In just the last week, I have driven the past, present and future of the auto industry. Two cars tell the story, Ford’s Mustang GT and Tesla’s latest, the Model 3.
The Mustang GT, is a rip-roaring, $62,438 (as-tested) throwback in canary yellow with black racing stripes and a loud 5.0-litre V-8 sure to terrify small children and dogs. The Mustang comes from an historic carmaker founded by an inventor whose family still controls the company. The past and present.
And then there’s Tesla’s Model 3, an as-tested $72,000 full-on battery car. It’s a slightly futuristic-looking notchback sedan boasting a range of 500 km (with the premium battery) and 0-100 km/hour acceleration at 5.5 seconds or less. (For the record, the Mustang GT while a relative gas hog, does 0-100 km/h in four seconds.
As for Tesla the company, it was founded by a fellow named Elon Musk, who still owns 20 per cent of the shares. Musk can be faulted for childish behaviour and outright dishonesty, but there is no denying that his vision for electrified vehicles and the sheer force of his personality have changed the automotive landscape thoroughly and forever – not unlike Henry Ford, whose assembly line made it economically feasible for middle class factory workers to own their own Model Ts.
The Model 3 is a little bit of the present, and a lot of the future of an auto industry in the early stages of in increasingly rapid shift away from cars and a car-ownership experience that Henry Ford would still recognize, to a world of electrified transportation and car-sharing services of all sorts. The Mustang is a riot for a baby boomer like me, and still admired and lusted after by all the millennials who stopped me in parking lots and wayside coffee shops to deliver a thumbs-up and a big grin.
But here’s the thing: I went as far and as fast in the Model 3 on $4 of stored electricity as I did on $70 worth or premium gasoline in the Mustang. The Mustang GT is technologically advanced, but the focus of its smarts is to make Steve McQueen-like performance safe and accessible for the masses.
So, it has the latest in adaptive cruise control, very cool track apps that allow for all sorts of racy enhancements to the chassis and there is even something called “Active Valve Performance Exhaust.” The latter allows you to dial down the exhaust noises coming from the twin-tips of chrome at the rear. A concession to your neighbours on early morning starts and a more general nod to noise pollution in our evermore crowded cities.
And yes, the Mustang also has the latest infotainment bits and pieces – Bluetooth, satellite radio, and smartphone syncing. But the truth is, the Mustang was invented for the parents of baby boomers — what author and broadcaster Tom Brokaw has called “The Greatest Generation.” I was six years old when Ford launched the Mustang.
The Model 3, on the other hand, is dominated by a large, centrally located, horizontal touch screen tacked onto the top of the dashboard. It does not have a traditional gauge cluster reading out engine revs. Where the Mustang feels solid as a brick, the Model 3 feels light and tinny and not particularly well made. Indeed, the Internet is rife with complaints about Model 3 quality woes.
Nonetheless, it’s a glorious performance machine, though a completely silent one. Electric motors deliver power instantly to the wheels, such that when you dip your toe into the throttle, the response is immediate and exhilarating. Handling? My Wall Street Journal colleague and friend Dan Neil Dan Neil brilliantly describes the Model 3 as a car with “corner-exiting acceleration that will leave average BMW M4s with a soft auf Wiedersehen.” The Model 3 also has Tesla well-regarded Autopilot semi-autonomous driving programming.
In a nutshell, the Model 3, dynamically, is wonderful. Aesthetically, however, it’s a disappointment and the long-term quality of the car is questionable. I wouldn’t want to own one and the many quality problems I can foresee down the road – loose plastic bits and the like. But I might lease one, or buy access through some sort of car-sharing service.
That said, in its first full month of availability in Canada, the Model 3 racked up sales of 2,329. In June, it was it was the 16th best-selling car in Canada, according to date from GoodCarBadCar.net. Ford sold 744 Mustangs in June. Model 3 sales might plummet now that Ontario’s Ford government has killed EV incentives, but at least the new Tesla got off to an auspicious start.
And if you believe the forecasting from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the future of EVs looks good, with sales to increase tenfold by 2025 and reach 55 percent of car sales worldwide by 2040. No one is suggesting such a boom in cars like the Mustang. I plan to enjoy them while I still can.