Skip to 12:12 here, and you’ll hear Musk imply, without expressly stating, that Tesla is plotting a Gen 4 Tesla that everyone can afford. Model III, he acknowledges, leaves about half the population unable to swing the price.
“There will be future cars that will be even more affordable down the road . . . With fourth generation and smaller cars and what not, we’ll ultimately be in a position where everyone can afford the car.”
He might have been talking about the EV scene in general, not specifically a Tesla strategy. But for the sake of a measly blog post, let’s assume Tesla eagerly participates in this fourth generation.
It’s hard to imagine Tesla tackling a higher-volume project than Model III, given the Mount Everest of Model III orders that needs to be whittled to a pitcher’s mound in the next few years. But Tesla is all about “increasingly affordable” cars. Its website used to say so — remember? The big question is whether Tesla could pull off something that other marques have tried but failed to do, which is cheapen the brand without cheapening the brand. That’s the “dilution” in the headline.
This drive downmarket does have some cautionary tales. BMW and Mercedes both have intermittently flirted with cheap hatchbacks, with little success in the US, better elsewhere. The Caddy Cimarron, Porsche 924, Porsche 914, Ford Mustang II — all of them problematic for brand image. But the gold medalist in dilution pollution is the Jaguar X-Type. Remember that? During the brief time Ford owned Jaguar before selling to Tata, Ford managed to nearly destroy the brand by offering this generic, cheapo Jag Frankenstein of slapped-together Volvo and Mondeo parts.
It sold in greater volume than Jaguar’s other models, but that’s not saying much for a low-volume specialty brand. Tata rescued Jag and has since cranked out stuff worthy of the name. Imagine? A polished British brand polluted by Ford, but saved by . . . the same company that builds the Nano penalty box.
The cheapening of Tesla likely won’t result in the cheapening of Tesla, for a few reasons.
- There’s no impostor like Ford behind the curtain. Teslas are pure Tesla.
- A cheap Tesla at any price level would still set itself apart from the field, if only for being purely electric. How many affordable pure EVs will exist, even 10 years from now? How many with their own ecosystem of proprietary charging stations?
- Tesla’s brand identity is better defined than, say, Jaguar’s. What makes a Tesla a Tesla? That’s not very hard to answer, at least for now. When autonomous driving flattens the automotive landscape, putting a Honda Accord on equal footing with a BMW 5-Series, then every automaker will have to reinvent itself, including Tesla. Until then, Tesla is all about electric, fast, sexy, and a sprinkling of James Bond.
So far, Model III certainly has not diluted the Tesla brand. If anything, it has strengthened it by introducing Tesla to the general vocabulary. TeslaMondo has witnessed more traffic since Model III hit the scene, if that’s any valid measure.