Is a Tesla still the only electric car to buy?
Tesla has become synonymous with electric cars, but should it be your first option?
Best in class
Some brands have been so successful over the past century that they now define the product itself: think Hoover, Tarmac, Coca-Cola… and Tesla. Ask a lot of people to name an electric car, and Tesla is the only answer.
You can see why: it was one of the first brands to mass-produce and sell electric cars, over a decade ago now. The Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and Renault Zoe came out about the same time, yet Tesla is the one we all reference. Why?
Well, partly because it has, in Elon Musk, a global CEO for whom the term “charismatic” barely covers it. Rarely a month goes by when he’s not in the headlines, even if it has nothing to do with Tesla and instead is about X (formerly Twitter) or SpaceX or his Starlink satellite system.
Secondly, and perhaps the most effective reason that Tesla dominates electric-car conversations, is that the cars were launched alongside their own supercharging public network. The network and the cars talk in real time to each other, telling drivers where they are, if they’re working and if they’re free. If you type a destination into your Tesla satnav, the system will tell you which Tesla supercharger you should stop off at en route, what percentage range you’ll have left when you get there, how long you’ll need to charge for to get you to your destination, and how much charge you’ll have left when you arrive. This is clear, practical, helpful and easy advice that targets two of drivers’ biggest fears around going electric: charging and range.
More consumers, more choice
So is a Tesla really the only electric car worth buying, the only one that provides a good ownership experience? Is there anything negative about Tesla ownership?
A decade ago, when Tesla emerged with Model S (swiftly followed by Model 3, Model X and Model Y, and the bonkers Cybertruck is now on sale in the States), there weren’t many other electric car competitors to choose from. The charging infrastructure was almost non-existent, too, so if drivers wanted something fun, with a premium feel, decent range and a reliable network of fast chargers, there was only one car that fitted the bill: a Tesla.
From January 2024, 22 per cent of every car brand’s range must be purely electric. In other words, there’s an awful lot of choice for consumers, and a lot of competitors for Tesla.
Which is perhaps why Elon Musk has dropped the price of his cars twice in 12 months. The most significant price drop at the start of 2023 knocked £7,000 off a Model 3 and Model Y. Which was great news if you were planning to buy one, but enraged customers who’d just bought, and not only could have got it cheaper, but saw the knock-on effect on the value of their more expensive car.
Was this the start of wobbles for Tesla? Another followed suit with Tesla’s announcement that it would open up its highly prized supercharging network to drivers of other electric cars, as long as they downloaded the brand’s app which would unlock their car. This offer is currently only available at a few supercharging hubs, but others will follow. Another wobble for Tesla consumers that they’d have to share their precious club with other users.
There’s also been a bit of a backlash against the fashion, begun by Tesla, to put every single function of the car that used to be on buttons, on the touchscreen. Windscreen wipers, fog lights, opening the sunroof, climate control, every single feature is buried somewhere on the infotainment menu on the screen. Other brands noticed and followed suit, but drivers find it distracting, bordering on dangerous.
There then followed the media storm over whether Autopilot is safe, and whether electric cars catch fire more often than petrol and diesel ones.
None of this, however, has put a permanent dent in Tesla’s popularity. The Model 3 and Model Y continue to top the best-seller lists for electric cars: every second of every day on Auto Trader, 26 people are looking at a Tesla ad. That’s a lot of interested drivers.
Tesla cars are still a great purchase: the brand realised that functions like the ability to turn the indicator sound to Santa’s sleigh bells, and the car graphics on the satnav to Santa’s sleigh, would appeal hugely to the family. They were the first to fill the touchscreen menu with entertainment like karaoke, and among the first to enable drivers to move their cars out of tight spaces remotely using the key or the app. The list of tech innovations is endless: this is not a brand resting on its laurels.
Their sustainability story has got better too: it used to be that their vegan synthetic leathers inside the car on the seats was predominantly made from plastics: now they are using biodegradable raw materials like bamboo.
And still that jewel in their crown, the supercharger network, acts like a homing beacon for weary travellers in need of a quick, reliable, well-lit pitstop to charge. There might be 50,000 charging points in the UK now, but that network is something else. Which means that while there are plenty of other good electric cars on the market now, many offering better value for money, much better design inside and out, and a better driving experience, there is only one decent charging network to join.
Plug me in.