Why didn't the other car companies......

Why didn't the other car companies......

I have been driving for 40 years and have owned more than 20 cars. Even though the various new cars had new features I never remember being delighted and awed on a regular basis by cars other than the Tesla model s. Given that all of the car companies had many years and a lot of money to develop and offer truly new advances in technology, the results have been derivative and incremental. Specifically, why didn't another car company:

Make an electric car that people want. I don't mean a compliance car but a better car than others at the same price point. Faster, quieter, smoother, carries more.

Give us a big touch screen to control most functions rather than knobs. While simple and intuitive it is so powerful I can't imagine going back.

Provide a system for over-the-air updates. When I downloaded system 7 recently, there were more significant changes than would occur in a new model year in other cars.

Give us an alternative to gas stations for both around town and distance travel. Why are other car companies not providing these kind of solutions.

Provide service that is more responsive and a system that doesn't require that they find something to charge you for.

Triy to solve the CO2 problem (since they helped created it) rather that pretend it doesn't exist or worse!

I am not brand loyal and would love to see a compelling car from another company, but at this point all of the others just seem so far behind. What gives?

buickguy | November 9, 2015

Short term profits rule over our long term health. Sad commentary on our corporate system which favors shareholders so much and society on the whole so little.

sule | November 9, 2015

It is really simple and boils down to what @buickguy says.

Money is the real product. Cars are just the means to get to it. It is often easier to move the investments to another company than to try to change an existing one from the ground up - which is what is required.

And then there are pesky dealerships who (would or already do) refuse to sell EVs.

We can go into details, if you wish ... but that is, essentially, it.

jbunn | November 9, 2015

You should consider the way organizations make decisions. The modern ICE automobile is an incredibly intricate and refined device. 100 years of engineers have worked tirelessly to improve it. Careers are made on it. Corporate profits rely on it.

Then an individual comes along with the great idea that requires a manufacturer turn their back on 100 years of progress. That individual becomes a lunatic, a heretic, an infidel. Organizations are ruthless about marginalizing these "bad team players".

It's possible that there have been engineers in all of the major companies that have put forth the idea that electric is better, only to have been slapped down.

In the case of Tesla, it has two advantages. There is no entrenched ICE teams to fight with over resources, and electric-only vehicles are pushed from the top down. Any of the other manufactures COULD put out vehicles to compete with Tesla IF they believed they could. It's the mental inertia of their teams and management that holds them back.

Mathew98 | November 9, 2015

@mclary - Wow, what a bonehead! You have no clues who the OP is, do you?

Save you idiot flags for other more deserving posts, would you?

Tâm | November 10, 2015


Give the man a break please.

Below is John on the left who just like everyone else, was supercharging but then Greg Reichow, the VP of Tesla Manufacturing came an greeted him and invited him to go inside the factory.

When was the last time that a personal camera allowed to photograph inside the factory?

For John? no problem!

Hundreds of Tesla workers from Powertrain Manufacturing Department stopped working, lined up, was clapping and welcoming John on the left who was accompanied by Greg Reichow, the VP of Tesla Manufacturing walking on the right:

He's featured in the news

as well as Tesla blog:

prp | November 10, 2015

John the answer to your question has been amplified in this thread. Traditional car makers are just like Mclary, obsolete dinosaurs with no clue on how to improve, and a complete inability to see how stupid and pathetic they look in the modern era.
We must give credit to the major breakthrough that made tesla what it is, creating a battery pack of thousands of small coolable cells all below the floor to improve vehicle performance. Sounds fundamentally obvious now, but certainly wasn't then. Indeed everything tesla does seems obvious now.

prp | November 10, 2015

Wow, just read the forbes article. Congratulations John!
So mclary, what have you achieved in your life? I'll take a non response as "nothing"

dsodonoghue | November 10, 2015

@JohnGlenney - Respect

JohnGlenney | November 10, 2015

Thanks all, I guess I just didn't want to believe it. I preferred to think Elon recruited the team from Mars!

