Here's why Tesla's Nurburgring challenge was nothing more than a huge mess
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Image from Pressfrom.info
It has been about three months since Tesla’s Frankenstein monster has appeared on the Nurburgring under the rather ambitious goal to beat the Porsche Taycan’s record. To challenge Weissach’s latest electric weapon, Tesla modified their Model S by adding an extra motor, fender flares, racing brakes, massive spoilers, and a ‘Plaid’ badge.
Image from Elektrek
As expected, the whole automotive community went viral. However, thanks to Tesla’s rather bold statement of beating the king of the ‘Ring’, most considered is as another publicity stunt. Yes, Tesla is an innovator in EV technology, but it was evident that the 70 years of experience Porsche gained in the Green Hell will not just be covered by adding another motor in the powertrain. Furthermore, the whole Tesla Model S Plaid being nothing close to a production vehicle even sparked more controversy.
Image from Pressfrom.info
Soon, unofficial claims that Tesla had beaten Taycan’s 7:42 record by 19 seconds were all over the place, making headlines in numerous automotive websites. Still, Tesla remained silent, neither approving nor disapproving the independent claims of spotters on the Nurburgring. Soon Tesla fanboys struck back, whether it was Twitter or Drivetribe, shouting out how Jalopnik and automotive journalists’(including me XD) opinion that Tesla will not be able to beat the record was pure nonsense.
A few days later, a video was uploaded on Twitter, and it became a game-changer. Yes, until yesterday, people were exalting how Tesla not only managed not to enter ‘limp mode’ but rather broke the Nurburgring record for 4 door EVs. But now, after the record-breaking Model S breaking down in the middle of a hot lap, it became obvious that the Tesla Model S Plaid needed improvement. To make things worse for Elon and Tesla, a Porsche Taycan lapped the Model S Plaid, gaining enormous cult in the automotive community.
It was quite lucky for Tesla as the ‘passing-by’ Taycan’s driver did not decide to honk a few times or even wave a Porsche flag and to prevent their stocks from further plummeting, Elon and Tesla decided to make the move. Tesla officially claimed that their data proves that the Model S can lap the Nurburgring in 7 minutes and 20 seconds. However, no onboard footages were provided, and it was not necessarily a ‘claim’ but rather a well calculated ‘prediction’.
Image from Teslarati
Tesla announced that they will be coming back to the Nurburgring next month(November) for a 7:05 record. Soon, even more extreme versions of the Model S Plaid showed up with massive splitters and rear wings. Surprisingly, nothing much has been heard from Tesla nor automotive sources since then. In the status quo, it is even unsure whether the Tesla crew is still at the Nurburgring conducting tests.
Image from Business Insider
This sudden ‘end’ to their challenge definitely sparks some questions and here’s my answer to it. Yes, it was obviously a publicity stunt. Tesla regularly ‘promotes’ new ‘content’ every month to keep their stocks high. For example, before the Nurburgring stunt, they released footages of Model Y's testing, and after the Nurburgring challenge, they released the Cybertruck and Elon driving it around town. As the Cybertruck was planned to be revealed in December, there was no reason for Tesla to keep their rather ‘unsuccessful’ Nurburgring challenge on the media.
Image from Evannex
Wait, if you want to ask me why I worded it ‘unsuccessful’, here is the thing. At the end of the day, Tesla claimed NOTHING. No official records were released, nor onboard footages and all we got was some data that ‘indicates’ that the Model S Plaid has the potential to do a 7:20. As expected, Elon once again proudly stated that they would return to the Ring for a 7:05 record, but we hear not a word from Elon about the Nurburgring effort.
Image from WSupercars
Furthermore, we should always be careful with lap time predictions. For example, it was predicted that the C7 ZR1 would do a sub-7-minute lap in the Nurburging. However, the best it could do was 7:04, which was definitely not GM nor Corvette fans expected. The same thing happened when BMW decided to set a lap record with their F1 car, where they came nowhere close to their speculation.
Image from Twitter
At the end of the day...
To conclude, Tesla’s Nurburgring efforts have been a colossal mess. Firstly, the introduction of a new high-end model affected the sales of Performance variants of the current Tesla lineup. When considering the fact that the Plaid will come in 2020, it has been a bit of an early release. Secondly, by breaking down at the Nurburgring, it gained even more negative publicity. I am not saying that the Porsche Taycan is Adamantium, but at least they did not break down in public. Overall, the whole Model S Plaid’s Nurburgring challenge was a rushed move from Tesla, thus only resulting in adverse effects.
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What the automotive community expected when Tesla challenged Porsche was a proper rivalry like Ford and Ferrari at Le Mans. Sadly, what we got was a desperate move from Elon Musk and Tesla, who sent a Frankenstein Model S Plaid to the Nurburgring to complete with a stock Taycan, only to break down. Breaking the record would have definitely ‘diminished’ some of these negative issues, but Tesla did not break the record in any means.
Image from Wallpaper Access
This whole ‘Nurburgring Challenge’ media stunt done by Tesla shows the limits of Tesla itself. I do admit the fact that Tesla has grown into a somewhat stable corporation instead of a startup. Regardless, one can easily spot that Tesla’s decisions are driven by their stock price and cash balance. I’m not saying that it is a bad thing, but for long-term growth, that is hardly ideal. Thankfully, for Tesla, it had not mattered much until now.
Image from Tesla
Tesla had $5.3 billion in cash and equivalents at the end of the third quarter. Although it might seem like a reasonable reserve, that is not probably enough to fund everything that Tesla had proudly ‘promised’ to deliver. They still have the Model Y, Semi, Roadster, a factory in China, Cybertruck, and tons of other stuff due, and if they fail to do so, it will undoubtedly affect their stock prices. And their answer to solving this problem, or at least in the short term, was the Cybertruck.
Image from Tesla
The Cybertruck had a rather low pre-order deposit of only $100, compared to the $2,500 deposit required for the Model Y. Therefore, they were able to get more than 200,000 pre-orders in just a few days. The cash they had acquired through the Cybertruck pre-order is trivial, but the pre-order stats are more of a ‘jump start’ to increase their stock sales. Data proves that TSLA prices have risen significantly after the “200k” tweet and videos of a Cybertruck pulling an F150.
Image from The Motley Fool
Tesla wants to convince stockholders and investment banks that they are a ‘sustainable’ business and their stocks are at their all-time highs of $400+. Yes, what Tesla achieved in less than 20 years must be acknowledged and applauded. Nevertheless, unless they compete with ‘real world’ quality and performance, they will end up being a short-term ‘fad’ in the 2010s motor industry, as major corporations like VW AG and Daimler are ready to strike back.
Tesla, well done for surviving this decade. But to survive the next one, you’d better be prepared.