“It’s a phone. It’s an iPod. It’s an Internet communications device. Are you getting it?” is the only line I can vividly remember from Jobs’ 2007 iPhone launch event in Cupertino. I recall watching the event after the fact and thinking to myself, ‘everything’s going to change’ and since then, both literally and figuratively, everything has. Seemingly indomitable giants of the industry like Motorola have significantly diminished market shares and others like Nokia have been all but wiped out of the industry and peoples collective psyche altogether.
Elon Musk, I believe is my generation’s Steve Jobs. He’s charismatic, innovative and if I may be so bold - could save the world one day. So, ideally, his approach to product development and bringing revolutionary ideas to market should be welcomed, not feared. But, on the 31st of March, 2016, Musk launched the Tesla Model 3, the ‘electric car for everyone’ and that scares me. Here’s why.
Drawing a parallel
Let’s draw a parallel with Jobs’ iPhone - post-launch, the iPhone not only spread like wildfire worldwide, but it became a sought after device generating its own cult following. People would line up for weeks to get their hands on the newest iPhone and instinctively, competitors considered the iPhone the benchmark by which to create mobile devices. Apple has been at the vanguard of ‘what a phone should be’ and in my opinion, the March release of the iPhone SE, is a homage to Jobs’ in more ways than one. Today, iPhones are everywhere and Apple has managed something seldom seen in the tech or any other industry - it created a necessity, branded it and made it a commodity that needed to be replenished annually.
Fast Forward to Musk’ launch of the Model 3 on the 31st. It had the same, quintessential archetypes of Jobs’ charismatic iPhone launch. 0-60 in under 6 seconds, a range of 215 miles, minimalist design, cutting edge tech - the works; all for $35,000. This is by all means great news for the average (mass) consumer and the planet. It will do to revolutionise the automotive industry what the iPhone did for the mobile industry. It will weed out the redundancies, put fire at the heel of competitors to up their game whilst being competitive, make travel more affordable and convenient - all good news for consumers then.
What’s my gripe about?
An electric car in every household, one which is technologically advanced and at one point could help create an automotive eco-system that would see autonomous cars on every street, making driving (or the lack thereof) safer, is a welcome prospect. What I fear is none of the above.
In 2007, if one distills what the iPhone did to the telecommunications world, it would be that - it made every phone “try” to look and feel like an iPhone. Tesla, as a brand is the automotive equivalent of Apple and like Apple has steadily created a following, one which influences and drives the industry’s needs and wants.
Tesla is but one way of making an electric car. But it’s not the only way. While competition, for the most part, drives innovation and pushes companies to make better and more innovative products to counteract growing opposition; as was the case in Apple, it also tends to scuttle creativity in the face of insurmountable consumer demand. To me, the car is the last major vestige of choice for a consumer. It’s premise, much like what the mobile phone was at one point, was a reflection of its owner.
I’m not against the ‘idea’, that is Tesla. What I fear however is how competitors will react to it: innovate or replicate, and the sense of whether we are seeing the death of the car and the birth of