JohnGlenney | November 10, 2015

I have never been flagged by McClary, a rite of passage. I am honored.

J.T. | November 10, 2015

@JohnGlenney +100 Pure class all the way.

tes-s | November 10, 2015

John - all good questions with no good answers. I think the executives are just too old, fat, happy, and lazy with big secure compensation packages.

Has happened before. IBM and personal computers? Hello Microsoft, Apple, Dell...

IBM got into the market - and not all that late - but then exited (sold to Lenovo). It will be interesting to see if the automakers can get into the EV market and stay. I think they will, because unlike IBM which still has a business without PCs, ICE will be more like photographic film - remember a company called Kodak?

I saw an article last week about another startup to challenge Tesla for the EV market. Since the big car companies can't seem to develop anything interesting themselves, why not bankroll a startup?

J.T. | November 10, 2015

@tes-s Your analogy to Kodak is spot on. Kodak was first to develop digitl photography as you can read here:

Just like GM was first with the EV1. Long on genius short on vision and guts.

Madatgascar | November 10, 2015

Tesla could be ignored for a while, but with Faraday, Apple, Google and China entering the field, the LAMEs (Legacy Auto Maufacturing Enterprises) will finally wake up. If they don't, it's pretty easy to foresee a future where new companies in California attract the top talent and make the "gotta have it" cars of the future, and new companies in China flood world markets with half priced knock-offs.
LAMEs may go the way of Kodak, or hang on like Skoda, or something in between... Skodak?

PhillyGal | November 10, 2015

"Because this is how we've always done it."

Words to precede a slow corporate death, no doubt.

Earl and Nagin ... | November 10, 2015

Here's a piece I wrote 11 years ago as I was trying to understand the answer to the OP's question myself. "Our" EV1 had just been taken away and the smear campaign against us EV1 drivers was in full swing. Nobody had heard about Tesla and few had heard about the modern EVs. "Who Killed the Electric Car" was being written.
So far everything that has happened in the auto industry from Tesla being successful, to GM and Ford building the Volt and energy series to correlate system by system to their corporate executive org chart, to BMW creating the i3 to fill a niche that doesn't threaten their mainstream vehicles, to VW's cheating scandal has been consistent.

jordanrichard | November 10, 2015

I gather McClary's remarks got remove via flaggings because I don't see any remarks from him.

Bighorn | November 10, 2015

I thought Mclary's comment was hilarious both because he knows full well who John is and that John would probably get a kick out of it. Too bad he got flagged.

jordanrichard | November 10, 2015

To the OP.

You have to remember who are the real customers for the manufacturers, and that is the dealers. Dealers make a large chunk of their money at the back of the house with parts and service. Since EVs don't require any real service/consumable parts, they won't make any after-the-sale revenue.

Take Nissan for example. They clearly know how to make an EV. They have been making the Leaf since I believe 2009. If they really wanted to, they could scale it up to a mid sized car. However they haven't and they won't, because the dealers won't buy them. Do you think it is a coincidence that all EVs from other companies are small entry level size cars..... The dealers don't what to replace their bread and butter mid sized cars replaced with something that doesn't need to come back to them for routine service.

Madatgascar | November 10, 2015

Beyond that, the EV's that are built by the LAMEs are fuggly looking cars purposely intended to reinforce the image of EV drivers as dorky slow-lane nerds. Sorry, I guess the Leaf and the i3 may appeal to some, but you have to admit the design intent was "quirky" so as not to compete with the main product.

SbMD | November 10, 2015

+1 @Bighorn - There was more snark in McClary's post, which I took as being more over-the-top, in recognition and homage to @JohnGlenney. Usually they are sparse and formulaic.

