The King Might be Dead

June 26, 2013—At Wide Open, with few exceptions, we focus on the present. We’re all about living in the moment, man, and enjoying the experience. But last week we attended the Tesla battery swap/media circus and it gave us a glimpse into the future. However, the point of this piece isn’t to bore you with utopian visions of unicorns performing instantaneous battery changes.

2013 Tesla Model S

The Tesla Model S on a battery swapping stand

Instead, the purpose of this article is to bore you with a bold prediction—the BMW 3-series (and upcoming 4-series) is roughly three years away from being out-3-series-ed. The 3-series is a great car striking a wonderful balance between sport and comfort; it comes in several trim levels of increasing performance and is blessed with a great chassis, responsive steering and good brakes. As we all know, it is the benchmark of the entry-level luxury sport coupe/sedan. Every time Acura, Audi, Infiniti, etc… launch an entry-level car it is invariably compared to the 3-series and invariably falls short. So which manufacturer will finally usurp the 3-series’ title as “Entry-Level Luxury Gold Standard?”

2014 BMW 4-series

© BMW AG

Tesla. And yes, it has to do with their battery technology. Tesla’s first car, the roadster, mounted the batteries in a rather tall and wide arrangement directly behind the interior compartment (a space normally reserved for the engine and transmission in the architecture’s original vehicle). Since the Model S (which is a blast to drive) and upcoming Model X were developed using a proprietary architecture, they were able to design the battery pack to be thin and flat and thus an ideal floorboard (similar to GM’s Hy-wire concept), which gives the car a very low center of gravity conducive to great handling.

2013 Tesla Model S

Rear of the Tesla Model S following the battery swap

We have to believe that the baby Tesla, Elon Musk’s Model T, which is expected to cost around $35,000 will use the same sort of battery technology, laid out in the same way. “So the baby Tesla will have a low center of gravity, that does not make a great car by itself,” you’re saying. True, but it’s also electric, which means instantaneous full torque. So the moment you punch the accelerator out of a corner the car will be clawing at the road, full-bore. And if the fit and finish of current Teslas are any indication the car will be nicely appointed. Moreover, the car will be virtually silent. So it will handle well, accelerate authoritatively and be comfortable to ride in. The main issue for Drivers will be the lack of range—which is a HUGE issue. The term “range anxiety” is absurd; it places the blame on the consumer, as if it’s our fault that we’d like to drive our cars here and there and everywhere without worrying about being stranded.

Elon Musk

When asked about range, Mr. Musk replied that they want to achieve a “minimum range of 200 miles” with the entry-level Tesla. Not terrible for a commuter car, but hardly ideal for a road trip especially when “refueling” options are neither quick nor abundant.

This prediction of a new entry-level luxury king requires many things to work in Tesla’s favor. It also requires the infrastructure needed to support electric cars to begin popping up much more quickly than it has been. But maybe, just maybe, if Tesla can increase production to meet demand, if its suppliers can continue to deliver quality components and if its engineers can continue to solve problems, we might just get a baby Tesla that finally dethrones the 3-series. The king is dead. Long live the king. [kiWO]