Will Tesla’s only long-term competitive advantage turn out to be Dog Mode?

“Comparison Test: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E vs. 2020 Tesla Model Y” (Car and Driver) has Ford crushing Tesla in every area except straight-line acceleration (useful in a country of 330+ million people using a road network designed for 150 million?) and charging network (#BidenWillFixByTaxingTheRich). The Ford Mach-E is built better, has a better user interface, offers more comfortable seats, is cheaper, and is quieter. The Ford accelerates 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, which should be more than fast enough for street driving.

A comment on the C&D article:

I can’t get over how bad Tesla interiors are. Take away the giant tablet in the middle and it’s completely empty inside. A $60k car with the interior quality of a Mitsubishi. The Mach E is cheaper and has better quality. If Ford is killing you in the quality department you have issues.

Loyal readers will recall my obsession with Dog Mode, going back to 2003 (see Car/Kennel). The legacy car companies seem to be refusing to add these 10 lines of code, perhaps because they don’t want to be held responsible if the feature is used improperly and a dog is baked to death? I wonder if therefore this will become Tesla’s only long-term competitive advantage vs. Ford, VW, Hyundai/Kia, Toyota, Honda, et al.

Also from Car and Driver: “Every Electric Vehicle That’s Expected in the Next Five Years”. It seems that there isn’t much interest in building the Toyota Camry of electric cars, i.e., a car that doesn’t purport to drive itself, that doesn’t accelerate faster than a C5 Corvette, that doesn’t have a huge touchscreen stuck in the middle of the dashboard, and that therefore doesn’t cost more than necessary.

12 thoughts on “Will Tesla’s only long-term competitive advantage turn out to be Dog Mode?

  1. I think Ford is on the right track and is playing its cards very carefully and pretty skillfully. The Mustang Mach-E is not a Mustang (at least I don’t think so): it is an aspirational crossover that happens to have been handed the name (and I know some “real” Mustang enthusiasts who are furious about it). They’re going after people who *wouldn’t* buy a Mustang – the “Chicke Market”, the soccer moms, the beta males, the sensitive empathic sufferer types, and there are a lot of those.

    I have been waiting patiently for John Kelly’s analysis of the powertrain, and I’m a little disappointed that he hasn’t gotten around to it yet, because much of it is shared with the 2020 Escape Hybrid from what I recall.

    I don’t like the Mach-E’s interior either, because although it is better than Teslas, it’s still butt-ugly. That vertical touch screen hogging the center console like it was stuck on there by nerdlings at a LAN party is the epitome of crap in terms of a “car” interior, at least where I come from.

    Having said that, I own a 2010 Escape Hybrid which still runs very well despite being 11 years old and relying on old NiMH batteries, and it was a very well-engineered car. I think they’re positioned pretty well and if they can get some buy-in on the Mach-E and build out the charging network they’re going to be a very formidable competitor to Tesla.

    And it looks to me as though Chevrolet has not played all its cards yet, either. The Bolt/Volt EV battery and powertrain is a well-done piece of work (Kelly drives one as his personal car) and I’m waiting for their next shoe to drop.

    I won’t say Tesla is doomed, but they’re going to find Ford and Chevy (and Honda, and Nissan, and Volkswagen) breathing down their necks very very soon – with a variety of vehicles and I hope to the Gods of All Things Automotive with better interiors.

    What Ford and Chevy have to do is open these cars up so that all of the mechanics in the United States have a shot at working on them and repairing them. I will be angry beyond belief if they decide to screw those guys (and they are mostly guys) by turning those cars into “dealer service only” vehicles. And I’ll never buy one if they do.

    • Addendum: I think the Tesla Model Y is an ugly car in terms of its exterior also. It has a high roofline which is nice for interior room with the battery pack beneath it but it looks like an angry egg. In profile it’s pointy at the ends and bulbous in the middle and frankly it looks like a cheap economy car. The Mach-E at least has some tension and muscularity to the styling. The Tesla screams: “Your momma’s nerd’s car” and it has zero intrigue. The Ford looks better from every angle.

    • Finally – even though the Mach-E is not as fast as the Tesla, 13.6 seconds and 103MPH in the 1/4 mile is very fast indeed for anything that weighs 5000 pounds with the driver in it. All these cars are *porkers* and are hauling around lots of mass.

      You’d have to be a pretty good rider to pull under 13 seconds on your first try with a 2007 Honda CB750 Freddie Spencer Limited Edition (300 units, Japan only, and a beautiful motorcycle. If you ever get a chance to ride one, do it.)



