Industry Updates

Tesla Just Built Its 6 Millionth EV: Let’s Take Stock

Laurance Yap
April 19, 2024
Tesla has come a long way since it introduced the low-volume Roadster in 2007. Now, the company makes the world’s best-selling EVs and is a dominant player in charging as well. We take a look back at the company’s fascinating history and achievements.
Two Teslas parked together

Tesla: From EV Startup to Dominant Player

In 2007, when Tesla showed the first prototype of its electric-powered Tesla Roadster, it was hard to imagine that the company would be the juggernaut it is today in the global car market. Early buyers of Tesla Roadsters paid huge money (over $150,000) to drive the two-seat electric sports car with 250 miles of range, and only a few hundred were made. Now, the Tesla Model Y crossover is the best-selling electric vehicle in the world, and in a tweet at the end of March, the company announced it had produced 6 million EVs.

In less than 20 years, Tesla has produced more electric cars than anyone, and it has arguably done more than any other automaker to transform the way we drive, and to accelerate the move towards electric vehicles. Given the recent milestone, and the current buzz around the electric Cybertruck, it’s worth taking stock of how Tesla has changed the landscape – in ways both good and bad.

Tesla charging at home

Tesla Spurred EV Innovation

After its low-volume experimentation with the Roadster, Tesla rolled out its first full production car, the Model S, in 2012. Initially dismissed by big car companies as a battery-powered curiosity, the Model S soon found an audience amongst well-heeled technology enthusiasts that wanted to drive green.

Premium buyers loved the Model S’ sleek design, and giant screen, and they could soon be found all over roads in high-tech California. The rest of the automotive industry soon took notice – and realized they’d have to develop competitive product to catch up. Soon, we were seeing innovative electric vehicles from established luxury brands – but we have Tesla to thank for spurring them on.

Full Self Driving

One of the most interesting features introduced on the Model S was something called “full self driving,” which Tesla launched as a “beta.” (In software language, “beta” is a piece of software that is ready for testing but not finalized and ready to be distributed to customers.)

It was, and remains, an expensive option for Tesla vehicles, at almost $10,000, but the feature set for full self driving isn’t yet complete; it’s still basically a beta, with the promise that Tesla vehicles will be able to completely drive themselves at some point in the distant future. That point seems further and further away as more time passes.

What full self driving (FSD) is, in fact, is a suite of driver assistance systems, including adaptive cruise control and a battery of sensors and cameras that help keep the vehicle centered in its lane, a safe distance from the car in front, and provide automatic emergency braking and steering in extreme situations. In some conditions, the software can interact with the car’s navigation system and also turn, stop, and accelerate the vehicle. In that sense, it’s no different than the automated driver assistance systems you’ll find as options on many other cars – except it’s priced way higher.

Tesla and EV Excitement

Before the introduction of the Model S, the only electric vehicles available on the market were slow, efficient, and just a little bit nerdy. The customers who bought EVs purchased them primarily because they were more efficient, they produced fewer tailpipe emissions, and they had lower running costs. In exchange, buyers compromised on space, performance, and sometimes features.

The Tesla Model S, and the subsequent Model X crossover, with its powered “falcon wing” doors, changed all of that. Not only were these vehicles packed with the latest technology, symbolized by the giant touch panel in the middle of their dashboard, they also had big batteries and high-performance electric motors, which gave them enough performance to rival high-end sports cars.

Now, emissions and efficiency are just two reasons to buy electric. The performance, features, and the driving experience are even more compelling reasons to make the switch.

Teslas being built in factory

Bad: Quality and Consistency Aren't the Greatest

While Tesla models always had great tech and performance, they haven’t had the quality you might expect of premium-priced products. Early Model S and Model X vehicles suffered from poor paint, bad panel fits, and other quality gaffes that didn’t befit their premium price tags. When the mainstream Model 3 was introduced in 2017, demand was huge, and quality also suffered as Tesla ramped up production.

Over time, as Tesla opened new factories outside of its original California location – it now produces in Texas, Germany, and China, with another factory due to open soon in Mexico – the consistency and quality of the products have improved, but there is still a perceived gap compared to more established players, especially as each product continues to benefit from continued innovations in production.

Good: Production Innovation Drives Prices Down

One reason that quality has improved significantly since the early days has been Tesla’s continued investment in cutting-edge production technology. The best example of this is “gigacasting,” which is used on almost all of its new vehicles.

Traditionally, a vehicle’s chassis is made up of many sheet metal parts that are folded and shaped before being welded or bonded together to create the safety structure. Gigacasting replaces all of these processes with a giant metal molding machine that can punch out huge parts of the car’s structure as one solid piece – significantly driving down costs, as well as increasing the strength of the structure.

Gigcasting helps make Teslas better-quality, less expensive to purchase and stronger in a crash, but it has a downside as well. If one of the large structural pieces is damaged, the cost of replacing it is so high that the vehicle might be written off – making Teslas more expensive to insure than some comparable brands.

Bad: Tesla Resale Values are Volatile

One of Tesla’s more interesting innovations is that the company sells direct to customers, so it controls its entire distribution and sales channel. This gives the company much greater control over pricing than in the traditional dealership model. On the one hand, this approach has benefitted customers, as there are no mark-ups over MSRP when buying a Tesla in a hot market (even if you may have to order one and wait).

On the other hand, in a tough economic market, it means that Tesla, which has some of the most efficient production in the world, can aggressively cut prices on new vehicles, which immediately affects the value of every Tesla currently on the road. Customers who bought Teslas before price cuts immediately saw the value of their vehicles drop by thousands of dollars. It’s something to consider if you’re thinking of purchasing a new Tesla.

Good: Tesla Has the Best Charging

Because Tesla was so far ahead of most other manufacturers when it introduced its first mass-market EV, there was very little charging infrastructure available in 2012 when the Model S launched. So, despite having to go deeply into the red to do so, Tesla decided to roll out its own charging infrastructure – providing Model S (and subsequently Model X, Model 3, Model Y, and Cybertruck) owners the confidence that they could find high speed charging on the go if needed.

That investment gave Tesla a huge head-start on the rest of the industry, and really fueled sales of the company’s vehicles, as other charging companies couldn’t offer the same coverage. While EV charging infrastructure is now much better than it used to be, almost half of all of the high speed EV chargers in the U.S. are Tesla Superchargers – at least before the Ionna network rolls out 30,000 additional chargers between now and 2030.

Indeed, Tesla’s infrastructure is so much better than any other company’s that other car brands are now adopting its North American Charging Standard (NACS) plug, giving customers the ability to charge non-Teslas on Tesla’s network. It’s a win for both sides: Tesla gets to earn more revenue from charging non-Teslas, and non-Tesla buyers have increased confidence in the charging network – helping to accelerate the electric transition.

We also should note that, according to J.D. Power’s most recent Electric Vehicle Experience (EVX) survey that Tesla makes the top-rated home EV chargers, and that its offerings for home EV infrastructure extend into solar panels and power walls – helping customers generate their own electricity and reduce their energy costs even further.

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