Musk’s 11th-hour modesty about Model III rings false

Model III cannibal

Nom nom? No! No!

A year ago, Tesla’s chief tech officer JB Straubel said Model III will have the company’s “next generation” technology. But today Musk downplayed any notion of Model III upstaging the S and X. Cannibalismo non grata!

So then, wherein lies the truth? Obviously somewhere between Straubel and Musk, but probably closer to the Straubel end of the continuum, because a year ago there was no pressing concern about the S or X getting cannibalized. Loaded terms like “next generation” could leave the lips without repercussion. Sigh. Such innocent times.

So if indeed the Model III sports “next generation” technology, and assuming this goes beyond dry stuff like build-friendly design and myriad efficiency improvements, what’s this all about? Any new James Bond features akin to bioweapon defense, falcon wings, ludicrous acceleration, automatic-opening doors? Hyperspace?

Hyperspace Button TeslaMondo

Well, since Model III is super-simple and low-risk, that leaves the user interface and the roof as fertile ground for gee-wiz stuff. The UI is probably a wholly different experience from Model S/X, even without a true heads-up display. Musk did compare it to a spaceship, remember? Was he merely breathing up our pant legs? Unlikely.

And the roof is probably photovoltaic to a useful degree. In fact, TeslaMondo believes Tesla will pioneer photovoltaic density alongside battery density. With time, smaller and smaller surface areas will become more usefully “solar.” Why not start with a car roof?

In a few years, about the only things Tesla won’t be able to solarize will be its Tesla-brand traffic tunnels. Then again, skylights and mirrors could come into play.

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Customers aren’t bolting to GM

Despite a year’s worth of high-profile headlines — in the New York Times, Wired and recently Business Insider — about GM beating Tesla to market with a really good EV, today we learn that the Bolt isn’t selling. Dealers are polarized in their treatment of the car, but neither treatment is generating sales. They’re either discounting the Bolt heavily, or marking them over sticker price while they await buses of super-excited Bolt customers who’ve never heard of Tesla.

Bungle Bus TeslaMondo

It’s clear that Tesla has paralyzed the EV market. No electrified Sonic will break that paralysis. And so the myriad journalists who’ve been writing about the Bolt vs Model III battle obviously made very dumb assumptions about parity between the two cars, and the two companies behind them. Yes, the cars have similar starting prices and range, and yes, both companies make cars. That’s good enough for auto journalists in 2017? Then journalism is  beyond dead.

And regarding the calendar, it’s not the chief determinant of who beat whom. Honda scored a similar “calendar victory” over Toyota when the two companies released their first hybrids in the late 1990s. The Insight beat the Prius to the US market by a few months.

And, um, the rest is history.

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Disney and Tesla, a second encounter

Tesla Model S Disney CartoonLooks like Disney’s next Cars flick will have some EV/hybrid characters, including a Model S-alike. Here’s some fun speculation about how Disney will treat “green” cars. Is Disney down with Tesla or not? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, this is a perfect time to revisit this post from a couple of years ago (reprinted below). TeslaMondo reported from Disney’s Epcot Center and found a blatant General Motors influence throughout. Has anyone been to the Epcot Center this year? Is the EV display still the same? Still showing a moldy ol’ Chevy Volt? Is the park still running the General Motors “test track” ride? Does Tesla still have a Model S stationed near the pedestrian entrance — way out in the parking lot instead of inside the park with the other scientific marvels, like Chevies?

Repost:

Volt at Epcot Center TeslaMondo

Epcot Center exhibit

Tesla at Epcot Center, TeslaMondo

Epcot Center parking lot

Today TeslaMondo is reporting from the Epcot Center. Turns out there’s a renewable energy mini-exhibit, with a wall full of facts/figures about solar energy n’ stuff, and with a Chevy Volt serving as the token EV.

Interesting.

A few steps away sits a big amusement park ride called the Test Track. There’s a big bowtie symbol in front of it. It’s a combination roller coaster and “educational” look at the rigors of General Motors product testing.

Interesting.

A few minutes of Googling reveals GM sponsored a Disney flick called Tomorrowland and product-placed the Volt throughout the movie.

Interesting.

In fact, the two companies go all the way back to the 1964 World’s Fair.

Interesting.

Meanwhile, near the Epcot pedestrian entrance, Tesla has strategically planted a P85D below the monorail. It’s just kinda sitting there, plugged into a generic charger, attracting an occasional gawker.

