Tesla is turning consumers into car enthusiasts for all the wrong reasons

There isn’t a shortage of Tesla fans to be found. From young to old, and rich to poor, they’re simply everywhere. The brand itself has been built upon the promise of building a cleaner future with their electric cars, and the added promise that one day, the cars will drive themselves. When you factor in a founder who claims to be an altruistic, future-monger, everything starts to add up. Hundreds of thousands of people who never cared about what car they drove have now become obsessed with owning a Tesla product. Overnight car enthusiasts

Look at last year. It’s easy to see just how popular Tesla has become. It has delivered just shy of 500,000 vehicles and reported a profit of $721 million. For a company that released its first car in 2008, and was in the middle of a pandemic, it’s astonishing. With all its accolades and innovations, Tesla has catapulted itself to mainstream popularity. In the past, electric cars were a niche inside of an even smaller niche, something only the most hardcore environmentalists drove. Now, you can’t get away from them.

Consumers are drooling over every car Tesla releases. Take the Cyber Truck for example. Tesla has amassed over 1.3 million reservations at $100 each. That’s roughly $84 Billion for a truck that doesn’t even have an official production date. When I speak to my friends about Tesla, everyone knows the brand. Everyone wants one. Whenever I bring up my Miata, those same friends roll their eyes. (Poor taste in friends really).

A car enthusiast shouldn’t be excited by the prospect of driving less. It’s about the feeling of freedom and being connected to the car and the road. The magic of being in a great car on an exciting road is what it’s all about. Tesla, while it produces very quick cars, is not focused on giving you the best driving experience. It is focused on giving you the most technologically advanced automobiles. For Tesla, that means further development in autonomy. Because that’s what will drive the brand forward. The goal of Tesla is to eventually take away the entire driving experience altogether. 

There’s still some hope for the traditional enthusiast though. Take Cadillac for example. It uses its own semi-autonomous software called “Super Cruise.” A software that rivals Tesla’s and, in some cases, is better. What makes Cadillac different from Tesla is that they just gave us the CT5-V Blackwing. A V8, manual transmission super sedan producing 668 horsepower. That’s a company that recognizes the need to develop technology for the future but still caters to the hardcore enthusiast. 

Ultimately, we’re seeing a delineation of the driving experience from all over the automobile industry. Our definition of what a “car enthusiast” is and should be will change as time goes on. Change is good and will happen as technology advances. All I hope is that in 40 years, when I’m 70 years old, I can still find a fun and exciting car to drive. Myself.

16 Comments

  1. I’m a bit tired of the “should be” enthusiast. As a Korean luxury car collector (usually countered with “four word oxymoron, eh”) and generally interested in weird or rare cars, this has been an issue I’ve had with some car guys all my life. Why can’t people just enjoy/love/adore exactly the car they want?

    The argument above is weak. Tesla’s main achievement, in my eyes, is making EVs cool. That’s something we needed. I love the rumble, smell and feel of an engine with fire inside just as much as anyone else here, but I also love the power, ease of use and silence of EVs. There is no need to oppose these two techs from an enthusiast’s perspective.

    My wife has been tired of our car issues for a while now and we’ve recently started looking into all new cars; something I never thought I’d buy, ever, because I’m also a scrooge. Only EVs make the list, a list which I can talk more about later.

    Testing a friend’s 3, the upgraded AWD version doing 0-100 in 3s, was a blast. The autopilot stuff can always and at any time be overridden by manual controls. Seeing how many people drive, I’ve come to the conclusion that some assistance doesn’t hurt. Mandated automation still seems lightyears off, especially on the roads where I drive stupid; mostly gravel hydropower access roads. Take that, robots!

    tl;dr – cheer up, live and let live,

    1. Yes, the vibes reminded me of me complaining about these electric kickbike/scooter thingies in our cites: “Those are providing swift mobility that people enjoy for the wrong reasons!” Yes, some users are asshats, the scooting under influence incidents are unnecessary, multi-dimensional loads on society, and the corporations running those are capitalists. But They’ve said that about skateboards and joggers, too, am I wrong!

      I have some criticism for Tesla, just get me started, but it’s ok when people buy a 3 instead of a Camry. Admitted, friends will mention the Camry once and you’ll have maybe one more chat about it, whereas you’ll get to hear about the 3 for a couple of weeks, unprovoked. But that’s what friends are for, kind of.

    2. Very much all of this – as I believe I’ve alluded to before, I work for a rental company, and we’ve just rolled out the XC40 EV in one city. The area manager is already reporting back that quite a few of the early renters are curious Tesla owners, and consensus seems to be how favourably they think it stacks up against their own car. At least in this specific case, I’m inclined to think of Tesla as gateway enthusiasm. If we’ve got some people passionate about one specific car/brand, we might be able to sway them to other products, if we’re willing to meet them on some of their terms.

