Thursday, February 15, 2018

Note to Elon Musk: Put the Electric Car Where it Counts





The automotive industry is surging toward a bright near-future of electric vehicles. But currently the industry-focus is on consumers and, let’s face it, they are mostly middle to upper-middle class suburbanites. The worst auto-related pollution is in the cities. Not only that, but buying a pricey new car is a slow-turnover process and will take decades to actually affect pollution. 

I have some thoughts to share with Tesla in that area and I shared them, but failed to even get a reply. Sorry ‘bout that, Elon. You must have been distracted over at Space X or the Gigafactory. But see if they make sense to you, the reader and, if you’re an average American, a car owner as well.

Manufacturers are showing great interest and (apparently) open wallets in the rush to catch up with electric vehicles. And there are few things that push progress in opening markets as much as money being spent.

What I pitched to Musk (through Tesla) was the suggestion that he focus his energy on a segment of the car market rather than expand his consumer base by merely shrinking the Model S to a more affordable Model 3. The Model 3 is a great idea, but I felt his long-held priority of affordability might well cost him a shot at two higher goals: 1) market domination and 2) brand recognition.

Both I think would be better served by entirely dominating a smaller market—one that is there for the taking and has a choke-hold on inner city pollution.

Worldwide, taxicabs account for millions, perhaps many millions of inner-city vehicles. New York City is said to have 50,000 registrations, 70,000 in Beijing, 100,000 in Mumbai and those numbers are but a fraction. Imagine the immediate effect of Tesla cabs immediately bettering air quality goals as cities throughout the world push for, require and perhaps even subsidize electric cabs. Municipal governments are demanding action.

But that’s only the environmental attraction

Far beyond that and marketing-wise, passengers hate riding in sedans posing as taxis. They’re hard to enter and exit with any dignity, bulky and uncomfortable as well as oversized for their use. For decades the world’s odds-on favorite has been the London cab, a vehicle you can enter and exit standing up, with a short turning-radius and chair-high seating. Blend those design requirements with the silent and comfortable Tesla-style ride and you will have surely created a winner.

The final goal is branding. Have you ever ridden in a Tesla? I haven’t, but was offered a test-drive when I stopped by a Tesla showroom in Seattle. When I told the salesman I couldn’t even afford the left front wheel, he said it didn’t matter. They were simply trying to expand the experience among the public. I turned him down, but the message was clear.

With a Tesla cab, tens of millions of passengers would suddenly be getting the Tesla experience across town or to the airport, foregoing a sedan-as-taxi for that iconic custom-built yellow Tesla just coming their way.

Yes, it would take a separate production-line while Tesla struggles to meet delivery demand for the Model 3. And yes, it would take design planning but Tesla designed and put the Model S into production in nine months. The final yes is that it would quickly dominate a market no other manufacturer is prepared to serve—a smaller market that in its entirety is huge. 

Are inner-city air quality, market penetration, brand recognition and passenger experience worthy enough goals for a remarkably cute, quiet and comfortable city cab that would sell in the millions?

I don’t know. Elon, are you there? Hello, earth calling Elon Musk.