan stood out clearly, with its 225 to 426 km of autonomy depending on the version. This model has literally made it possible to break most prejudices about autonomy and electric vehicles.
The network of superchargers, a considerable asset
Because, beyond its high endurance, the Model S also offered muscular performance. Embarking on one or two engines totaling from 300 to 420 hp for 430 to 600 Nm of torque, the first Model S shot down the 0 to 100 km/h in 4 to 6 seconds. Unheard of on a 100% electric car. They could also recharge 80% of their battery in about 40 minutes, a feat at the time.
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If Tesla has lost the monopoly on performance and endurance with the rush of traditional manufacturers on electric, the brand still benefits from this very avant-garde image. It remains unbeaten on its charging technologies and in particular its network of superchargers. Deployed ten years ago, as soon as the Model S was released, Tesla’s ultra-fast terminals are now widespread worldwide. From just 63 stations in 2013, the brand currently has more than 3,200.
The network of superchargers has unique advantages: in addition to very high charging powers, it makes it possible to launch a session without requiring manual authentication. No badge, bank card, smartphone application or even a button to press, the terminal automatically recognizes the vehicle and the means of payment attached to it when connecting.
Elon Musk, boss and muse of the brand
The high-tech, avant-garde and innovative image of Tesla also finds its origin in the personality of Elon Musk, its earthy boss. The businessman did not found the company, but developed it shortly after its creation by injecting several million dollars into it.
Its impressive success in the fields of digital and high technology (PayPal, SpaceX, Starlink, in addition to Tesla) gives a lot of credibility to the brand. Elon Musk is an inseparable mascot of the Tesla identity, which is absolutely not the case for the leaders of other automakers.
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Nothing is ever acquired
However, Tesla’s many reversals in terms of prices and delivery times represent a weak point for the brand. The price of vehicles can indeed vary significantly over very short periods, leaving future customers unstable. Many owners also report finish problems, sometimes major ones, on their vehicles. Finally, some see their delivery date constantly pushed back by several months, or even more than a year in some cases.
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If Tesla still benefits from an innovative image, there is no guarantee that it will keep it indefinitely. Its Autopilot system, for example, is experiencing a certain loss of steam in the face of security problems identified with updates. Historical manufacturers, some of which are already technically equal, could offer technologies surpassing those of Tesla in the coming years.