+1 @JohnGlenney - Also to your point about other cars, I've enjoyed getting new (or new-to-me) ICE cars, but they have all been relatively minor iterations of improvement over other cars. The MS is such a departure from the bloodline of ICE, that one can't help but feel that you've stepped into the future of personal transport.

overthewoods | November 10, 2015

@jordanrichard I think you hit the nail on the head there. The real question is where does the power lie in the auto business? I don't think the manufacturers have it, nor do the consumers (though it is changing for consumers). It's with the legacy dealer network and their sales model. It's impossible for the manufacturers to escape at this point. And because EVs require MUCH less service than an ICE, there's not much in it for the dealers. That would lessen their power, and their disproportionate share of profits in the channel.

I would argue that a huge part of the Tesla revolution isn't about the car, it's about the sales and distribution model. That has dealers scared nationwide so we see reactionary laws like those in Michigan and other states. There's a lot at stake in the dealer network and unless manufacturers can build an EV that needs as much or more service than an ICE, the dealers are not going to take them. There are serious limits to what manufacturers can do to change that. So it will be interesting to watch the manufacturers try to roll out a deeper product line of EVs.

jordanrichard | November 10, 2015

tbouquet, I read once that Toyota said that in designing the Prius, they found that people who were concerned about the environment enough to pay a premium for a small alternative fuel car, wanted their cars to look different, to show that they as owners are different. After I read that, I thought that was rather egotistic of those consumers.

Baribrotzer | November 10, 2015

@J.T.: "Just like GM was first with the EV1. Long on genius short on vision and guts."

@prp: "We must give credit to the major breakthrough that made Tesla what it is, creating a battery pack of thousands of small coolable cells all below the floor to improve vehicle performance. Sounds fundamentally obvious now, but certainly wasn't then."

GM was also first with the "skateboard" chassis, back in 2002 - although they used it for a fuel-cell powertrain rather than batteries, and in a vaporware dream car, not anything destined for the real world:

renwo S alset | November 10, 2015

Why innovate when you can just cheat?

Grinnin'.VA | November 10, 2015

@ jordanrichard | November 10, 2015

[[ After I read that, I thought that was rather egotistic of those consumers. ]]

^^ Compared with what other group of new car buyers?

jordanrichard | November 10, 2015

The point I was making and perhaps the word egotistic was wrong, is that the consumers Toyota combed who see themselves as wanting an alternative fueled car to save the planet are equally or more concerned with making sure that everyone knew that they better than anyone else because they are saving the planet.

Not to take this in a different direction, but the planet existed before we did and it will still be here afterwards. So to say one is "saving the planet" is being grandiose. The more accurate thing to say is improving the environment.

Madatgascar | November 10, 2015

I doubt if people really said they wanted badging to let everyone know they were being green. They probably did get a few people who said they wanted the cars to "look different," and this was a convenient excuse to give us cars that look...well, different. To put it charitably.

The designers know exactly what they are doing. There had to have been a lot of planning to make someone like me want to NOT buy some of these offerings. Thank goodness Tesla came along.

Jama | November 10, 2015

Its called vested interest.

kwen197 | November 10, 2015

John the simple answer is the ICE companies will not engineer something new and creative unless they are forced to.
The majority of their engineers are put to work on reducing cost, so they loose all there creative skills.

JohnGlenney | November 10, 2015

Jordanrichard... Good point about the dealers, they will want more of the new car price if they start to lose service revenue. I wonder if GM is serious about making a decent car with the bolt. They will need to throw the dealers a bone to have them sell it. 18M new ice cars will be sold in the US this year with car companies reporting huge profits, why change?

Roamer@AZ USA | November 10, 2015

BMW sells "The Ultimate Driving Experience"

Tesla sells; The Utimate Driving System.

Tesla has changed the entire system of auto transportation from a stand alone car to a complete transportation system;
How it is purchased
How it is serviced
How it looks
How it drives
How and where it is fueled

The other car manufacturers still see the car as a product that is sold. They are not even aware that Tesla has created a completly new integrated transportation system.

