Tesla against the rest of the world

For a long time it looked as if the old car world had slept through the departure and would Tesla Left pole position on Electric Avenue more or less without a fight. Yes, the old automakers are running late, but now they're coming in huge numbers. Especially the Germans.

You claim the invention of the car for yourself, but the reinvention was more than 120 years after the maiden voyage of the Benz patent motor car Mercedes so far little more than an extra role. And at BMW or the VW-Group didn't see it any differently either. Because even if the PS giants pumped billions into their research and burned up so much brainpower on alternative drives, a loner and upstart from the USA stole the show from them: Elon Musk.

Fewer sales still valued higher

Because like no other manager in the last five decades, the Tesla boss has turned the car world upside down and almost single-handedly instigated the electric revolution in road traffic. Initially smiled at for his ambitions, he has become a savior in the eyes of climate protectors and a feared opponent for car bosses, in whom the stock market in particular apparently gives unlimited trust. Because even if Tesla, with an annual production of almost 500.000 cars recently, sells only a fraction as many vehicles as Daimler (2,8 million), BMW (2,3 million) or even the VW Group (9,3 million), they are Americans rated significantly higher. At weddings, Tesla was even worth more than Daimler, BMW and VW combined. 

The more frenetic the cheers for Tesla, the louder the criticism of the old giants, who supposedly reacted too hesitantly and half-heartedly to the change and have already been written off. Just as evolution carried away the dinosaurs, so - so the long prevailing opinion - electric mobility could seal the end of Daimler, VW or BMW.

A lot of money for a forced change

But this time the Darwinists were obviously wrong with their theory of evolution. Because the old world has woken up and has started a tremendous race to catch up. It has invested billions of euros and millions of developer hours in new platforms, launched a whole flood of new models, invested in the infrastructure and more or less unconditionally committed to the system change. And with success: the VW Group, BMW and Daimler are back for pole position on Electric Avenue and models like the VW ID4, the Porsche Taycan, the Audi e-tron GT, the BMW iX or the Mercedes are just behind EQS are increasingly stealing the show from the Teslas, which are now a bit out of date, from drivers and fans. 

"The lead that Tesla had over many years has largely eroded and continues to melt away at breathtaking speed," says Andreas Radics from strategy consultant Berylls in Munich. He praises Tesla's own charging infrastructure as a real plus and still sees advantages in battery technology. Because the efficiency of the drive train continues to be the yardstick by which the competitors have to be measured.

Mercedes has big plans for the luxury class

But in many other areas, the classic manufacturers have long since caught up with Tesla or have even moved past, says Radics and cites the VW Group as an example, with its MEB and PPE e-platforms. “In the future, these architectures will enable a previously unheard-of variety of the most varied of electric vehicles, from small electric cars to luxury sedans and SUVs to sports cars.” And Mercedes has similar plans for the electric vehicle architecture, at least for the luxury class: especially with the luxury sedan EQS introduced, this kit will carry at least five more models, announced Daimler boss Ola Källenius.

“You can't find anything comparable at Tesla, but it is urgently needed because the former margin generators Model S and Model X are now getting on in years,” says Radics. And the air is getting thin at the other end of the scale as well: "Affordable e-mobility has long been coming from Hyundai, Renault, VW and others, in this area Tesla has nothing to offer except announcements and cannot score in many markets," he said Analyst continues. 

Not only would the models themselves have lost their radiance, but also many equipment features are no longer as attractive as they once were. The autopilot, which is supposed to allow hands-free driving, has been criticized for numerous accidents and is now facing competition from systems such as the Drive Pilot in the Mercedes EQS, which is not only technically more advanced, but also has the blessing of the legislature and the driver - at least in a traffic jam - actually gives freedom and free time. 

Germany has overtaken Tesla

The updates over the air that Tesla was the first to use on a large scale, i.e. the sometimes even chargeable updating of the software without a workshop visit as known from the apps on the smartphone, is becoming the standard and even the large monitor in the empty cockpit is no longer a unique selling point. On the contrary, says Radics and now sees the intricate operation of the Americans as a disadvantage, because there is more and more criticism of the danger of distraction. "The Germans can now do that better with the hyperscreen and voice control in the EQS or the curved cockpit of the BMW iX."

The fact that a newcomer like Tesla was able to gain such a head start over the years is probably thanks to the supposed dinosaurs in Germany. Because without the basic research at Daimler & Co, Tesla would not exist. In Stuttgart, Munich and Wolfsburg, research was already being carried out on battery-powered cars, when Elon Musk didn't even have a driver's license.

Winning team remains

In return, however, Daimler & Co lacked the will to change. Because at the latest when it came to batteries, the big manufacturers realized how difficult it would be to implement them economically, lost interest and turned their attention back to combustion engines. It works and a “winning team” shouldn't be changed lightly anyway. 

This hesitation is also due to an essential difference between the start-ups and newcomers on the one hand and the established manufacturers on the other: the management structure. Tesla is run by the owner, and what he has in mind, he pulls off regardless of profit or loss. And there are also people behind companies like Nio or Byton. Daimler, VW or BMW, on the other hand, have an employed chairman of the board who has to provide figures on a regular basis. Up until now, it often seemed that the stamina that is needed for such upheavals has been lacking. But that, too, seems to be slowly changing.

Tesla is only ahead of the curve when it comes to software

At least the same technical competence with the drive and the batteries and at least the second attempt also the necessary will to change: So there is actually only one discipline left in which the newcomers are ahead - and that has nothing to do with the drive . According to many analysts, the real strengths of the newcomers are their software architectures. While the veteran automakers were laughing at the entertainment industry because they couldn't even integrate a smartphone, Tesla - perhaps out of ignorance - based the electronic architecture of its cars on cell phones and computers.

And all the other newcomers followed suit. Instead of a network with hundreds of control units, such as in an S-Class or a Sevens, they only have one central computer, which is easier to control and quicker to keep up to date. With all their commitment, the old manufacturers still have a long way to go, even if they invest so many billions. 

In the meantime, VW boss Herbert Diess has apparently identified this as one of his central problems. Now that MEB and PPE are on their way and the electric wave is rolling inexorably through the group, he is increasingly drawing attention to the new subsidiary Cariad, which is to develop its own operating system for all group models. Because in the future software will be “the cardiovascular system of a car” and therefore much more important than its drive. That is why Diess has not only granted the currently 4.000 developers 2,5 billion euros per year, but has also promised a certain amount of personal contribution: one day a week will be reserved for Cariad in its calendar in future.

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