When Tesla Motors was founded in 2003, electric vehicles were seen as clunky, slow, and unappealing. But over the past decade, Tesla has turned that perception on its head, creating cars that are sleek, fast, and luxurious. The company’s success has sparked a revolution in the automotive industry, with other manufacturers rushing to catch up in the race to electrify our roads. But as the competition heats up, the question on everyone’s mind is: can Tesla maintain its dominance in the electric vehicle market? Join us as we explore the current state of Tesla cars and how they stack up against the rest.
Soon after it started, Tesla’s goal was to revolutionize the automotive industry by producing affordable, mass-market electric vehicles. Fast forward to 2008, and Tesla introduced its first product, the Roadster, which quickly gained attention for its impressive performance and range. But it was the 2012 launch of the Model S, the world’s first mass-market all-electric sedan, that truly cemented Tesla’s reputation as a leader in the EV market. Since then, the company has expanded its lineup to include the Model 3 and Model Y, offering a range of options for consumers: S, 3, X, Y. But with the ever-evolving world of electric vehicles, the question remains: does Tesla still lead the pack? Let’s find out.
Tesla’s all-electric vehicles are known for their impressive performance and range, but they may not be the fastest when it comes to charging. That’s because while many new EV manufacturers, such as Porsche, Hyundai-Kia-Genesis, and Audi, have adopted 800 volt architecture, Tesla continues to use 400 volt architecture. This means that the components in Tesla vehicles generate more heat and the batteries charge slower. In fact, the Kia EV6 recently broke Tesla’s record for fastest car to cross the USA, thanks in part to its faster charging speed. So if you’re looking for a quick and efficient charging experience, you may want to consider an EV with 800 volt architecture.
When it comes to electric vehicle motors, Tesla still uses some of the most efficient motors in the industry. They are not the only ones to use them at this point as Porsche, Hyundai/Kia’s E-GMP Platform etc have caught up as well. Tesla had an early advantage as they were one of the first mass manufacturers to produce a ground up electric vehicle platform with benefits like spacious interior, better handling because of lower center of gravity and simplified manufacturing. Most other manufacturers have a dedicated EV platforms at this point, including Ford, Chevy/GM, Porsche, Hyundai/Kia etc.
Tesla is a tech company first and a car company second. This reflects pretty well on their software, as they have one of the most fluid user interfaces available in any car right now. On the flip side, Tesla’s philosophy of including pretty much all the car controls on their touchscreen interface goes against all of traditional car manufacturing and has gotten mixed feedback from owners and critics. Now if that is a minimalism thing or purely a cost cutting measure is still to be determined.
Outside of the controls, the giant touchscreen that Tesla includes in all their cars is fast, responsive and pleasurable to use. The software is pretty intuitive once you get hang of the basics and allows you to use most of your car’s features quickly and efficiently. Tesla also has some of the best trip planning feature on their infotainment that lets you enter a destination and effortlessly routes you to chargers as needed along the route. Ford and Polestar are using Google’s Android Automotive operating system that is probably the closest competitor, but at this point Tesla still leads the software side of things.
One thing that Tesla cars are lacking that most other manufacturers have is support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Tesla takes a walled garden approach and want their users to use their software, but this comes with some big downsides. Outside of future proofing, owners also do not have the ability to use third party apps like Waze, Google Maps etc on their car. Not just that, the only way to stream audio from your phone is through bluetooth, when other cars can use wired CarPlay to stream lossless audio in high quality. Talking about the sound quality, the speakers Tesla includes with their cars are really good, but having limited ways to stream music to the car really limits you being able to use the speakers to their full potential.
Another area that Tesla’s software excels in is entertainment features. They have a lot of streaming apps like Netflix built in, along with games that you can play using even the actual steering wheel on the car. There are some other useful features too like dog mode that controls the climate when you leave your dogs in the car and shows a message in the center console so others are aware of it, along with camp mode that lets you camp in your car with climate control. All these little features do add a lot of value to the car ownership if you use them.
Tesla is probably the only car company that has sent out software updates with meaningful quality of life improvements for their owners after initially purchasing the car. With most cars, your car will always be the same as the day you purchased, but because of updates Tesla cars will improve over time, get new features and even get improved range and performance. Tesla was one of the first manufacturers to realize the value of unifying the firmware update system for all the components in their car and reaps the benefits of that.
