Richard Thalheimer, founder and former CEO of The Sharper Image, and founder of RichardSolo.com, built his company by knowing what consumers wanted to buy – even when those products were quirky and new. He conceived and built The Sharper Image into an international brand with a mail-order catalog, 200 retail stores, and a strong online presence.
He’s uniquely qualified to speak about the future of the industry’s transition to electric vehicles and has personally owned four Tesla electric cars.
“There is an enormous transition occurring right now, as all car makers are placing their future bets on electric cars. And Tesla, who really ignited this change, is the market leader.”
So why do experts like Bob Lutz, former head of Ford and Chrysler, and Vice-Chairman of GM, predict Tesla is an “automobile company that is headed for the graveyard”? source
Thalheimer thinks Lutz has missed the point, that what Elon Musk and Tesla are doing is extraordinary. “I remember when Sharper Image started selling the first Apple iPod. It was a revolutionary product that changed the industry and ended the reign of Sony Walkman, though industry veterans didn’t see it coming.”
“Bob Lutz is missing this transition in the same way,” says Thalheimer. “It is a revolution, and traditional car makers are not going to catch up – like when Apple was so far ahead of the competition with iPod, other mp3 music player manufacturers never caught up.”
Lutz is also highly critical of Elon Musk, saying “he is a nice guy who doesn’t know how to run a car company.” source
Really? Thalheimer points out, “Musk started from scratch, and 14 years later his cars are outselling BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar in their respective niches. source
Tesla cars are consistently the highest rated for safety and customer loyalty. source
And in their most recent quarter, Tesla reported a substantial profit and dramatically increased revenue, surprising analysts and critics.” source
What’s more, the new Tesla Model 3 sedan is a huge market success, and at a time when Ford has announced it’s discontinuing all sedan production except the Mustang sports car and a compact Focus crossover, as consumer tastes shift to SUVs and trucks and away from sedans. “That makes the Model 3 sedan success all the more remarkable.”
Thalheimer predicts manufacturers like Ford are in danger of losing their following, as they are not competitive in the new electric vehicle marketplace. “Will Ford even be a viable car manufacturer in five years? Only their truck business might keep them going.”
GM admitted as much, announcing it is closing 5 US car factories, as it transitions to electric cars: “General Motors’ restructuring has sent shock waves throughout the auto industry, the political world and, most of all, in the communities of the five plants the company will shut down. Some observers see the move as driven by technology that’s forcing old-school automakers to become more like what Tesla has been doing all along.” source
A Nov 27 MarketWatch Opinion piece pointed out: “The problem for traditional automakers is that they are too deeply wedded to an old technology headed for obsolescence — along with the way they’ve been doing business for decades. Those who still believe in traditional automakers point to their manufacturing expertise and well-established supply chains, sales and marketing partnerships, and distribution networks as a structural advantage. BMW, for instance, has 30 manufacturing sites for internal combustion engine-based vehicles in 14 countries. They are good at making cars.”
“But an electric vehicle is a different proposition, with a different manufacturing process, different parts, a different sales and education approach and different supporting infrastructure. The problem for the likes of GM and BMW is that the kind of quick transition that’s required for survival in an electric world would lay large parts of their existing businesses to waste.”
Tesla meanwhile, continues on a roll. Coming up next for Tesla is their new affordable Model Y smaller SUV, and also a Semi Truck big hauler. Their production problems appear to be behind them, and cash flow has turned positive.
It’s an exciting time for Tesla as it travels fast and silently, on autopilot, down a curvy highway, gaining more ground on some of the worlds best car manufacturers. And, it’s looking like Bob Lutz missed the turn.