Redoing the Apple thing – the Tesla way
Continued from earlier post- Tesla: That moment in history where a new frontier is breached
In terms of nerd magnetism, nothing on the road compares to the Model S, with the possible exception of the Google’s Self-Driving Car. The car has a touchscreen instead of the usual physical buttons on its dashboard controls. There’s the novelty of the electric drivetrain, and the 17-inch touchscreen lets the driver pull up massive, full-screen maps or open the sunroof with a finger swipe. The car alerts drivers when they’re near a charging station and can be programmed to recharge at home during cheaper, off-peak hours. The outside handles retract flush into the door when not in use. And, like any hot gadget these days, the car has apps. In an online forum, an owner in Illinois asks for a software update to the remote climate-control system so he can override a timed shutoff and keep his dog cool while going to lunch. Someone else has written an app that pairs Google Glass with a Model S, letting an owner who’s forgotten where he parked see the vehicle on a map while its headlights flash.
Even the flaws of the Model S seem to resonate with geeks. Early versions of the outside handles malfunctioned—they sometimes wouldn’t extend out of the door—and the windshield wipers seemed to have a mind of their own. Tesla fixed those and other problems with a software upgrade delivered via the car’s high-speed wireless connection. It’s part of being an early adopter.
Following Tesla’s lead, General Motors and Ford have started hiring software developers by the hundreds, in GM’s case quadrupling its technology department. Software is in many ways the heart of the new vehicle experience. From the powertrain to the warning chimes in the car, you’re using software to create an expressive and pleasing environment.
If there’s a secret to Tesla’s success, it’s been to outsource as little as possible. The company has insisted on doing just about everything it can in-house, which has helped it develop intellectual property and control costs. Tesla built the battery pack replacement feature into the Model S, for example, and then designed the robots that will do the work.Unlike every other major car company, Tesla has also kept its retail business in-house. It’s trying the Apple model of placing its own stores in high-end malls and shopping centers instead of relying on dealer franchises. Salespeople, who don’t receive commissions, help buyers configure their cars on giant touchscreens. The company has created an unusual financing program meant to assure buyers that their Tesla will retain its value when they sell it. If you buy a car through Tesla’s financing program, you get a guaranteed option to sell it back to the company at a price pegged to a comparable BMW, Mercedes, Audi, or Lexus. Should something go wrong with your car, Tesla will send a concierge with a new Model S loaner, repair your car, and return it. Tesla recommends the Model S be brought in once a year for servicing. The warranty is still valid if you don’t.
In many ways, Elon Musk’s Tesla S is akin to the leap of faith that Apple took with the iPhone. The Tesla S is leading the transition in the 100 year old of a Gasoline driven car to a performance vehicle powered by alternate and cleaner energy.