Other manufacturers are trying to catch up but no one has been able to offer what Tesla offers so far. Ford and Polestar are probably the closest, as both of them allow updating all the components in the car through the infotainment system and the latter did update their systems to enable wireless CarPlay recently. Hyundai/Kia promised that their cars would get two big updates every year, but other than a handful of minor updates they have not released anything significant yet. The long rumored “Summer” update is still nowhere to be seen even though the fall colors are showing up already. I think this is one area where Tesla will keep its lead for a long time as other manufacturers are still in the early stages of implementing this.
This is another area where Tesla is a couple of generations ahead of the other manufacturers. Tesla cars have really good always on connectivity, and their app is a benchmark for how car apps should be and all companies should learn from them.
Unlike most traditional companies where their app needs to send commands to their servers which then sends the commands to the car and vice versa (staring at your horrible app, Kia), Tesla’s app uses bluetooth to connect to the car directly and falls back to network only when needed. This is a fundamental difference that allows Tesla to enable advanced features like being able to get into and drive the car with the app without even needing the keys and being able to summon the car to you (although this does not work very well). The app lets you control almost all the subsystems in the car including climate controls almost instantly. The closest competitor when it comes to a good app is BMW, but most manufacturers have a lot of catching up to do in today’s connected world.
SuperChargers – the brand name that Tesla uses for their fast chargers are readily available in most parts of the world. Although Teslas are not the fastest charging cars out there, with the right charger (SuperCharger V3) they do charge fairly quickly. Hyundai/Kia’s e-GMP platform currently has the fastest charging cars available in the US if that is what you are looking for. SuperChargers also do not have reliability issues seen with charging stations for other manufacturers. While DC fast charging infrastructure for other cars has gotten much better and readily available in the recent months, reliability of the stations is a whole different story and owners are frustrated to find their charging station non functional after arriving there.
Generally speaking, Tesla seems to oversell the range numbers and most people rarely get the range numbers quoted by Tesla. That being said, with electric vehicles, how efficiently you drive the vehicle makes a bigger difference than traditional cars, and unlike them, EVs are more efficient in city driving because of regenerative braking compared to highways. Either way, Teslas still have some of the highest numbers when it comes to real world range which should be more than enough for most people’s use cases. Companies like Hyundai/Kia, GM have cars on the market that match Tesla’s numbers, and other companies like Rivian and Lucid make cars that match and exceed their range figures.
If you have heard of Tesla, you have probably also heard of their AutoPilot technology. This is one of their flagship features and has gathered a lot of hype and criticism over the years for reasons like giving out false promises about availability and phantom braking (where the car brakes randomly) . The CEO Elon Musk has been quoted saying full self driving will arrive next year every year since 2014, but that has not happened yet. If you like taking risks, you could get into Tesla’s Full Self Driving Beta software which is promising, but the company is pretty far from having a reliable FSD implementation. Instead of drooling about how FSD could be when it becomes available, let’s talk about the current state of the technology.
Tesla’s AutoPilot currently helps your car automatically control its speed if it senses a car in front of it, and stick to the lane. If you pay $6000 on top of your car’s price (keeps increasing) your car will also get the ability to make automatic lane changes, take highway exits, auto parking and summon. Now if you decide to pay the full $12000 you will also get the ability for the car to automatically recognize and stop at stop signs and traffic lights, and the promise of one day being able to get in your car and telling it to take you somewhere.
Even though Tesla’s fanbase might make you believe that AutoPilot is the best system out there, plenty of other manufacturers have similar systems and some even work better depending on the use case. AutoPilot is basically Smart Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assist branded into one word. GM’s SuperCruise, Ford’s BlueCruise, Hyundai/Kia’s Highway Driving Assistant are all really good and do automatic lane changes without paying the extra fee (BlueCruise does not do this yet but it’s coming soon according to them). Rivian and Polestar also have their own systems that work similarly, while Mercedes, Lucid and Genesis are partnering up with Nvidia to use their self driving technology. Tesla’s system might be really good at some edge cases but the other systems seem to be more reliable and predictable for everyday use and do not suffer from issues like the notorious phantom braking. For example, the Hyundai/Kia’s HDA system lets you just use smart cruise control or lane assist individually, whereas Tesla’s system is all or nothing. Similarly, HDA lets you give slight steering input to subtly guide the car to be biased in one direction or other or to correct it, while Tesla will turn off AutoPilot if you try to use the steering wheel. HDA also auto detects lane markers and automatically resumes whereas you have to enable AutoPilot again once it turns off.
Tesla also took some missteps along the way and arguably went backwards by removing radar from their cars. Radar was used to provide reliable information about vehicles and objects in the surroundings of the car. They even doubled down on this and removed the Ultrasonic Sensors from the newer built Model 3s and Ys, saying Tesla Vision – their new vision based system will take over the functionality soon. Till that happens, the owners will not have accurate surround sensing while parking.
