We frequently speak of vehicles being "critical" for an automaker. The redesigned Camry, for example, is critical for Toyota to redefine its image, or the new Kona crossover is critical for Hyundai's effort to better align its lineup with the market.
Rarely do we mean that a single vehicle is critical to the business model, the mission and possibly the survival of a car company.
Yet that is a fair description of the Tesla Model 3. (So is beautiful. Fit and finish: TBD.)
This is a moment of truth for Tesla, bigger than all the others before it. The company was built with sci-fi technologies and vehicles for the elite, but it was built on the premise that nothing less than the future of the world depends on battery electric vehicles becoming ubiquitous and affordable to all.
If that's your world view, you'll bet everything you have on it, and Tesla has, investing billions in r&d and battery production capacity, and refusing to diversify into hybrids or other compromises. Tesla hasn't always lived up to its promises, but it has stuck to its principles. The Model 3, which rolled off the assembly line for the first time in production form this month, is testament to that.
Along with the apologists and fanboys (perhaps because of them), there are many voices in the legacy auto industry who are eager to watch Tesla stumble spectacularly, and they've ordered a big bucket of buttered popcorn in anticipation of the Model 3 rollout. In Elon Musk's confidence, his smug defiance of industry conventions, they see hubris worthy of the Greek tragedies, and they would love to see his epic rise matched by an epic fall.
Not us. We're skeptical, of course. But when you're in the storytelling business, you hate to see a great story end too soon. We like big ideas pursued with passion and abandon. We like outsize personalities. We like underdogs tangling with the top dogs. And we won't easily tire of people like Karl Benz, Henry Ford, Billy Durant, Soichiro Honda and others who are foolish enough to think they can change the world, even if they can't make money doing it.
Mr. Musk, it's your moment of truth. Show us what you've got.