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Is Tesla about to get zapped?

By Alex Rae, 14 Mar 2019 Opinion

Is Tesla about to get zapped?

Tesla is unveiling its most important new model, but will it come all too late?

When the oil has dried up and the combustion engine is nothing more than a holographic memoir at a museum where people touch a thing called the gear stick and are mesmerised by the mechanical workings of a six-stacker CD player, it will be Tesla that gets an exhibit all to itself.

A brilliant start-up that has revolutionised the automobile into the electric age, it is yet to be seen if it will be a brilliant car maker.

 

Its most important vehicle, the upcoming Model Y, is already beginning to feel like more than just the SUV equivalent of the Model 3. Not only will it be a lusted cut-price entry point to Tesla’s SUV range, it will be hard to get your hands on one.

Read next: Tesla Model X: 2018 Car of the Year review

Production timelines are slipping, and the vehicle that was scheduled to be fused together this year won’t go into production until at least 2020. According to documents leaked by Business Insider, it should be August, but as the Model 3 and its shanty tent production line showed, Tesla is still only half way through the book on how to build a car. To its credit, the US maker has increased production of that car dramatically, but at what cost?

On a recent trip to the States where the Model 3, that still eludes Australians, is running in the wild, yours truly had the displeasure of seeing the panel gaps and inconsistencies the rushed program has delivered.

It didn’t matter five years ago, just a short hop in automotive time, when fully-electric cars were more an environmentally friendly accessory than a viable alternative to the family car. But here we are just half a decade later and many of the big makers have delivered, or are at the cusp of, launching alternatives; the Jaguar i-Pace, Mercedes-Benz EQC, Audi e-tron, Hyundai Kona electric, Kia e-Niro and BMW iX3, built by established car makers with a reputation for being on time.

Read more about the Tesla Model S

They’re also consistent. Tesla just last month announced it would close all of its dealerships and go to an online-only sales model with reduced pricing. It has now reneged and will keep its brick and mortar stores open, with the price of all its models except the Model 3 increasing by around 3 percent.

It smells a little of desperation from disorder, and comes at a key moment where rivals are about to enter the market. Even Tesla’s elusive ute, which was mentioned before the idea seemed practical, now has competition from another start-up Rivian, and the world’s best-selling pickup maker, Ford.

But when Tesla reveals its Model Y in full this Friday at a design studio in Los Angeles (more pictures to come) it will be to great fanfare. It is the automotive equivalent of the iPhone, and public pining seems nonsensical when there are solid alternatives coming thick and fast. Ones that you can actually buy.

Read next: Tesla Model Y confirmed for 2020

Tune in to Wheels tomorrow to see the shiny new Model Y and what we can expect.