Interesting.

This little scene — a Volt onstage and a Tesla kicked to the curb — begs an important question about not only the Epcot Center, but any large-scale exhibition that purports to expand our appreciation of the world around us: When do exhibitions cross the line and become “sponsored content”? How much longer can Disney pretend Tesla doesn’t exist? Eventually it will have to cave in and replace the Volt — or perhaps the Bolt — with a Tesla as a valid representation of humanity’s EV frontier.

But this begs another question. Let’s say Disney decides to bite the bullet and make a serious attempt at an EV exhibit. How could it possibly keep the information fresh? No sooner would the paint dry on the exhibit than it would need updating, what with Silicon Valley’s innovative pace. So here’s the ONLY WAY to do it:

Step 1. Replace Chevy product with Tesla product.
Step 2. Install dry-erase whiteboard on the wall.
Step 3. Monitor Tesla’s website daily, and update whiteboard as necessary.

This will ensure accurate information about cost, performance, range, volume, solar integration and so on. But a whiteboard display would look pretty silly, wouldn’t it? No sillier than an adult wearing mouse ears, and Epcot has plenty of those walking around.

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TeslaMondo weighs kei car purchase, because it’s fun being a lightweight

TeslaMondo likes Tesla as an investment vehicle, but has no interest in owning the company’s vehicular vehicles.

In 2015, TeslaMondo bought a 2000 Toyota Mr2 Spyder and, a year later, urged all car enthusiasts to make a similar move. Buy an old-school sports car, an elemental machine created purely for motoring pleasure, before such machines, and the art of driving them, both disappear. Buy a horse before they go extinct, basically.

Toyota Mr2 Spyder, black with red factory interiorWell, sometimes the Mr2 feels too refined, too slushy, not to mention too large. It’s also too middle-of-the-road ordinary. Where’s the shock value in a Toyota that resembles a first-gen Boxster prototype?

It might be time to turn this knob one more notch, to buy a car so raw, so pure, that the Mr2 is rendered a rolling condominium. Yes, it’s time for the “less is more” mantra to become “the absolute least is the absolute most.” And the absolute least, in many measurable ways, is a Japanese-market kei car. Right away we have a semantics problem, for these aren’t really “cars” by American standards. They’re four-wheel motorbikes powered by tiny, high-revving motorcycle powerplants and wrapped in whimsical car-like bodies. But here’s the kicker: These go-carts are totally legit, designed and assembled by major auto manufacturers instead of your drunken uncle Stan.

Illegal in the US, you say? Wrong. Foreign-market cars of all stripes can be imported and driven in the US — and they’re totally exempt from America’s NHTSA and EPA standards — as long as they’re at least 25 years old. That means these cheeky kei cars, kei vans and kei utility trucks, many costing under $10,000, are yours for the taking. And many have low miles on them.

Who sells them? Importers like Japanese Classics, or JDM Auto Imports, or Montu Motors. They take care of the importation and titling agita. Your only legwork, besides getting the car home, is arraigning insurance and registration. Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s all pretty easy. However, a dry practice run might be a good idea. Advice to self: Run your plans by your insurance agent and local registry to make sure it’s all going to work out.

Here are the Big Four in kei sports cars. Big? Another semantics problem.

  1. Suzuki Cappuccino — a teensy Miata
  2. Honda Beat — a teensy Mr2, mid-engined to boot
  3. Autozam (Mazda) AZ-1 — a teensy Ferrari with gull-wing doors, also mid-engined
  4. Suzuki Alto Works — a teensy Dodge Omni Shelby GLH

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The driving experience appears to be at once exasperating and exhilarating. Exasperating because body roll, wheel hop, stability control — puzzles long ago solved in real cars — are unsolved here. Exhilarating because you hear a revvy motorcycle powerplant making motorcycle sounds while you look at a motorcycle instrument cluster and toss around a vehicle that weighs about 600 lbs less than an Mr2 Spyder. Bonus: driving one in the US means you’ve got the novelty factor of a Ferrari F40 — for under $10,000. In fact, there’s a Yamaha kei car with a Ferrari F40 body kit somewhere in Japan:

Yamaha AMI with F40 body kit

Safety-wise, we could learn from motorcyclists. Choose a brightly-colored car for maximum visibility, make sure the exhaust is loud, drive very defensively, avoid people’s blind spots, wear a helmet, and don’t drive it in bad weather. Also, if you have a short commute to work, consider wrapping every utility pole with foam padding, just in case. At least you needn’t worry much about a head-on collision with an oncoming car. Kei cars are right-hand-drive, so you can precisely hug the curb. Just watch out for potholes. They’re unkind to 12-inch rims. If an oncoming car does cross the center line, there’s plenty of room for error. That’s because your car is narrower than a Miata. Not by a couple inches. By a foot.

