Similarly, the race to produce the world’s first affordable electric car was arguably won six years ago when Nissan launched its Leaf. It remains the best-selling electric car model over its history, but sales have undershot initial expectations, probably because the car’s limited battery life gave consumers so-called “range anxiety.”
Could the Model 3 be the product that finally shifts the gear? Possibly. Mr. Musk enjoys an Apple-like marketing halo that will give the Model 3 an advantage over rival products from Detroit and beyond. Consumers also seem to love Tesla’s design, which rejects the modest environmentalism of the Leaf in favor of sleek futurism.
But there are crucial differences between cars and phones. People replace cars less frequently than they buy new phones, giving competitors more time to react to innovation. And car crashes matter more than phone crashes, so practicality can win out over style. Above all, phones are far cheaper to make. Apple could pitch its iPhone as a luxury product, with luxurious margins, that was nonetheless affordable. Tesla can’t make an underlying profit selling cars for upwards of $70,000. The Model 3 is evidence it knows it needs to halve the price to stay in the game.