Tesla Motors Company is coming off a very good week. On Wednesday, the company reported that it had sold more electric vehicles than any other automaker during the first quarter of the year, and turned a profit for the first time in its 10 year history.
On Thursday, Consumer Reports — the famously austere purveyors of customer satisfaction surveys and product testing for all manner of consumer goods — announced that Tesla’s Model S roadster outperformed every other commercially-available vehicle in their annual battery of stress tests, scoring a 99 out of a possible 100:
The Tesla Model S outscores every other car in our test Ratings. It does so even though it’s an electric car. In fact, it does so because it is electric.
Built from the ground up as an EV, this car’s overall balance benefits from mounting the battery under the floor and in the lowest part of the body. That gives the car a rock-bottom center of gravity that enables excellent handling, a comfortable ride, and lots of room inside.
The reviewers didn’t stop there. So thorough was the performance of Tesla’s flagship car, the magazine went on to describe the Model S as one of the best cars they’ve ever tested in its nearly 80 year history: “So is the Tesla Model S the best car ever? We wrestled with that question long and hard. It comes close.”
Tesla’s score of 99 is the highest for any hybrid or electric vehicle, and tied for the highest rating awarded to any car in the history of the magazine. The market for 100 percent electric cars has lagged behind the rest of the industry, hindered in part from the perception that the cars weren’t reliable or practical for everyday use. But coupled with the quickening expansion of high-speed charging stations in the most highly trafficked parts of the country, the endorsement from Consumer Reports could further expedite Tesla’s growth.
Lest critics think that fancy sports cars always sell well, it turns out that Tesla outsold the similarly-priced cars that drink gasoline created by Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi.
Sales of the company’s luxury sedans have steadily grown in recent months and the company is now on track to sell an estimated 21,000 cars by year’s end. Tesla believes that one way the company will sell more cars is to be able to sell them directly — not through a dealership. It is asking states that currently bar manufacturers from doing this to change their laws so that Tesla could sell cars to, say, Texans in Texas. A recent bill passed by a North Carolina Senate committee would ban the direct sale of automobiles, which would be a huge step backward for the company, which has sold 80 cars in the state.
Tesla’s recent growth and profit are nice, but the company needs to grow a lot more if it plans to displace more of the gas-guzzling vehicles currently on the road. Two things will help:
- More models: Tesla plans to release the “Model X” in 2014, which is a combination of an SUV and a minivan. A truck concept has intrigued CEO Elon Musk: “I have this idea for a really advanced electric truck that has the performance of a sports car but actually more towing power and more carrying capacity than a gasoline or diesel truck of comparable size.” The more models (which will require more factories) the better. Not everyone wants or can afford to buy what amounts to a very well-constructed sports car.
- Lower costs: Tesla makes a good argument that the true cost of ownership is much lower than the sticker price because the car does not require gasoline, buyers get federal and state tax credits and a strong resale value. However, the price tag is still only realistic for wealthy people. As the company scales up and charging stations become more widespread, costs will start to come down. One can hope that more varied models will provide those who want to buy an electric vehicle with more economical options.
The company’s recent successes have also highlighted the success of the Obama administration’s Energy Department, which granted Tesla a $465 million to fund research and development of energy-efficient cars. Tesla has already announced that they are on schedule to repay those loans in full by 2017, five years earlier than originally planned.