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What makes Tesla the best electric car (so far)

Roadshow's editors lay out the best things about the early leader in EV.

As we close out 2020, it's clear that Tesla is no flash in the pan, contrary to what the short sellers have paid dearly to insist. Tesla's recent addition to the S&P 500 was the largest single addition to the index in its history and, as of this writing, Tesla is worth more than Volkswagen, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, GM, Ford, Honda, Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot combined. The many investors who made that so can't all be idiots, so I wanted to explore what makes Tesla great -- something I wouldn't have called it before 2020. 

Few people I know have spent as much time with Tesla's cars and people as Tim Stevens, editor in chief of CNET's Roadshow, and Antuan Goodwin, Roadshow's reviews editor

"A lot of Tesla skeptics over the years have been saying just wait until company X releases car Y and that will be the end of Tesla," says Tim Stevens. "We heard that about the Jaguar I-Pace, the Porsche Taycan, and the Audi e-tron, but Tesla still continues to be successful."

Much has been made about Tesla's shortcomings as a mature maker of cars. "You can say what you will about their build quality, interior designs ... and their messaging on autonomous driving technology and how that lines up with reality," says Antuan Goodwin. "But Tesla's proven time and time again that, if nothing else, they do bulletproof electrification technology."

Tesla detractors will point out that its success is that of a big fish in a miniscule pond, selling about 1% of all the cars in the US market (though claiming over 80% of US EV sales in H1 2020), that it would not be sequentially profitable without the sale of carbon credits, and that its cars rank near the bottom of Consumer Reports reliability rankings. All of these are true, but the fact that the company seems to be where the auto industry is headed wins out, along with the fact that consumers see owning a Tesla as a unique statement and not just a vehicle.

Tesla models side by side

Tesla vehicles look more alike than those of almost any other carmaker's, and rarely change once launched. But it hasn't dampened their "spotability".

Tesla

I've always been intrigued by the fact that, while most carmakers spend scads of money to restyle their cars every few years, Tesla has one basic look that it stretches across all its models and has never really changed it. That's a powerful lesson to the industry on how to make a car brand desirable without relying on the trivialities of fresh sheet metal.

Tesla is often compared to Apple, a comparison it likely welcomes, except in one respect: Apple was synonymous with personal computing in the late '70s, only to recede to small market share from which it never recovered. "Can Tesla continue to maintain the momentum is a question going forward," says Stevens. "If they can't get their cars down to the price of the average new car here in the US, then it's a big question on my mind. The competition coming up is unbelievable."

Tim and Antuan shared many more insights from their long experience with Tesla, which you can hear in the video above.