Battle of the vision – is the new BMW i8 a Tesla beater?

BMW and Tesla are currently the two main contestants locked into an electric arms race to be top dog in the electric(ish) super(ish) car sector based on BMW’s release of the new i8 hybrid roadster

Who will win? Our prediction highlights the role of vision in creating truly ground-breaking products…

Tesla is clearly being driven by founder, Elon Musk, towards the purity of his all electric future vision. It’s website tells us: “Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”; a mission that runs through everything they do. Every new product or move Tesla makes is evidently carefully intended to be a solution that breaks down traditional barriers to electric vehicle adoption, and puts another foundation stone in Mr Musk’s road to (and perhaps ownership of?) a sustainable energy future. Musk literally wants to drag the world into a better place, commercially rubbing all the naysayers face in the muddy rising seas in the process.

BMW on the other hand is a corporate car maker, that plainly just sees an opportunity to compete for a share of the future electric sports car market, albeit perhaps with some hope that it will also help the world.

Not quite such a terrifyingly audacious and calculated plan by any stretch.

You would normally say that one of these two is a bit insane and the other is being pragmatic and commercial. Except that, this isn’t normal. One of them has the disconcerting ability to turn “pipe dreams” into world altering reality, and is going to whoop the other’s future ass.

And their latest products are simply, natural results of the widely varying scope of their visions.

For example, one of the major barriers to take-up of electric vehicles has been range. Range is a problem due to the lack of charging infrastructure and the cost of batteries which limit the how much you can afford to pack into a marketable vehicle.

Tesla’s solution is to build the world’s largest Li-Ion battery factory. “The Gigafactory” a facility that was specifically designed to reduce battery cell costs and, by 2018, to produce more lithium-ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013.

tesla gigafactory from the air

Tesla’s “Gigafactory”

By Tesla manufacturing their batteries in-house, they can meet their own demands on the market, create jobs and make LOADS of lithium batteries to reduce the price worldwide. And if that wasn’t enough, to support their investment, they’re busy creating whole new related spin-off markets for their batteries, such as the home power banks. Impressive forward-thinking no? Where’s your battery Tera-factory and home power supply products BMW!? 

So, while Tesla install a charging point infrastructure around the world and investigate reducing the cost of boring holes beneath cities for speedy travel, BMW’s solution to the EV ‘range’ problem, is a tentative in-between “hybrid” step, combining electric with a petrol engine to benefit from existing infrastructure.

Don’t get me wrong – BMW have done a phenomenal job of the engineering to make this hybrid system work as well as it (apparently*) does, and wrapped it up in some rather wonderfully futuristic sporty styling. I’ve slways been a fan of BMW’s consistent approach to making cars that are enjoyable to drive. But in my opinion, their leaders are directing them to make the wrong solution, that ends up inferior in terms of weight, performance and complexity (and therefore cost). It’s a beautiful and wonderfully engineered fudge.

BMW i8 Roadster design

The question is though – which one would you buy? Up till the latest Tesla, I’d probably have gone for the BMW due to its ability to be refuelled and get you from A to B on a long journey. But the next Tesla Roadster is not only beautiful but also supposed to have a 600 mile range.

Product Vision - Tesla Roadster Side View

So price aside (the BMW is £118,000, the Tesla due to be £184,000, neither of which a ‘normal’ person could afford); from a more principled and pure performance perspective, I’d go for the Tesla. Only the Tesla is a statement that will move opinion, show that electric is better and begin to force the infrastructure change that is needed to get mass following in more affordable cars.

The story brings to mind Henry Ford’s “faster horses” Quote.

henry ford faster horses quote

Before Ford cars were expensive hand built motorised carriages for the wealthy. Ford envisaged a future where everyone could afford a car, and so went about developing the production line process to achieve that, forcing all the other car manufacturers to follow suit. 111 years later and Tesla is not only the first successful American car maker startup, but driving forward with a similarly strong vision for a better world. In the process they are proving that electric cars are not just a conscience salve, but a better engineering solution to future transport, good enough to provide the fun and status that would have seemed impossible 10 years ago. BMW meanwhile are hedging their bets with a brilliant vehicle that plays it a bit too safe and sticks to the “old world” mindset of steering away from uncertainty and committing to risk-averse growth, rather than a better future. It looks pretty clear which one is going to be following suit in the next 10 years…

So in conclusion – Tesla’s vision wins.

Disclaimer: This is just a comparison of these two vehicles from a design strategy perspective. I obviously haven’t driven either of these cars, but we do rather like to provide grounded real world insight. So if you’re seriously considering either of these cars, then please can we come for a test drive!? 🙂