Early in the morning after the lap session for our Tesla vs. Jaguar vs. Alfa Romeo story, I grabbed a couple minutes with Motor Trend staff pro driver Randy Post before he dashed to catch a flight home. Without spoiling Kim Reynolds’ excellent feature, I want to relay just a snippet of our resident racer’s thoughts on Tesla’s new Track mode feature.
“An aggressive full-speed track entrance led to inconsistencies. It wouldn’t always do the same thing. … I go down the straightaway, and I’m heading to a corner, I’m thinking in the back of my mind, I wonder what is going to happen. It was an uneasy feeling.”
What struck me about Randy’s critique of the Model 3’s high-performance mode is that he could have been describing the recent behavior of the guy most responsible for Tesla’s very existence. Aggressive, full-speed, and inconsistent: Elon Musk’s approach to the auto industry has been all of those things, and, more recently, wildly erratic and confusing. From a cringe-worthy spat with a British rescue diver in Thailand, to claims of taking Tesla private with the backing of Saudi investment (that subsequently prompted an SEC investigation, lawsuit, and settlement), to smoking a spliff while appearing on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, it is understandable why many Tesla customers and investors are filled with unease and wonder.
No longer in the back of my mind is this other thought: When will a true Tesla rival emerge? Coke has Pepsi, Nike has Adidas, Chevy has Ford (… and Toyota and Hyundai and VW, but that’s a different story). But where is the real Tesla challenger? And who will be its smart, sober, visionary leader?
I believe the true challenger won’t be one of the large, traditional OEMs, but rather a startup as single-focused and committed to the future of electric vehicles as Tesla. A quick survey of leading contenders including Faraday Future, Lucid Motors, NIO, and Rivian reveals a few fascinating combinations of familiar faces from across the auto industry. Plus there are a slew of China-based EV startups, any of which could claim a stake to the new technology. In particular, though, Lucid and Rivian boast impressive rosters.
If you want to beat Tesla at its own game, it helps to have players with insider information. And Lucid Motors is positively stacked with ex-Tesla talent from the top down. Cofounder Bernard Tse served as VP and board member at Tesla before he left to start Atieva, the electric car company that would become Lucid Motors. Joining him are three other former Tesla leaders: Peter Rawlinson, who was the chief engineer on the Model S, is Lucid’s CTO, and Peter Hasenkamp and Eric Bach essentially reprise the roles they played at Tesla (supply chain and body engineering, respectively) for Lucid. VP of design Derek Jenkins never worked for Elon, but before he joined Lucid, he moved from VW to head Mazda North America design when Franz von Holzhausen left that position to join Tesla.
Even though Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe comes from MIT’s Sloan Automotive Laboratory, he is not yet a familiar name in industry circles. His team is loaded with some eyebrow raisers, primarily from FCA and McLaren. Rivian’s VP of design, Jeff Hammoud, was Jeep’s head of design and led passenger car interior design at FCA. He works alongside Rivian’s product development lead, Mark Vinnels, who spent 13 years at McLaren developing every road car from the MP4-12C to the 720S. Both answer to a board of directors that includes Antony Sheriff and Tom Gale. The former spent nine years launching and leading McLaren Automotive as its CEO, and the latter is an Automotive Hall of Fame car designer most well-known for his time as Chrysler design chief (and for being our Car of the Year guest judge).
Some heavyweights, indeed, but do we have a winner? Time will soon tell. Lucid Motors just locked down a billion-dollar investment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund (no doubt to Elon’s chagrin) and has said the production version of its Lucid Air prototype will come to market sometime in 2019, while Rivian claims its truck and SUV will be unveiled starting in 2020. Who knows where Elon and Tesla will be by then?
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