After several years of driving and fueling Tesla cars I now just laugh at the paper cars the legacy companies hype. Without a fueling system integrated with the automobile they are useless. Tesla is selling more than a car they are selling a complete system as a transportation solution.

mjwellman | November 10, 2015

When I decided last year I wanted an EV I looked at all of the cars available. There was only one car out there that looks good, drives wonderfully, and can go more than 120 miles on a charge. Yes, it's twice as expenseive but it's 4X better than anything currenlty on the market. Not to mention that Tesla has decided to make it possible to go long distance by building their own charging network. Any of the other car companies could have done the same thing, but none of them have the insight, courage, and belief that EV are the future. They have taken the safe route and built a car that meets CA standards meanwhile they want to push their ICEs. I think there are a variety of reason why they do this but suffice it to say that if it wasn't for Elon there would be very little intrest in EV's.

Roamer@AZ USA | November 10, 2015

@JohnG, Sadly the next model EV that matches Tesla will likely come from a non automobile start up similar to Tesla. Changing a combustion engine engineering culture that has existed for 100 years is almost impossible.

Think IBM and the PC. IBM was the most powerful computer empire in the world and in a relatively short span of time was obliterated by the PC.

The change to EV will not come from the Legacy car companies. They are incapable of making the change just as IBM was unable to comprehend the changes the PC would bring. I think the major players are looking at Tesla like IBM looked at tiny little goofy Apple. They can not even comprehend that this change is possible.

So my bet is we will see interesting EV's enter the market but not from traditional companies and not sold thru traditional channels. Didn't Dell Computers start in a dorm room.

thegzak | November 10, 2015

@JohnGlenney @JordanRichard,

To keep customers coming back for EV service, the dealers can simply install paid charging stations. That would increase charging coverage dramatically, as well as preserve their "cheap now expensive later" business model. Win win :-)

prp | November 11, 2015

@roamer, continuing your thought, as we all know there are many manufacturers planning cars to defeat the model s. None are in production yet, however it's likely many european brands will bring out such a car in 2017, just as tesla advance to the mass market with the much cheaper model 3, thereby threatening all of the lower cost brands. | November 11, 2015

Tesla reminds me of Apple in 1979 . Tiny with a cute little PC that IBM easily out-designed in 1981. But IBM somehow lost the thread that software was where the value lay.

Like early Apple, Tesla makes mistakes all over the place but has an opportunity to succeed by capitalizing on their early software lead. Unlike the PC business, however, the BEV requires massive hardware investment to carry through to mass adoption.

Batteries are not ICs. Tesla is forced to get into the battery business to assure themselves of the lowest cost and best technology. Huge gamble.

The Model S in my estimation weighs 50% more than it should for great road trip performance. Weight reduction is another big hardware/cost challenge to get to mass adoption.

Great start but not out of the woods yet. They have my vote.

Big companies don't seem to be good at the Art of the possible.

renwo S alset | November 11, 2015

To elaborate, why innovate when you can...
Cheat (VW, Porche, Audi)
Kill with impunity (GM)
Fail and be bailed out (GM, Chrysler)
Build crap and sell it in huge volume (all of them)

royrichardson | November 11, 2015

@JohnGlenney There are two other factors that often get overlooked.
1. If you work for a big automotive company the low risk option is to gradually make changes to the car you have already sunk your investment costs into. If you work for a disruptive company like Tesla your Unique Selling Point has to differentiate you from the masses and you have far fewer constraints.
2. Do not underestimate the impact of Tesla not using dealers. There is a strong symbiotic relationship between the big car companies and their dealerships, where the dealers often have to place bulk orders at the start of each year where they commit to buy a certain number of each type of car. So where is the incentive to build a car that needs less servicing or that is constantly improving?

