The Tesla Model S shook the industry, but its echo is fading

The consumer electronics industry has changed dramatically over the past two decades. AR/VR devices have come and gone and come again, smartphones have grown from filling our pockets to dominating our lives, and the edges of connected services now touch everything we touch.

However, the most interesting thing for me to watch has been the development of the technology that drives us. And I mean that literally: cars and scooters and e-bikes and all the other wild and wonderful forms of transportation that have grown fenders or wheels over the past few decades.

Love for all this has always been at my core. Many moons ago, I worked as an automotive editor before becoming editor-in-chief of this site. In the late 2000s, that mostly meant pondering what was going on in the world of Ford Sync or writing about flying car concepts that are still valid today.

A great advantage was driving many early EVs, although it didn’t always end well. In 2012, I attempted to travel from Portland to Seattle for an off-air Engadget Show episode. The poor Mitsubishi i-MiEV we borrowed didn’t do the trick.

But then came the Tesla Model S. I knew then that it would be important. Everyone in the industry knew it would be significant, but only looking back over a decade later can we truly appreciate how significant it was. In the rearview mirror, we can see what a shame Tesla has barely moved the needle since then.

A look at Fremont

Before the (long) launch of this car in late 2012, Tesla invited me to the supposed grand opening of the Fremont factory. The place was incredibly large and almost empty. Tesla officials were proud to show off the numerous giant presses that will stamp Model S components.

Other Tesla workers would properly feed sheets of metal into these presses, which would come straight out the other end as soon as they went in. The presses were there and they were a-pressing, but there were no dies that formed the parts. This event, like many upcoming Tesla events, was somewhat lacking in substance.

Again, I was very impressed when I spoke with Peter Rawlinson. Rawlinson, formerly of Lotus and Jaguar, was Tesla’s chief engineer at the time. He and I talked for ages about the merits of lowered battery packs and the torque of electric motors. It’s all standard stuff these days, but back then it was a great learning opportunity for me. (You may enjoy some of his thoughts series of videos here.)

Early Tesla EVs had two-speed transmissions. I asked Rawlinson if there was a third gear to work with the rear.

“No,” he said. “We just revved the motor back.”

It seems like such a simple concept now, but at the time it caused a small explosion between my ears. I spent the rest of the day thinking about the myriad other unintended consequences of this electrification transition. Nothing else happening in the industry was as exciting.

My opinion

At that Fremont event, I went fast in the Model S for a lap or two around Tesla’s test track, but I had to wait until early 2013 to take one in my first race. A proper review of the Model S. It was a Performance edition with an 85 kWh battery pack and a sticker price of $101,600.

I picked her up from New York and drove her home to Albany, New York. Along the way, I got a glimpse of what would become another unfortunate Tesla theme: an uneasy relationship with the media.

Before driving away, a warning light came on in the dash. I called Tesla PR to ask what to do.

“Oh, don’t worry, we’re watching you,” they said. “This is a good.”

I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve been reviewing devices for decades, and I’ve always assumed some degree of access was involved, but this seemed a little more terrifying.

(This has gotten worse over the years. In a later review of a Model 3, I complained that the car’s high beams were horrible on country roads. Tesla PR asked me when this happened so their engineers could take the footage from my camera while driving.)

The warning light went off, Big Brother was already in the back seat, and I went back to enjoying the car. After reviewing the Tesla Roadster two years ago, a beautiful mess of a car thrown together, the Model S was something completely different. It was calm, composed, and not nearly as drafty. I drove 165 miles home with a 23 percent margin, on a 24 degree day in January.

That’s pretty weak by today’s standards, but remember that the most common EV of the day was the Nissan Leaf. In 2013, it was the Leaf’s range EPA rated 75 miles away. The Model S was on another level.

But it wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t a fan of many of the interior materials and design choices in 2013, and knowing everything would have disappointed me. it really hasn’t improved since then.

I also found the handling difficult, but my biggest complaint was the lack of advanced driver assistance systems. That Model S didn’t even have adaptive cruise. Autopilot was still years away and an ongoing failure Full Self-Driving far away.

And yet I gave it a glowing review, and it was well deserved. Like many others, I was very impressed. I recently spoke with several buyers of these early sedans, and despite the many teething problems, most were impressed with their cars. (So ​​many broken doorknobs…)

However, it probably goes without saying that most people I’ve spoken to are less enamored with Tesla’s CEO than they were then. Among these, racially abusive work environmentsand persistent anti-employee behavior, hailing Tesla is more complicated than it used to be. It’s a real shame.

An evolving landscape

The seismic forces created when the Model S fell still reverberate through the industry. You can feel them in almost every premium EV on the market today.

And yet the bulk of EV innovation is happening in other EVs. If you look at what he did with Peter Rawlinson Aydin Weather, a sedan that can travel more than 500 miles on a charge, it’s easy to imagine what might have happened had Tesla not parted ways. Porsche Taycan’s on-road performance, off-road prowess Rivian R1T and minimalist cool Volvo EX30 they raise the bar.

Tesla has been more successful than any other manufacturer in bringing more electric cars to more roads and more chargers to more places. Tesla made EVs viable and desirable. You have to respect him for that. However, the company’s greatest achievements in recent times have often focused on quality and, indeed, cost reduction and minimizing complexity. security.

Look at today’s Model S and you still see a car from 2012. It’s faster and has more range, sure, but it’s the same platform and basic design I reviewed ten years ago. Thinking about the time wasted on empty projects like the Model X and steamrollers like the new Roadster, it’s hard not to feel the pang of missed potential.

Note Engadget’s 20th Anniversarywe’ve been revisiting products and services that have changed the industry since March 2, 2004.

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