Elon Musk says that Tesla cars will use vision just like humans do and do not need radar to drive the car around, but in reality humans have had millions of years of evolution creating the perfect neural network that can navigate much better than Tesla cars currently can. In theory this might work really well one day and we might be able to get a perfect full self driving implementation, but for today’s world we need a back up failsafe system with radars or lidars to make sure the car can safely operate and stop in case the vision system fails. Issues like phantom braking stem from the lack of radar as well. Tesla is over-promising and under-delivering right now, but I hope one day we will see a good implementation from them that allows the car drive itself reliably.
Elon Musk has famously said that Tesla only makes fast cars and he’s right. The Model 3 has a zero to 60 time of less than 5 seconds even in the slowest rear wheel drive version. The Model S Plaid is one of the fastest production cars in the world right now with almost 2 second 0-60 mph time and it showed the whole car industry that electric cars can be fast and fun. While other manufacturers have sort of caught up to Tesla in most specs, acceleration and performance have not been big priorities for the other manufacturers.
Acceleration is not the only metric when it comes to performance though. Handling matters equally, and I am happy to report that almost all Teslas handle really well. The low center of gravity because of the EV architecture and batteries on the floor definitely helps, and the tight sprung suspension Tesla likes to use on their Model 3 and Y cars makes the car handle really well. On the flip side, many owners complain that the suspension on those cars are not very comfortable because of the performance characteristics. Tesla has reportedly started shipping cars with firmer more comfortable suspension on their new builds from some factories.
With a starting price that challenges most German luxury car manufacturers, people expect comfort and luxury when they buy Teslas. Unfortunately, those things are nowhere to be found on Teslas so far. Due to the performance oriented suspension, the ride on Model 3 and Y is harsh and you will feel little bumps on the road surfaces while driving. The more expensive models (S and X) with air suspension are much better but still cannot compete with their German competitors on the same price range.
Tesla uses minimalistic interior on their cars, which might resemble the looks of nordic furniture you can buy from your favorite Swedish furniture store, but the quality of interior surfaces leaves a lot to be desired. There have been reports of the headrest bubbling up, seats tearing, and many other quality issues all over forums and communities like reddit. Creaking and rattles seem to be a common theme and the infamous panel gap issue still seems to be happening.
Even though the price range makes most Tesla cars fall in the Luxury car price range, they are not luxury cars, at least not as of now. They are futuristic high tech cars and that is where your money will be going, not luxury. That being said, the reports of quality from China and Austin built cars seem to have been improving.
This might be one of the biggest deciding factors for most people while picking an electric vehicle. If you travel a lot and go on long trips a lot, having proper charging infrastructure is crucial. This is where Tesla’s SuperCharger network shines. While the CCS charging system used by most other EVs suffers from reliability issues with reports of many charging stations not working, Tesla’s SuperChargers just work. You just walk to the charger, plug it in and….that’s it. No apps required, no credit cards required and no hassle over all. Tesla really set the bar high for proper charging infrastructure which gave them a big lead over other manufacturers when it comes to charging infrastructure.
With President Biden’s new infrastructure bill that has a huge budget allocated for adding charging stations, we can expect CCS infrastructure for other cars to get better over time. But till that happens, Tesla is your best bet.
If you drive less than the range your car gives on full charge and only charge at home, the charging infrastructure does not matter much as you will wake up with a full charge if you have a charger at home.
I am going to keep this short, as beating a dead horse is not much fun. Tesla cars have build quality issues ranging from panel gaps to rattling interior to other things like the ones mentioned above. But things seem to be improving, one thing at a time.
Tesla has shown the world that EVs are not only possible, but also desirable. In just a few short years, they have completely transformed the automotive industry and paved the way for other manufacturers to follow suit.
If you’re in the market for a new electric vehicle, Tesla should definitely be on your radar. With their impressive performance, range, and features, they offer a compelling option for EV buyers. And while they may not be perfect, their constant improvements and innovations make them a strong choice. But if a Tesla doesn’t quite fit your needs, don’t worry – thanks to Tesla’s pioneering efforts in the EV market, there are now plenty of other capable options available from other manufacturers. So whether you choose a Tesla or another brand, you can be confident that you’re making a smart, sustainable choice for your transportation needs.
But don’t take our word for it – see for yourself how they stack up against the competition by test driving one. The future of transportation is here, and it’s electric. Will you be part of the revolution?