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Having a highly successful first generation model is all well and good, but...
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In December 2017 Tesla stunned the automotive world when it revealed its second-generation Roadster, promising a 2.1-second 0-100km/h acceleration time and even fly (briefly) with the optional ‘SpaceX Rocket Thruster' package.
Fast forward to today and the Tesla Roadster has made no public progress. Tesla has repeatedly delayed the project and there have been no official updates on any major testing or development progress. In fact, at the recent Gigafactory opening in Texas, Tesla appeared to show off the same concept car it had at the 2017 reveal.
Back in May 2018 the tiny Croatian company, Rimac, also stunned the automotive world when it unveiled its own electric supercar, the Concept_Two, at the Geneva Motor Show.
Which begs the questions - where is the Tesla Roadster and why is it taking so long? Building an all-new electric supercar is not easy, but Rimac has demonstrated it can be done. And, Rimac was a much smaller company than Tesla, without the volume models like the Model 3, Model S and Model X to provide financial and technical support.
Not that the Roadster hasn’t been an income source for Tesla, when it unveiled the original concept in 2017 it immediately began taking US$50,000 deposits, a hefty 20 per cent deposit for a car that will reportedly cost $250,000. Deposits are still being taken too, despite the lack of progress and once you pay that second amount your order becomes final, even if it’s likely you’ll be waiting several more years at this stage to receive your car.
In other words, Tesla has been able to get an interest-free loan from its customers for the past four years but still hasn’t been able to show any meaningful sign of progress of the Roadster in that time.
Which is an interesting context to consider.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk's recent comments to The Washington Post about the company’s financial situation at the time the Roadster and Cybertruck were revealed, as the company was struggling to ramp up Model 3 production.
“I mean, there wasn’t any other way to make it work,” Mr Musk said in the interview. “There were three years of hell. 2017, ‘18 and ‘19 were three years, the longest period of excruciating pain in my life. There wasn’t any other way. And we barely made it, and we were on the ragged edge of bankruptcy the entire time.”
Of course, it’s not just the Roadster that’s had an incredibly long gestation period. Tesla has earned a reputation for false starts with its vehicles, with both the Cybertruck and Semi still awaiting production after being shown off in November 2019.
Part of the problem is Tesla’s decision to run its car company in an unconventional way. For example, when a traditional car company shows off a concept car in public it’s often already been in development for several years and the concept - usually similar but slightly different to its production form - is simply a way to generate excitement in the lead up to its impending launch.
Tesla, seemingly, has chosen to show off its concept cars much earlier in the process of development which means any delays are far more noticeable. This is something that has been exacerbated since the pandemic began, putting pressure on parts supply and the global supply chain.
Originally Tesla announced the Roadster would be on sale by 2020 and Cybertruck would hit showrooms (or Stores as Tesla prefers to call them) by late 2021.
On the plus side, Tesla showed off an updated, apparently ‘closer-to-production’ version of the Cybertruck at its Gigafactory opening. Mr Musk told the crowd that the Cybertruck would be one of multiple models arriving in 2023, saying, “this year is all about scaling up, and then next year there’s going to be a massive wave of new products”.
The updated Cybertruck concept had some new features compared to the 2019 concept, with more conventional side mirrors but no physical door handles. However, it also had some rather large and obvious problems, including what appeared to be mis-coloured doors on one side and some very large panel gaps.
While it’s easy for Tesla supporters to dismiss these issues as a consequence of it likely being a hand-built prototype, typically when car makers show off a hand-built concept car it’s meticulously built because they know it will be studied closely and they want to present the car in the best possible light.
This is without even considering the fact that Ford has managed to announce, reveal and put into showrooms the F-150 Lightning, General Motors is closing in on launching the GMC Hummer to the market and the Rivian R1T is available to buy now. All of which increases the challenge of the Cybertruck to compete in a growing EV ute market. If Tesla had stuck to its original timeline it would have been a segment leader, instead it’s already playing catch-up.
The fact the Cybertruck still looks so far from being production ready despite Mr Musk’s insistence that it will launch in 2023 should be concerning for those who have paid their deposit and are awaiting delivery.
But on the flipside, at least Tesla is seemingly making some progress on the Cybertruck because the lack of public movement on the Roadster is alarming. Assuming it somehow manages to enter production in 2023, that would be six years since its public unveiling, and with Tesla, that’s a big assumption to make.
Given the need for Tesla to, firstly, get production of the Model Y SUV up and running, and then prioritise the Cybertruck, would-be Roadster owners could be waiting several more years… or longer…