Why did Tesla Release a Jaw-Dropping but Impractical “Insane Mode”?

When I first saw this video, I thought, “You can’t be serious!” But when I saw the same reaction from every person in the video, I became a believer. My curiosity was piqued however. “Why emphasize the extreme speed of an electric car that is supposed to be all about being green?”

The video that made me believer was a third-person video of test drives during the “Insane Mode” of Tesla’s new Model S P85D. As the name suggests, the car went from 0 to 96 km/h an hour in an insane 3.2 seconds!

3.2 seconds might sound rather abstract. After all, that’s what supercars do. But how insane is it? Watch this:

You might say, “These people must all be hand-picked drama queens”. I tried to find any videos where the reactions where “calmer”, and I found this video of a Bloomberg reporter being driven by Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla. Well, the reaction wasn’t so dramatic; but the reporter still began “laughing hysterically”, which like screaming is a common reaction on roller-coaster rides:  

For comparison, someone found a Lamborghini Aventador, a petrol-burning supercar that also had 691 hp and takes just 2.9 seconds to go from 0 to 96 km/h an hour. It might be the reigning champion of the supercar world but it still had its butt kicked at the start and only caught up in the final spurt: 

So the “P85D is really fast” is probably undisputed. But what is Tesla thinking? Why does it emphasize how “fast” it is?

Before answering this question, imagine if you were the Tesla brand manager. Would you then define the Tesla P85D as: 

  • The “supercar” with the fastest acceleration on the planet?
  • Or the “electric car” with the fastest acceleration?

Notice the difference? These are two distinct market segments. One is supercars, and the other is electric cars. You can’t mix the two. The reason is simple. No matter how fast the P85D can accelerate, it is still not in the same class as supercars! If you try comparing it against supercars, apart from acceleration from 0 ~ 100 km/h an hour, supercars are also generally expected to “have top speeds in excess of 300 km/h, eye-catching super-streamlined styling, a heart-pounding roar, superb controllability like flying on the ground” as “standard”. The P85D has none of these things! Nor will supercars infect you with mileage anxiety due to “constantly checking the dashboard to see how many miles you have left”. (Another pure electric car, M. Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive based on a supercar used up 44% of its power when pushed to the limits. This power-guzzling monster actually costs more than the petrol version!)

▲The pure electric supercar (right) is the twin of petrol version does not compromise on performance. 

What’s the Point of Emphasizing Speed in an Electric Car?

Once we limit the field to electric cars, the comparison is then not based on the traits that define a supercar but on endurance, convenience of charging, and time to full charge. When you change the stage, Tesla’s performance in these areas is among the best in the market as well. 

“Show of Muscle” 

The show of muscle is not intended to compete for the supercar business but to be crowned the king of pure electric cars. 

This “Insane Mode” might not be practical (the M. Benz SLS further up for example needs to be recharged to several hours once it goes all-out for 10 ~ 20 minutes). It can’t be used like that under real-world conditions and you won’t always drive like that either. Such an impractical function however means that when you need performance, you can overtake as quickly as a hot knife through butter. It also sets an obstacle that competitors will find hard to beat in the short-term. This not only establishes an image of not only long endurance and fast charge times for Tesla among consumers but also high performance. 

This works on the same principle as the evolution of iPhone’s multi-touch, Siri, cross-platform cloud service and Touch ID functions. It’s all about maintaining the competitive advantage. This is because competition is dynamic and your advantage will not last forever. When competitors catch up, your advantage will become a common trait shared by everyone in this category and will no longer be so desirable. 

Know Your Competition

You must therefore pick the right enemy and don’t enter the wrong ring. If you are the featherweight, don’t go pick a fight in heavyweight. You must know exactly who you are competing against and always stay one step ahead of the competition in order to maintain your leadership. 

Image source: 

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