Toyota pits all of its engineering prowess against Tesla

One of my enduring theories was that the electric car market would work like most of the markets described in Crossing the Chasm. The pioneering company selling to early adopters gets bypassed when the mainstream companies piled in and sell to mainstream customers who don’t care about the features that the early adopters were passionate about. So Tesla, with its limited engineering capabilities and manufacturing experience, would be leapfrogged by Toyota, Honda, Ford, et al. when it was time for the typical Toyota Camry or Honda Accord owner to buy an electric car.

“Tested: 2023 Toyota bZ4X Gets Toyota into the EV Game” (Car and Driver) proves that I’m wrong yet again. The car is neither significantly cheaper nor significantly better than a Tesla. With all of their marketing experience, Toyota couldn’t even come up with a decent name. Also note that the marketing materials imply that you need a $3 million house before you can think about purchasing (and that bZ4X drivers should adhere to an obsolete cisgender heterosexual nuclear family lifestyle).

Most egregious: no dog mode!

Can we conclude that the only human on Planet Earth capable of doing things in a reasonable way is Elon Musk?

(Like those announcing receiving an award on Facebook, I am humbled and honored that my prediction turned out to be dead wrong. Well, maybe not honored. Just humbled (but not humbled enough to stop making predictions, sadly).)

25 thoughts on “Toyota pits all of its engineering prowess against Tesla

  1. Given that several manufacturers (Toyota, BMW) seem to make their electric vehicles intentionally ugly, I wonder if they prefer to sell their traditional cars for as long as possible.

    Porsche is an exception, the Taycan looks decent.

    • My brother-in-law had one of the first Taycans delivered in the UK. He had no end of trouble with it, to the point they replaced it free of charge with the next model year when it arrived. Mostly software issues like the car becoming impossible to lock. This article explains why the legacy are so hopelessly outclassed they don’t even realize how out of their depth they are (and falling further behind, not catching up):

    • FM: I’m not surprised by the software problems:

      In collaboration with the Berlin-based start-up XAIN, Porsche is currently testing blockchain applications directly in vehicles.

      The applications tested include locking and unlocking the vehicle via an app, temporary access authorisations and new business models based on encrypted data logging.

      I doubt that the buzzwords have been rolled out yet, but it shows the state of software development. German car manufacturers should stick to classic drivers’ cars.

      I’d probably buy a vintage Porsche without all this nonsense.

    • FM: Regarding , I think Europeans do not care very much about these electronic gadgets in general. I’ve never seen a Tesla in the streets here.

      So for exporting to the U.S., perhaps they’d have to catch up. The EU market should be fine.

      Also, data mining and spying on customers is way more restricted in the EU, so the “OS and app ecosystem” is less profitable.

    • Well, Tesla “moves fast and breaks things”, in best software tradition:

      At that time, Tesla Guest came into our sight, this is a Wi-Fi hotspot provided by Tesla body shop and superchargers. The information of this SSID is saved in many customers’ cars in order to auto connecting in the future. If we fake this Wi-Fi hotspot and redirect the traffic of QtCarBrowser to our own domain, remotely hacking Tesla cars can be feasible.

      Via the Wi-FI exploit entry they can finally control the CAN bus (which appears to be made in Germany by Bosch, but probably wasn’t designed to be connected to any hostile network …).

      Tesla’s chassis was originally shopped at Lotus (UK):

      So it appears that Martin Eberhard, Marc Tarpenning (co-founders of Tesla) and the original investor Musk were adept at buying the right technologies, many of them from Europe.

  2. After a few drinks the styling looks ok. The black wheel arches make the car look like a hack job. The co-development with Subaru is interesting, I like that Subaru and Toyota are pooling their resources. However in the configuration I’d want, it’s a $50,000 car and therefore totally out of my reach. At least the interior still looks like a car and appears well-made, and unless C/D has the seats all the way forward, I’m impressed by the comparatively generous rear-seat legroom.

    But WHY are all the car makers building these beveled ovoids with very high “beltlines” so that you have to pretend you’re being held up at gunpoint to rest your arm out the window? It must have to do with side-impact ratings, but it makes the interior claustrophobic.

    Like all EVs it is a PORKER: 4,500+ pounds. All that mass wears out suspensions, tires and brakes faster, and no matter what you do the car is going to feel ponderous. And that’s with only 222 miles of range!

    I dunno, these chubby, heavy, ugly, expensive electric cars are not lighting my fire. I’m driving a 12 year old Ford Hybrid that weighs 3800 pounds and has more then 440 miles of range on 14-15 gallons of gas and has more cargo volume.

    I’m not impressed. If they can’t get the energy density of the batteries up and the weight down, I will continue to be not impressed. I wonder if they did their homework regarding the battery thermal management? For $50 grand I hope so.

  3. Can we conclude that the only human on Planet Earth capable of doing things in a reasonable way is Elon Musk? Yes!

    • Musk didn’t grew in US/EU, he grew up in a place where there are no participation prizes and no kumbaya and learning to be nice to arseholes and running to snitch to a teacher if someone wants to do some informal status contest. So it looks like that he doesn’t tolerate fools among his relatively high level subordinates. Same trait as prominent in Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, and Bill Gates (though Gates is simply an autistic arsehole without any redeeming qualities whatsoever so his subordinates were selected more for brown-nosing than technical or business skills.)

