Posted on March 28, 2017 by Charles Morris
We humans learn by doing, so the greatest asset for any organization that seeks to improve its products (or services) is the data gained from customers using those products in the real world. In the automotive industry, this invaluable source of knowledge is measured in miles driven. Automakers follow the experiences of their customers closely, especially when introducing new models or new technology, and as those customer miles accumulate, so do opportunities for future improvements (which often materialize in the form of problems that need to be fixed).
Above: Tesla Model 3 (Image: Teslarati)
To give just one example, the team that developed the new Chevrolet Bolt EV relied heavily on lessons learned from GM’s earlier electric models. “We wanted to provide our customers with the best value in a long-range EV,” said Bolt Chief Engineer Josh Tavel. “That meant we had to leverage the more than a decade of experience that we’ve gained from the first- and second-generation Volt as well as the Spark EV.”
Above: GM has also used key learnings from their Chevy Volt, at right, to design the Chevy Bolt, at left (Image: Cars of Change)
In this area, Tesla has a huge advantage over other carmakers, because of the sophisticated over-the-air communications capability that keeps its vehicles constantly feeding data back to the mother ship. Tesla’s over-the-air software updates, which allow it to fix problems and enable new features, are the envy of the industry. The technology has also been in the news a lot lately for its role in developing Tesla’s still-evolving Autopilot features. However, it also has several other benefits, from discouraging car theft to helping Tesla plan future charging infrastructure.
Above: Other-the-air updates from Tesla have steadily added more Autopilot features to the fleet (Image: Electrek)
Other automakers have been using telematics systems to track driving behavior for years (GM’s OnStar, for example), but Tesla’s two-way communications capability gives it an advantage that no competitor can yet match (other automakers are expected to start adding over-the-air update capabilities around 2020).
Above: Tesla recently cracked to 4 Billion miles driven mark (Image: Electrek)
And the mileage keeps racking up. The Tesla fleet’s latest milestone was 4 billion miles, which it reached in mid-March. You can follow the steadily-accumulating mileage on Tesla’s Electric Road Trip page. A little-appreciated benefit of Tesla’s three-generation strategy (low-volume Roadster leads to mid-volume Model S/X leads to mass-market Model 3) is that the company’s treasure trove of user miles driven, and hence the potential to improve its vehicles, will expand at an exponential rate. Sometime this quarter, the number of Teslas on the road is expected to surpass 200,000.
Above: Tesla Model 3 production forecast (Source: Bloomberg)
As JB Straubel pointed out last year, that will be about 100 times larger than the first-generation Roadster fleet. By Electrek’s estimate, Tesla could theoretically deliver 80,000 Model 3s by the end of 2017, and if the production ramp-up proceeds more or less as planned, the new generation will in its turn outnumber the fleet of Models S and X at some point in 2018, less than a year after its launch.
Above: Tesla Fleet Mileage with Model S/X and Roadster included (Source: Bloomberg)
Tesla already leads the automotive world not only in electrification, but also in sheer performance, autonomous driving capability, safety and customer satisfaction. With an exponentially-expanding database of customer information for the mining, what future wonders might the company be able to devise? All we can say is: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.