      At the same time, I also see the excitement for good autopilot tech as an indictment of our urban design. We’ve collectively made driving a miserable enough act that it’s reasonable to try and minimize that experience. Short of a local parkway that’s pretty fun at 4 in the morning (pretty much the only time with no traffic), I’d have to drive about two hours to find any fun roads. Good automation absolutely takes away the pain of a lot of the roads I drive frequently, so I’m here for it. Plus, it’s not as if there are plenty of enthusiast cars out there (even fairly affordable ones), so if people haven’t been converted already because the Miata is fantastic, they were never going to be converted to the author’s standard.

  2. all the things you cite as positive features of the Caddy are things Tesla could never do, as their cars are all electric, and everything you like about the Caddy involves greasy and gassy bits. given that they’re electric, can you tell me what you’d change about the 3 Performance or S Plaid to make them more, shall we say, enthusiastic? if the answer is a gasoline motor, I think you’re missing the point here. if the answer is a round steering wheel and HVAC buttons, I’d love that stuff too, but it doesn’t seem like they need it to sell cars.

    1. What I want from an electric car isn’t a gasoline engine. I want a car that doesn’t have the driving dynamics of a video game. That isn’t something that is Tesla’s highest priority. Alternatively, when you take the Taycan as an example, Porsche wanted the customer to have the same “Porsche” driving experience (as much as possible) with their electric car. I hope the Tesla Roadster will change my mind- if it ever comes out.

  3. People are excited by New & Shiny. Tech is the modern version of New & Shiny. It’s baked into our capitalist culture. Gotta have the latest (and greatest?) phone, watch, shoes. As a car focused culture, Tesla is just tapping into the cultural norms. These “Tesla fans” aren’t necessarily car enthusiasts, but they are interested in being seen with the newest tech and driving something that is very obviously Modern.
    Model 3 or a Camry or a CR-V… I see most modern vehicles as transportation appliances. When I see someone driving an interesting vehicle I give them a thumbs-up. Could be a Miata or a modded Land Cruiser, doesn’t matter. At least these enthusiasts appreciate what they choose to drive beyond the image of what it is.

    1. But isn’t the point of the Tesla that it is a rocket on wheels? I drove one of the earliest model S and it was quick, yes, but the interior was terrible and it was heavy, something you could feel at every turn of the steering wheel. That has become so much better. The Y has earned outright praise, despite being a [random letter]UV.

      What I’m saying is that stuff can be more than one thing. Yes, it’s a tech pebble, shiny and new and fashionable and kind of cool, but it’s also a car that offers outrageous performance at very reasonable prices. It’s easy to service, cheap to own, and really kind of practically designed. A Tesla can be more than either/or, if one allows oneself to look at it with their own eyes. I’d be a bit embarrassed if I end up buying a Tesla, because of all the prejudice, like owning a BMW, but I’d buy it despite that and enjoy it the way it fits my needs.

        1. Haha, I did think you would, but as a serial BMW owner (and the “good kind”, not wearing their caps the wrong way and leaving a trail of oil and burned rubber marks, when we first ride a wave of stereotypes here) have you noticed less general resentment from the kind of people that carry such feelings around? Because I figure Tesla kind of climbed to the top of stereotypical car brand resentment by pushing BMW off that hill. A little.

          1. I’ve noticed the same thing, honestly, in that the telsa brand is the new douchecanoe of the motoring world, in that they are many time driven in a manner befitting of a german car stereotype. I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t aware I was allowed to have those thoughts, as a BMW owner. 🙂

  4. I’m mostly aligned with the comments here. Tesla is a cult brand, with a really heavy dose of South Park Prius Smug working into the formula. For many, it’s a talisman of the owner’s virtue that carries with it a whole lot of baggage positive and negative depending on, of all disgusting things, politics.

    They’re interesting machines, but building cars is hard, building good cars that are affordable is damned near impossible and every brand that has been trying to do so for the last 100 years has bits of that formula that they do better or worse than everyone else. Tesla gets a pass on more shortcomings than any other OEM, which is fine, I just wish I didn’t have to subsidize it.

  5. What I am most concerned with is the general shift, in most industries, to subscription-based pricing, and the disposability of the product that goes along with that. Tesla doesn’t want you repairing their cars, they want them replaced like a new iPhone. That attitude is bleeding over into other manufacturers. Parts supply for older generations of Mercedes used to be nearly complete, I have heard Mercedes used to pride themselves on this. Now it is difficult to find parts for cars only a couple generations old. I am concerned that the only vintage cars that will be surviving drivers in 50 years are the ones where third parties have picked up the parts supply- MG midgets, Miatas, etc.: cars with the largest cult followings. The rest will be museum pieces and garage queens.

    1. That’s a much more serious argument and easy to agree with. Just because of the crazy parts pricing Tesla has, their cars are being wrecked after insurance claims for stuff like a door and two lights or similar. Breaker yards are full of 2-3 year old Teslas (as EVs are also much more prone to crashes during winter, presumably due to instant torque).

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