All the reasons I pre-ordered a Tesla Model 3

April 15, 2016 Originally published on SFGate

The old ways must die
On this single point the entire universe agrees: Few events in human life match the soul-cringing unpleasantness of buying a new car in America. Only root canals, Adam Sandler movie marathons and being eaten alive by intestinal parasites come close.

And why? Because the fundamental process of buying a car hasn’t been improved upon in 100 years – because evil, because profits, because bitchy state laws and relentless industry lobbyists and because Big Auto doesn’t have to care about your simpering discomfort. What are you gonna do, buy your wheels some other, more enjoyable way? Like hell you are.

Like nothing else currently in existence. And that's the gist of it, really

Like nothing else currently in existence. And that’s the gist of it, really

Feel less soiled
Behold Tesla, with its friendly, dead-simple, direct-sales model – no haggling, no giant, overlit mega-dealerships down by the airport, no smarm, all cars built-to-order – easily freaking out and/or infuriating the Old Guard – because that’s what happens when the Old Guard doesn’t bother to innovate anything truly interesting since the Taft administration.

Ride the lightning
Tesla is, of course, an extremely minor player in the car biz. Even so, they just pre-sold $10 billion worth of sleek, futuristic sheetmetal, all for a car that’s still just a prototype and which won’t actually be built for at least another year. Eat those electrons, Bob Lutz.

What does this tell you? That people – lots of them – are eager for change, innovation, a move away from Big Auto’s death grip on how cars are powered, built, sold? Obviously.

Innovative, groundbreaking, brave corporate ingenuity, ugly as an albino pumpkin, bland driving dynamics, ready for pasture

Innovative, groundbreaking, brave corporate ingenuity, ugly as an albino pumpkin, bland driving dynamics, ready for pasture

Screw your bitumen
But it’s more than that. It’s sort of ridiculously appealing, when dealing with Tesla, to feel like you’re flipping a giant middle finger to Saudi Arabia, Exxon, Keystone XL, Canada’s vile tar sands, Big Auto and inbred Republican corporate cronyism, all at once. There’s a hint of anarchy and insurrection involved in buying a Tesla. Fun to be part of a new paradigm, right? Support innovative thinking? Send a signal to the PTB? Help the environment? No question.

It’s (mostly) an illusion, of course. For one thing, all that electricity still comes at a hefty environmental cost. And Elon Musk might be a lot of things, but a socialist ain’t one of them. And to be honest, Big Auto still makes some extraordinarily appealing, top-quality product, and many companies are taking some real (small, tentative) steps toward the all-electric future (see Bolt, Volt, Leaf, i3, et al). Major car manufacturers may be slow to adapt and wail like banshees when they have to, but they’re not completely stupid.

The good kind of virgin
But Tesla offers a very different experience. There’s a certain purity here – of purpose, of vision, of mission. Tesla isn’t tainted by what came before. It’s not beholden to dealerships, politicians, oil conglomerates, pre-existing infrastructures everyone hates and no one trusts in the slightest. They’re refreshing in a uniquely empowering way.

And when the day comes – maybe much sooner than predicted – when we can all plug our badass electric hot rods into our rooftop solar arrays and pay not a dime for electricity or gasoline? Well… there will still be a thousand other terrible problems to attend to. But it’s a damn nice bit of progress, nonetheless.

David flicks Goliath
Remember what the iPhone did to grumpy old Blackberry? Remember when RIM’s milquetoast executives all scoffed at Steve Jobs’ gorgeous new gizmo mere minutes after its unveiling, mocking its cutesy “apps” and silly, all-digital keyboard no serious professional would ever use? Remember when Apple absolutely annihilated those pretentious twerps in about six months flat?

This is exactly like that, except completely different. Which is to say: The enormous, entrenched auto industry isn’t exactly going anywhere. Tiny little Tesla poses no immediate financial threat – yet.

But it feels similar. There’s a sense of overdue comeuppance, of smacking Big Auto upside its thick, reluctant ego. There’s simply no denying those incredible numbers: Tesla’s innocuous, much-maligned electric invention just made an staggering end-run around one of the most powerful industries in the world, and the industry can only gape, blink hard and say “Gosh, maybe we should have thought of that.”

Don’t feel too bad for them. They had three decades of warnings and pent-up consumer demand, and yet not a single automaker has had the nerve to challenge the status quo and explode the antiquated business model. Visionaries they ain’t.

Farewell sweet jellybeans
Maybe that’s not completely true. Plenty of credit goes to Toyota, for taking such a strange and unexpected risk, way back in 1999, with its efficient, weird, extraordinarily ugly hybrid car-like thing, that quickly became a phenomenon.

The Prius remains, even now, a marvel of innovative engineering and bold corporate decision-making. And, despite being about as pretty as an albino pumpkin and exactly as fun to drive, Toyota has sold close to two million of the sweet, slow-lane jellybeans. And it only took them 17 years to do it.

Then again, Tesla, a company a fraction the size of Toyota, just pre-sold a quarter million cars… in two days.

Translation: The well-loved Prius is over-ripe for pasture. Electric is the future. Or rather, it’s the now, the transition technology that will ease us off oil and make driving interesting again and usher in the new age of… who the hell knows? Autonomous vehicles? Hyperloops? Solar-regenerative electrified pavement?

Whatever comes next, it’s going to be fascinating to watch. And in the meantime, it’s damn fun to support a visionary company that almost singlehandedly kicked the industry into (much) higher gear. Did I mention there’s a $7,500 rebate/tax incentive to help with that? That’ll buy a lot of extension cords.

Proven badassery
None of this would matter – and the Model 3 would never have seen such extraordinary pre-sale numbers – if that other Tesla wasn’t gorgeous, beautifully designed and a wonder to drive. I tested a $75,000 Model S last year and it was exactly as powerful and sumptuous as you’ve heard, notable as much for its stunning technology and ridiculous torque as for its shocking… normalcy. Tesla’s innovations aside, the Model S still drives like a true luxury sports sedan should. Which is to say, flawlessly.

(Also worth noting: I just sighted my first Model X, Tesla’s ultra-lux SUV, down in – where else? – Beverly Hills. It’s a marvelous creation, an exotic, refined supermodel amidst a sea of lumpy Botox).

The Model 3 is being touted as a “baby” S, which hopefully translates into premium materials, dead-classy refinement, otherworldly tech and heart-rattling Ludicrous Mode performance, all in a smaller, urban-ready package and all at half the price. What’s not to like?

Apocalypse ready
And if it’s a flop? If after all this hype and hubris, the Model 3 fails, due to any number of potential issues between now and late next year – indefinite delays, flawed build quality, weak performance reviews, nationwide socioeconomic collapse should Trump or Cruz become president?

That’s easy. My $1,000 deposit is fully refundable, anytime. At which point I march straight over to Jaguar, pick up a new F-Type and drive it straight into the Rapture. It’s a win-win all around, really.

Read more here:: All the reasons I pre-ordered a Tesla Model 3

Mark Morford

About Mark Morford