James Baggott: Tesla Model 3 – a high level of interest, even higher levels of stress

James Baggott: Tesla Model 3 – a high level of interest, even higher levels of stress

I COULD use many words to describe Elon Musk (pictured) the ultra-ambitious boss of electric car specialists Tesla, but many of them have been ruled out owing to the fact he’s a multi-squazillionaire with enough lawyers to tie me up in court for the rest of my working life.

And to be honest, having spent many hours with lawyers recently, the last thing I want to see any time soon is another one. Especially an angry one.

Musk — these days worth an estimated $14.2 billion – has had an interesting career. He co-founded PayPal, which was eventually flogged off to eBay, in what I can only assume was the highest ever Buy It Now price ever of $1.5bn. With that money, he probably had a pretty good party, after which he looked at the world and decided he was the man to change it.

Now I’m all for a bit of ambition, and when you’ve got as many crisp notes under your mattress as Musk has, the sky is quite literally the limit. In fact, such was the might of Musk’s bank balance, the sky wasn’t quite high enough — he wanted to colonise Mars. As you do. So he set about building SpaceX, a company that aims to make space travel a reality.

With space ticked off the list, Musk got bored again and set about launching Tesla. He then went on to help start SolarCity, now a leading solar panel producer in the US, and he’s mooted the concept of Hyperloop, a high-speed transportation system that uses tubes and pressurised capsules to transport people around on a cushion of air. I can’t help thinking the man has watched too many Bond movies and now, scarily, has the capital to act them out.

Google Musk’s name and you’ll be treated to hundreds of thousands of articles – not all positive. It helps that he’s good for a quote or two and not afraid to speak his mind. In recent weeks those articles are being added to at an exponential rate – and that’s down to one thing: The Tesla Model 3.

I’m not sure if even Musk realised quite how this car would take the world by storm. No firm date has yet been announced for the car – Tesla will only suggest ‘late 2017’ — but Musk’s magic helped secure 325,000 orders for the car in a week. Yes, you read that right, 325,000 people handed over a $1,000 deposit to get themselves onto the waiting list.

Few would deny the new, affordable Tesla looks pretty cool. It’s set to cost from $35,000 — half the price of a Model S — and it’ll have a range of 215 miles, hit 60mph in under six seconds and offer space for five adults. There’s talk that despite its small dimensions, it’ll rival the Skoda Superb for legroom too, thanks to the front passengers being able to sit further forward as the batteries will be under the floor.

Whatever finally emerges from the factory, the car industry has been left in a state of shock at this start-up’s ability to entice so many people across the world to part with cold, hard cash to get their names on a list for a car that they’ve never even sat in, let alone driven. Tesla says that if – and there’s a big if here – they sell every car that’s been reserved, the Model 3 launch will become the ‘biggest one-week launch of any product ever’.

If that isn’t impressive enough for you, take stock of the fact Tesla managed to do all this without any advertising or paid endorsements – the hype surrounding the launch was all it needed. So with $325 million sitting in the bank the company now faces a new challenge – actually making the cars. And it’s this that’s causing Musk a big headache.

Many will be waiting for him to fall flat on his face. It’s all very easy to make promises, they say, but actually turning them into reality is a very different story. And it appears Musk is feeling the heat – at a recent press event he moaned it was more efficient making a baby than a Tesla.

Someone clearly needs to explain how babies are made, but like I said, Musk’s always good for a quote…

Tesla will need to ramp up production from the current annual tally of 90,000 cars to 500,000 a year – look at the numbers and you can see why Musk’s venture has been labelled ‘a tad ambitious’ by almost everyone, everywhere.

Tesla is currently on the hunt for engineers to help make Musk’s dream come true. While the man himself is taking things rather seriously too. On a recent press call he said his desk had been moved to the end of the production line so he can keep an eye on things. He even admitted he’s got a sleeping bag at the office for when he pulls a really late one. And there’s nothing more dedicated than a car boss sleeping on his own production line.

I can’t imagine the stress Musk is under right now, but my guess is he won’t have to worry for too long. With that many orders in the bank he’ll be a ripe target for an ambitious company desperate to make an electric car and struggling themselves. Oh, I don’t know, maybe one based not too far away from his offices that is already sucking up all his cast-off reject engineers for their own project.

The Apple i Model has a certain ring to it, don’t you think? Then maybe Musk can move on to his next project with even more money in the bank. Now that is a scary thought…

Who is James Baggott? He’s the founder of Car Dealer Magazine and Chief Executive Officer of parent company @BaizeGroup, an automotive services provider. He now spends most of his time on Twitter @CarDealerEd and annoying the rest of us.

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