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Tesla: On Rocket Launches, Electric Cars and Expectations

Part 3 in a series of the state of the electric-car business in the United States, primarily seen from the perspective of Tesla’s Model S sedan. Part 1 is at, “Are Tesla’s Electric Cars Niche Vehicles? Is Your Gas-Powered Car One Too?“ Part 2 is at, “Tesla: Getting There Slowly or Already Arrived.”

Last Friday, SpaceX, another company started by Tesla founder Elon Musk, sent a rocket into space. The launch, a supply mission for the International Space Station, was a bit of a bumpy ride, but ultimately arrived as planned, marking the second such success for SpaceX and further quieting critics who wondered whether private companies could really take on the Herculean task of defying gravity.
Are Tesla’s Electric Cars ‘Niche Vehicles?’ Is Your Gas-Powered Car One Too? Mark Rogowsky Mark Rogowsky Contributor
Tesla: Getting There Slowly or Already Arrived? Mark Rogowsky Mark Rogowsky Contributor
Rants Aside, The Volt is Actually Earning Raves — And it’s a Hit Mark Rogowsky Mark Rogowsky Contributor

If any of this sounds slightly familiar to Musk, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise. The story could easily be that of his Tesla Motors. Company builds high-performance, all-electric sports car that most believe is impossible with existing technology. Then company with government (controversially) to build second vehicle, the Model S sedan. It takes a bit longer than expected and there are some glitches along the way (just ask the New York Times). Critics wonder what the point is.

Of course, the stories take a bit of a different turn there. SpaceX, by its very nature, will blast off infrequently. Teslas, by contrast, are rolling off the assembly line in Fremont, Calif. at a rate of about 50 per day right now. While that may not seem like many, it’s enough that in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to go a day without seeing one on the road. The other night, I noticed four on the way home from picking up takeout. (Others are playing the same game of “Spot the Tesla”.)

While this might seem insignificant given the high-income levels and the general tendency to adopt things both new and green, it seems like something more might be at play. About 10 years ago, “Spot the Tesla” could easily have been replaced by “Spot the Prius” and now trying to do that is pretty ridiculous. About every third new car where I live is a Prius and the only thing that seems likely to change that is the increasing popularity of some other hybrids like the Ford C-Max and Fusion.

The Prius wasn’t always this popular, of course. But back in 2002, when U.S. sales were barely 20,000, a large portion of said sales were in Northern California. In 2012, those sales were nearly 240,000 (across the three-plus Prius models) and it was the top seller across the entire state of California. Now only 1 in 4 of those U.S. Prius sales is in the Golden State — the car is pretty popular everywhere.


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