    • averros: So true. Google could not build anything new these days, because they are mired in HR bureaucracy and social justice (on paper, of course they do not give away their salaries …).

  4. Isn’t it all about the batteries? That is, I am under the impression that a preponderance of the economic value of an EV is in the batteries which are largely a commodity and no manufacturer has a lock on supply or an ability to deliver a better battery than anybody else.

    • The battery management software is a huge differentiator at this point, and the recalls of the Bolt and others using LG batteries shows battery quality and safety is far from commoditized yet. In about 5 years the legacy car makers will have caught up with where Tesla is today (at which point it will be 10 years ahead instead of merely 5), and thus not a worry any more.

  5. I don’t know why you would expect Toyota or Honda to be competitive. The Japanese invested heavily in the dead-end tech that is hydrogen, and are too stubborn to correct course. The Germans (apart from VW) are still sticking their head in the sand if BMW’s chairman’s words are any indication.

    If you want cars that have a chance to compete with Tesla, you have to go with the Koreans (Kia or Hyundai) or the Chinese.

    • Fazal: Why did I expect Honda to be competitive? 95% of the things that I love about the Honda Odyssey have nothing to do with the propulsion system. I love the sliding doors, the handling, the climate control, the seats, the logical controls and displays, Apple CarPlay, etc. These are things that Tesla either doesn’t offer at all or doesn’t do well.

    • I love the fact my Model 3 uses my phone as its key and locks itself when I leave like it’s 2022, not manually like 1922. Or that software updates and “recalls” are over the air like a smartphone. Also that my driving does not contribute to MBS’ Saudi bone saw fund. My only real beef with Tesla is their refusal to use real leather in their upholstery.

      Then again I have one of the Chinese-made ones, which are supposedly made to higher quality standards than the Fremont-made ones (they should never have bought an ex-GM factory, what were they thinking?). Hopefully the Texas factory will improve things.

      Honda is totally an internal combustion engine company. They are relatively small as an auto manufacturer but make far more engines than cars, e.g. for generators or aircraft. People love Hondas or Toyotas for their reliability, which is all about the powertrain. Sadly for them, that engineering expertise is soon to be as relevant as the art of braiding buggy whips.

    • Fazal – spoken like a true believer! As someone who frequently hits 300+ miles trips through less traveled parts of US where gas stations tend to be scarce, I am eagerly awaiting those self driving trucks and cars. My only fear is how long it is going to take to charge my electrical super car in MO snow. But hey, who cares about charging when you can update software over the air!

  6. Tesla is a cult, not a car company. How else do you explain such zeal for a product that ranks #30 out of 33 on the JD Powers dependability scale? Lexus (Toyota’s premium brand) ranks #1.

  7. With the price of the Tesla Model 3 heading to infinity, the lion kingdom is slowly abandoning its dream of someday having an electric car. It’s not clear how the Amerikan people’s dream of banning gas cars is ever going to be realized with no curb on inflation.

    • In addition to regular “inflation”, there is other kinds of inflation, such as grade inflation and wage inflation. In this case, I just explain to my manager that floor price of entry level Toyota SUV EV in silver and black paint and a name I cannot remember is $50k and then I get 15% raise.

  8. Reminds me of the Mercury (Merkur) xR4Ti. It bombed in the US.

    Happy to see you come around on Elon Musk, just like every other conservative has in the last several weeks. “Celebrity worship is gross! Hollywood sucks! Who cares what celebrities think! Unless that celebrity is making liberals cry, then I will worship them.”

  9. I think self-driving is the killer differentiator, and Tesla seems to be at or near the front. Once a car can really drive itself, the market demand will be off the charts.

    So will traffic as everyone moves 50 miles further away from the jobs, but that’s another story.

    The other challenges to making successful electric cars is the software and the batteries and battery cooling system. Traditional automakers are horrible at making software and won’t pay for proper talent, nor are they located in Silicon Valley, where the best talent is available. I imagine they will eventually figure out battery cooling.

    • G C: A few years ago, I was opining that self-driving cars would eliminate traffic jams since cars can pack themselves more efficiently into roads. My neighbor in her 70s (our suburban Boston town’s restrictive zoning laws ensured an old average age) pointed out that self-driving cars would encourage all kinds of people to take extra trips. Kids who are too young to drive, for example, and people who are too old to drive confidently. She predicted a complete meltdown of the U.S. road network.

  10. The biggest benefit of tesla isn’t even how it’s made, the price etc. It’s the supercharger network. Without anything resembling it (and there’s nothing else really) other manufacturers don’t make cars, they make toys.

  11. 2 observations:
    Ford’s F150 electric is outselling hotcakes (they stopped taking orders at 200,000 backlog), and the reviews are stellar.
    My neighbors have a toddler, a Florida resident pass to Disney, and a Tesla. They go (almost 300 miles) often, and report the Tesla is almost like taking a (luxury) bus. Just get on the interstate, set the cruise control, and get out at Disney.
    The electric future looks bright.

Comments are closed.