TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Automakers might think they’re making exciting electric cars, but they’re really doing nothing more than building boring appliances. At least that’s what Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla vice president of business development, says.
O’Connell, who spoke at CAR Management Briefing Seminars on Tuesday, singled out the Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul EV, BMW i3 and Chevrolet Spark EV as electric vehicles that don’t provide enough range or performance and cost too much to appeal to most consumers.
“In essence, they’ve delivered little more than appliances,” O’Connell said. “Now, appliances are useful. But they tend to be white. They tend to be unemotional."
He made similar remarks at last year's event.
O’Connell said the world is at a “very important juncture” in its history, and automakers must do more to make their electric cars more exciting and less expensive while effectively promoting them and giving them a range of 200 miles.
"On balance, I'm happier that they're doing these cars than not," he said. "I just wish they would do them better and faster."
He said electric vehicles can be difficult to find in many U.S. markets outside of Los Angeles, singling out the Detroit market as an especially difficult place to find EVs.
“I think if the Michigan Legislature would allow Tesla to sell cars in Michigan, we could probably address this,” he said, alluding to the state’s ban on the direct-sales model Tesla utilizes. Tesla, through lobbying and the judicial system, has fought Michigan, Texas and other states that have effectively banned direct sales with mixed success.
Speaking with Automotive News after his address, O’Connell reiterated that Tesla has been “very clear” that it would only sell its cars under a direct-sales model.
O’Connell said dealers could play a larger role in getting more electric vehicles on the roadways.
“It’s natural for folks whose business is vested in the existing technology to focus on that technology because it’s the foundation of their business, rather than taking a risk position on new and novel technology, especially when the automakers themselves aren’t supporting it,” he said.
O’Connell said Tesla, which on Monday announced a merger with sister company SolarCity, was set up not to be a car company, but instead to “start a revolution.” He said Tesla has laid out a blueprint for success in selling EVs and said he has "high hopes for the next generation of electric vehicles."
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