Two words about parts and service: Screw them. Actually, with the growing interest in kei cars, there’s a growing online parts network. And service? Some of these cars might make sense to the service techs at your local Suzuki dealer. Suzuki motorcycle dealer, that is.

So let’s say after five years of enjoyment, the thing craps out. Just pick a spot on your front lawn and push it there. Instant feng shui. Sure beats a pair of chintzy lion statues guarding your front stairs. Don’t you have some fond childhood memories of interesting car corpses in people’s yards? Saab Sonett? Fiat Bertone X19? Renault Le Car? Well, you could have the king of all yard ornaments for a new generation of car kids.

And you’ll still have your Mr2, running flawlessly as always, happy to forgive and forget.

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When journalists smoke crack, vol 2382

First — Autocar writes an article consisting entirely of stale crumbs about Tesla’s plans to build a small crossover based on the new Model III platform. It throws in a Model Y rendering that looks like a Porsche Macan. Neither the rendering nor the article deserves a single minute of attention.

Then — Claudia Assis from MarketWatch, who has covered Tesla long enough to know better, pretends the Autocar article is some sort of confirmation that Model Y is coming next year. She writes her own rehash of the source piece, and an editor slaps on a nifty headline about Model Y coming next year. So today we were served two hamburgers containing 100% Hamburger Helper.

And yet — TSLA jumps a few percentage points on the mere mention of an inexpensive crossover, so hot is the segment and so ignorant is the layman investor about Tesla’s long-discussed master plan.

Result — Tesla gains market cap because everyone is stupid. Anton Wahlman, a bumbling TSLA short who would happily write about Elon Musk kicking his cat if he could just get a good hidden video, figured out that today’s TSLA bump hasn’t a toe in reality, assuming the bump came from Model Y speculation. The day has finally come when Wahlman made a non-absurd observation.

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The best ad is no ads

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-10-11-42-pm

Tesla “Gallons of Light” ad.

Years ago, TeslaMondo complied some amateur Tesla ads . . .

Attempt Number One
Attempt Number Two
Attempt Number Three
Attempt Number Four
Attempt Number Five
Attempt Number Six
Attempt Number Seven
Attempt Number Eight
Attempt Number Nine
Attempt Number Ten
Attempt Number Eleven

. . . and concluded that cute kids, dew drops, saccarhine kissy-poo and polar bears don’t boost Tesla’s brand image. In fact, they detract because they’re typical car kitsch. The best advertisement for Tesla, the ad that really floats above the din, is the lack of typical ads. True then and true now.

Nevertheless, looks like Musk is going to have an amateur ad contest, thanks to a tweet from a father-daughter team (mostly father for sure, contrary to headlines). If they’re more of the same fare, maybe Tesla should pull a GM and crush the whole pile, EV1 style. Sorry to sound grumpy, but Tesla doesn’t need kitsch. Where is Tesla’s brand chief Ganesh Srivats, recently hired away from Burberry? Probably eyeing the back door after hearing about this.

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Model III still cloaked for good reasons

Here are four possible reasons why Tesla won’t reveal any details about the Model III until it’s already in production, presumably this summer.

  1. There’s no need to generate more sales.
  2. Why tip your hand to the competition?
  3. Some things might not be finalized. Huh? With just a few months left? Absolutely. This ain’t Detroit we’re talking about. On-the-fly changes are a Tesla hallmark.
  4. Some Model III features may leapfrog the S and X, rendering them stale already. Relentless innovation can shorten the shelf life of your products. With phones or graphic cards costing a few hundred dollars, this isn’t a big consumer problem. They can easily upgrade. With cars, it’s a problem. And retrofitting Tesla’s latest tech into the S/X might be difficult or impossible. So, in short, Tesla might be savoring the last glory days of the S/X. The III might vanguard the “second generation” of Tesla products that make the first look like possum’s peckers.
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