There has been a huge amount of media interest in alternative fuels in the last few years. Surely this would be a good thing? Yes and no, says Darryl Siry of Tesla Motors. In a hard hitting blog entry over on their site, Darryl has taken the media, both old and new, to task for not asking the tough questions, for not analyzing the viability of various fuel options, and for treating EV's like the Tesla as a "gee whiz" novelty story, rather than a potentially revolutionary stage in automotive development:
"Journalists frequently ask me to comment about competitors of Tesla Motors. I list the following: GM, Ford, Toyota, and Nissan. Some journalists are surprised that I don't consider Phoenix Motorcars, Wrightspeed, ZAP, or the various other players they might have been thinking about."
Darryl's point here is that Tesla Motors is an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) producer of electric vehicles with a proprietary all-electric powertrain, an "entirely unique battery pack", and an efficient AC induction motor that is manufactured in a factory owned by Tesla, and the chassis and body are designed by Tesla themselves. Basically, Darryl argues they are much closer to the standard business model of other internal combustion engine powered cars than they are to small experimental start-ups, or producers of neighborhood electric vehicles.
Darryl goes on to suggest that many other EV companies out there do not have a viable business model. He cites Phoenix Motor Cars as an example (who we covered here), claiming that their profitability relies entirely on selling Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) credits to companies who must abide by the ZEV mandate that was established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). He argues that while Tesla will also be making use of ZEV credits, they have not calculated these into their financial projections because a) they are unsure of what value they will have, and b) CARB has previously amended strict mandates under pressure from the major car companies, as anyone who has seen Who Killed The Electric Car will know.
It is certainly good to see Tesla setting their sights high, and calling for tougher media scrutiny, both of themselves and their competition. Undoubtedly, Tesla is looking like a very important company to watch, and seems to be several steps ahead of many of the other alternatives out there in terms of financial backing, manufacturing capabilities, and performance (at least in terms of speed, handling and acceleration). It really does seem closer to a conventional high-performance sports car than any of the other 'alternatives' it is regularly compared to. However, it must be said (and this is a point picked up by some in the comments on the blog) that it is hard to fully evaluate the viability of the Tesla until it is out there on the roads in large enough numbers to prove its reliability, its safety and, ultimately, its level of customer satisfaction. There have, for example, been many reviews of test drives published in the press (examples here and here) that rave about the Tesla, but we are yet to see an extended road test of even a few days (if we've missed it, please let us know!). Of course, Tesla's announcement that they will be building a major assembly plant in Alburquerque, NM will go some way towards proving they are a serious player in the automotive market, but the real proof will be in the long-term driving.