  2. I would not buy an electric car unless the interior looks normal again, like:


    The cheap gigantic displays just distract and serve no useful purpose, but I guess the manufacturers found a focus group (working for minimum wages) that approved of the “design”.

    • What nobody seems to “get” here is that the manufacturers – Tesla especially – have just decided: “The people who buy these cars are so impressed with the fact they’re driving an electric car they will accept us not taking the time to actually design and install an interior for the car. Instead they’ll take a couple of big LCD screens which we can pick up and install for $100 total and just update the software every couple of months. And this makes it all so much easier for us to do total surveillance and telemetry on these little bastards, right down to what temperature they like when they pick up the passenger with the vanilla perfume in Las Vegas.”

      I can hear the guy who got promoted now: “Listen. For real, folks, don’t laugh: No switches, no buttons, no levers, no dials, one or two knobs, no ergonomics, no wiring, no cables, no connectors, no human factors engineering, no NVH engineering, UI design courtesy of Coursera and outsourceable to anywhere, no safety engineering, no switchgear design or manufacturing, no supply chain or parts inventory to maintain, a fraction of the assembly-line and parts logistics, etc., etc. Just toss a big screen in there and call it a day, and then charge a premium for the vehicle anyway. These rich Gen-Y-Z-Whatever suckers won’t mind reaching over to a touch screen the screen while “driving” their $70,000 vehicle down the road and hunt through a gamified UI to turn on the windshield wipers, even though you used to be able to do that much more safely and intuitively with a stalk attached to the steering column. We want these people to be distracted drivers because pretty soon they won’t be driving at all. Yeah, it looks terrible and we’re ripping them off, but they’ll love it.”

      And they’re buying it! Just say “No. And Hell No!”

    • They can hire anyone on the planet who took the free Coursera:


      This is why Musk has so famously said that he doesn’t care whether his employees went to college. They don’t need college to learn how to code UI for a big screen planted in the middle of the “dashboard.” Dude is laughing all the way to Mars.

    • Alex: I completely agree. This is the first step towards a sterile advertisement and surveillance friendly interior that will be the norm when we no longer own or drive cars, but rent them directly from out corporate overlords.

      Looking a little overweight? No problem, Tesla will help you and display the appropriate ads. Also, since you paid with your credit card, Tesla can helpfully store the information and “share” it with your insurance. For your protection!

  3. It might be a preference of only Greenspun readers, but a simple interior sounded like a good idea. The charging network is going to kill off Furd if Tesla doesn’t allow everyone else to use their network. That was something Elon insinuated would happen as usual, but their profit margin is tenuous enough it’s not really going to happen.

  4. I’m pretty sure that most cars with partial self driving already have almost all the hardware needed for full self driving, the rest is software. It will be expensive for the first one, virtually free for the rest. As I understand it, Tesla cars upload to the company daily, I suspect a lot of that is information used to tune their self driving algorhythms.
    As for styling, the most important thing is that it looks like a Tesla–that’s secondary to looking good.

  5. Maybe an interesting side note: In the TWA Airport/JFK Intl. thread, I linked to the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. That car cost over $13,000 in ’57 and was ultra-exclusive with just 400 made, but the more reasonably priced and abundant Eldorado Biarritz Convertible (Elvis owned a ’56) was just $7,286. That’s equivalent to roughly $70,000 dollars in 2021 money, or a little bit less than the 2021 Tesla Model Y Performance with the “self-driving” option ($72,190). The Mach-E is priced like an Oldsmobile – or even a Pontiac! for pete’s sake.

    Assuming everything else between then and now was equal (I know it ain’t), is Tesla going for the same basic demographic (at least in terms of personal wealth) that Cadillac was targeting with the Eldorado Biarritz Convertible? Are Elon Musk’s buyers the same slice of Americana that would have bought a Caddy back then? Those cars have held their value: the “frame off” restoration examples sell in the $110-160k range or more. How much will a Model Y Performance with Self-Driving be worth in 65 years?


    Although the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, MI is still closed due to Coronaplague, here’s a fun fact: Chevrolet was working on the “self-driving cars of the future” back in 1956, beginning with the gas-turbine powered Firebird II:

    “A sophisticated guidance system or electronic auto-control was intended to be used with ‘the highway of the future.’ It utilized an electric wire, embedded into a roadway, to send signals to guide future cars and avoid accidents. This concept is the forerunner to self-driving cars, first seen by Motorama attendees more than 50 years ago.”


  6. Probably a current Tesla isn’t even going to start in 10 years, because the software is EOL and won’t be updated any more.

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