NKYTA | November 11, 2015

Nice John. Glad you got your Mclary response even though I missed it. ;-)

JohnGlenney | November 11, 2015

Thanks all for the thoughtful replies. Tesla realized some time back that to reach the broader market, batteries need to be cheaper and more plentiful and this is going to require time and capital. Granted the legacy car companies are not going to be major players going forward, with Apple and Faraday as the best bets, where are their gigafactories? It will be hard to take the claims of Tesla competitors seriously unless they have secured a meaningful battery supply. In addition the Tesla charging infrastructure is so advanced, it behooves a future competitor to just make a deal with Tesla. This, in turn will allow Tesla to grow the Supercharger network much quicker.

Grinnin'.VA | November 11, 2015

@ jordanrichard | November 10, 2015

[[ ... the consumers Toyota combed who see themselves as wanting an alternative fueled car to save the planet are equally or more concerned with making sure that everyone knew that they better than anyone else because they are saving the planet. ]]

^^ I know several Prius owners. Not a single one makes "sure that everyone knew that they better than anyone else". Indeed, I don't know of any Prius owner who acts like they believe that.

I believe that your claim is an inaccurate slur.

jordanrichard | November 11, 2015

Grinnin'VA since you are seemingly hell bent on parsing people's words out. Go back to my post and see where I cited that EVERY Prius owner was like that. Go ahead, I'll wait.

I am citing what Toyota said they found out through their focus groups. Which means there was a general consensus in those focus groups. However apparently you don't seem to believe that people are allowed to speak in general terms. Just as there are multiple reasons why we bought our Tesla's, there are various reasons people bought their Priuses.

Tiebreaker | November 11, 2015

Sarcasm, Sheldon!

Red Sage ca us | November 11, 2015

jordanrichard: +1! Different? From the very outset, I thought of the Toyota Prius as the World's Most Perfect Version of the Pontiac J2000... Of course, that vehicle was even more short lived than the Pontiac Aztec, so many may not remember it:

tbouquet & jamajama46: +1! Yes, the 'convenient excuse' and 'vested interest' certainly worked hand-in-hand to produce a variety of weirdmobiles that would not threaten primary product lines from traditional automobile manufacturers.

Haggy | November 11, 2015

If you work for a big automotive company, you could propose making a car similar to last year's model that sold well, but with a handful of new features. Or you could propose something different that people see as a fringe product, that customers don't understand, that they think will run out of charge and leave them stranded, and isn't related to your main business. You could look at products such as the Volt that are sitting on dealer lots unsold and ask whether an incremental improvement on an existing ICE car would get you fired, or whether introducing a new paradigm that people might not buy will get you fired.

Imagine if you worked for Kodak when people were talking about digital cameras, but everything you heard told you that the pictures didn't have enough pixels to compete with anything that could be done with film. You could try to come up with better film, or you could tell your company that film is going away and that in another few decades, nobody would buy it outside of the movie industry. You could tell them to start selling digital cameras, and that doing so would cut down on their film sales, and unlike selling a customer a Brownie, it would mean that once they bought the camera they would stop buying your main product. What would you have done?

I remember when in the computer industry, people used to say "nobody gets fired for going with IBM." It was true at the time.

Baribrotzer | November 11, 2015

JohnGlenney: "Granted the legacy car companies are not going to be major players going forward, with Apple and Faraday as the best bets, where are their gigafactories?"

The same place as Foxconn. Not in the US. That's why you don't know about them. And they'll probably contract for factories only when they have a product ready to go, and the factories will be built, equipped, and staffed in a matter of months or even weeks - because that's what you can do if you don't need to worry about politics, permits, or unions, and all that matters is that your checks clear, and that your steamer trunks full of 100-yuan bills are actually full of 100-yuan bills all the way down to the bottom.

jordanrichard | November 11, 2015

Red Sage, thanks a lot!!!! With the help of a Hypnos therapist I just got the Aztec out of my memory and now you just brought it back.......:-(

Alos, now that it is back in my mind, the Prius does look like a scaled down version of the Aztec.

Bighorn | November 11, 2015

There's a reason it got the moniker Toyota Pious.

renwo S alset | November 11, 2015

I thought it was Pius.