Is Tesla the next Apple?

tesla model s electric carThe only moment in last Wednesday’s presidential debate that grabbed my attention was when Mitt Romney called Tesla a loser, and implied that the government’s $450 million loan to the automaker was the worst government investment since the days of $11,000 toilet seats.

Romney’s remarks come as Tesla is rolling out its Model S, a car that Dan Neil described in the Wall Street Journal this way, “This Tesla Model S thing you’ve heard so much about? You know, all-electric sedan, Silicon Valley, that guy from SpaceX? This is one amazing car. I mean, hard-core amazing. But first and foremost, gentle reader, it goes like the very stink of hell.”

Heck, that’s never going to catch on.

Kim Reynolds, writing in Motor Trend, observed, “There just might be a revenge of the electric car after all, courtesy of the only major electric car builder producing EVs without being forced to: Tesla.”

Reynolds’ review ended this way, “Tesla — like Apple in the electronic device realm — is the sort of ambitious and fearlessly innovative company this country needs a thousand more of.”

That’s what I was thinking just after Romney dumped on Tesla. If I had to name the next Apple, the next company capable of utterly redefining the customer experience, it would be Tesla.

This potential is all the more remarkable when you consider that the car industry has been around for more than a century. It is an industry that almost by necessity moves slowly and that demands huge amounts of capital. Quick — name the last truly revolutionary car.

The electric Model S has no engine. None. The Signature Performance version can go from zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds. (Competing electrics like Ford’s Focus EV are more like 9 seconds.) The entire car is built on top a giant battery that stretches the length and width of the car, giving it an unprecedented 300-mile range between charges. Nissan’s frugal Leaf, by comparison, is lucky to make it 138 miles under perfect circumstances.

On nearly every important metric, the Model S not only leads, it laps the competition. This graph from Motor Trend puts it into perspective.

electric car graph

Each measurement corner of the graph represents a metric, such as range or acceleration. The closer to the outer edges, the better. The Model S stats are in dark blue, at the outer edges of the chart. No other electric car comes close.

tesla s model electric car 17 inch screen

To top it all off, the car comes with a 17-inch touchscreen. Anton Wahlman, writing for The Street, put it this way. “Forget all other cars you’ve experienced to date — this 17-inch screen feels like a 100-year jump in automotive technology.”

The last time I saw as many positive reviews as the Model S has received was, well, when Apple released a new phone.

This might be a good time for a reality check. The Model S is expensive, with a base price of $49,900 that leaps upwards when you increase power and range. Tesla expects to deliver just 3,225 of these cars this year. The firm isn’t going to be mass market anytime soon.

But that’s the path Apple followed, too. Its products have long been more expensive than the competition’s. When the Apple Lisa launched in 1983, it sold for $9,995. In 1983 dollars. Of course, it was also the first personal computer to offer a graphical user interface, a quantum leap forward in design that we’re still using today.

When Apple started to open retail stores, lots of people — myself included — wondered how the hell Apple could hope to use so much floor space when all they sold was a few digital devices. Last week I walked through an Apple store near Hartford, CT and it was jammed. This is no surprise; Apple stores are always jammed.

tesla store electric carsGuess what? Tesla isn’t opening traditional parking lot-style auto dealerships. Instead it’s opening sleek retail stores that bring to mind, yep, Apple.

Justin Hyde, the first journalist to test-drive a Model S, observed that the “last successful American startup automaker was Chrysler, founded 87 years ago. Every genius, huckster, and combination thereof who’s tried since has been ground into a fine powder by massive up-front costs combined with meager profits and ruthless competition.”

Tesla has already beat them all. It’s a far smarter company than most, and I’d gladly bet on them. Now if I can only convince my wife to let me sell our SUV and minivan…

Bruce Kasanoff is a speaker, author and innovation strategist who tracks sensor-driven innovation at Sense of the Future. Kasanoff and co-author Michael Hinshaw teamed up to explore more of the opportunities unearthed by disruptive forces in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

The Xperia 10 Plus feels great in your hand, but you'll still want to put it down

There has never been a better time to buy a smartphone with an unusual design, and one of the cheaper models out there vying for your attention is the Sony Xperia 10 Plus, with its 21:9 aspect ratio screen.
Cars

Electric car buying guide: What you need to know before you buy

EVs are better than they've ever been, but buying your first battery-powered car can be an intimidating experience. Digital Trends has compiled a comprehensive guide that walks you through the process of buying an EV.
Mobile

Breaking news: Samsung responds to reported Galaxy Fold display issues

The Samsung Galaxy Fold has arrived, and it goes on sale soon. Folding out from a 4.6-inch display to a tablet-sized 7.3-inch display, this unique device has six cameras, two batteries, and special software to help you use multiple apps.
Product Review

This $295 smartwatch has the Armani name, but not the looks

The Armani Exchange AX Connected smartwatch does everything right. It has strong technical features, a good design, and isn’t over-priced. But is subtle brand name appeal enough to recommend it?
Deals

Apple’s MacBook laptop is on sale for just $800 for a limited time

If you have your heart set on a MacOS-powered laptop, B&H has a sale on Apple's MacBook that takes the price down to $800. Only select models are on sale right now, but you can score up to a $600 savings if you act quickly.
Mobile

You've spent a grand, now don't skimp on a screen protector for your iPhone X

Wondering how to protect your new iPhone X against scratches and drops? Look no further than our list of the best iPhone X screen protectors, which includes screen protectors designed to reinforce your phone's front panel.
Mobile

Apple and Qualcomm settle all disputes, reach six-year agreement on chips

Apple and Qualcomm have announced that they have settled all disputes between them around the world -- and not only that, but have also agreed to a six-year agreement for Qualcomm to supply Apple with chips.
Deals

Looking to upgrade? These are the best iPhone deals for April 2019

Apple devices can get expensive, but if you just can't live without iOS, don't despair: We've curated an up-to-date list of all of the absolute best iPhone deals available for April 2019.
Mobile

Keep your new iPad (2018) sparkling with the best screen protectors

Your iPad sports a stunning 9.7-inch screen and you'll want it to stay that way. The best iPad (2018) screen protectors guard against cracks, scratches, and even smudging from your fingers. Check out our top picks here.
Mobile

Sidestep banking fees with the nationwide launch of T-Mobile Money

T-Mobile has launched its Money banking service nationwide in the U.S., and it offers an extremely tempting set of features for everyone, including industry-leading interest rates, a powerful app, and no banking fees.
Mobile

Charge and sync with the best Lightning cables for your iPhone or iPad

If you’re looking to replace a lightning cable, or in need of something a little longer or tougher, we’ve got you covered. Here are 10 of our favorite cables for the iPhone and other iOS devices.
Computing

Here's how you can download the best free music players for your Mac

Tired of your Mac's default music player? Take a look at our picks for the best free music players available for your Apple rig. Whether you're a casual listener or an audiophile, you're sure to find something that fits your needs here.
Mobile

The Best iPhone 7 battery cases to give your phone some extra juice

The iPhone 7 doesn't have terrible battery life, but you never know when you'll need to juice up on the go. To help, here are the best iPhone 7 battery cases that can keep your smartphone charged and ready for long-term use.
Computing

The iPhone’s Screen Time and Siri Shortcuts could land on Macs this year

For its desktop computers, it appears that Apple may continue to draw from the iPhone for inspiration. iOS 12 features, like Screen Time and Siri Shortcuts, are believed to be making their way to MacOS this year at WWDC in June.