ELON MUSK must be ecstatic. Having already conquered the world with Paypal, taken on NASA at the space exploration game and threatened to revolutionise mass transport with the brilliantly-named The Boring Company, he’s now got a new suitor. The world’s second biggest car company, no less.
That’s right, word on the street is that Volkswagen is interested in buying a stake in Tesla. Admittedly, Volkswagen hasn’t successfully shot one of its own cars into space but it has pulled off a few other tricks of its own – after selling 21 million Beetles and popularising the hot hatchback it’s gone on to snap up Audi, Porsche, SEAT, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini, along with superbike specialist Ducati and truck builder MAN. They’re behind only Toyota in the car-building stakes, and still on an upward trajectory. What’s more, they’re on the cusp of launching their own sub-brand, called ID, which focuses on zero emissions vehicles.
But owning Tesla – or at least, a bit of it – seems like an entirely smart move. Not only does it give VW access to all of the Californian start-up’s battery tech, which for years has been ahead of everyone else in the electric car game, but it also gives it access to all those Tesla-branded smart chargers you see at motorway service stations. The other day I called into Fleet Services on the M3 and saw a line of six of them sitting unused while Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi Outlander owners were practically trading blows over the Ecotricity ones nearby, but if VW and Audi owners were able to use Tesla ones too in a few years’ time, it’d make more sense for everyone.
But I’d like to think the suits at VW are interested in what I think is something even more remarkable that’s potentially on the table; the creation of a brand’s street cred out of nowhere. Think about how long it’s taken Toyota to win over a generation of cynical Brits with Lexus, and yet in half the time there are now car mags urging you to go electric and buy a Model 3 over a 320d. The internet’s even invented its own term for someone prepared to defend Elon Musk’s offerings, even in the face of outright hostility from the rest of the motoring world – the Tesla Fanboy. That such a term – and the people behind it – exists at all just shows you how much currency the cars created by someone I’m still convinced is a real-life Bond villain have with today’s buyers.
Yet here’s the weird thing – Tesla, for all its trick gullwing doors, ability to defeat McLarens in drag races and to make cars that can drive themselves, is still struggling to make long-term profits. It’s moved the motoring game and brought us some very cool cars at the expense of….well, at the expense. So, in other words, it’s where Aston Martin was 30 years ago.
What it needs is the equivalent of the DB7 – a brilliant car that transforms the company, bankrolled by someone else. VW and Tesla, then, are a match made in heaven. Your move, Elon…