NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- We are now approximately 90 days or less away from the big launch of the Tesla ( TSLA) Model S. This is no secret -- Tesla has said for a long time it expects to deliver its first Model S car by July, and everything seems to have progressed exactly on track.It is easy to get lost in the weeds in terms of the importance of the Tesla Model S being delivered to customers. There is a very important big-picture view of how the world will view not only Tesla, but also the entire electric car market as a whole, once the Model S gets into the hands of consumers.
Here is the point: 73 miles just isn't enough for comfort for most people. While 73 miles is more than plenty for many people most of the time, most people need or want a car to be able to handle unforeseen situations. Sometimes you just need to go longer than you had planned for your regular commute that day, and perhaps you don't have time or ability to charge during the day. If 73 miles don't cut it, are you saying that 160 miles or 230 miles do? In a word, yes. Or at least: Yes, I think so -- for many, many people. Not all, perhaps not even a majority -- but for many people. The bar of success for Tesla is not if it can get 50% of the car market -- 1% of the U.S. car market is 150,000 units, and Tesla is gunning for worldwide sales of 20,000 units with the Model S, plus another 10,000 to 15,000 cars for the 2014 Model X. Totally achievable, in other words. It is true that the Nissan LEAF has become a hit among Silicon Valley executives and engineers, mostly as a second, third, fourth or fifth car in the household. If you have a set commute, or if you can charge at work (which is common at Google, Apple, Facebook and so forth), you now have a very functional all-electric car that may last longer than your grandchildren will walk this Earth. All you have to do is to inflate your tires, and eventually change those tires, as well as the brakes. There just isn't much maintenance beyond that. But ... the Nissan LEAF is not likely the car in which most people want to be seen most of the time. The exterior is a bit weird, and the interior is not luxurious. Remember, the buyers of these cars are most likely those who would have spent $50,000 to $100,000 or more on a premium car. The LEAF is a fairly ordinary compact-to-almost mid-size car, that happens to be all-electric.
The Tesla Model S changes all of that. It is a sedan that competes with Mercedes S550, BMW 750 and the like. It has cargo space vastly exceeding any other sedan in the market today. It has superior telematics compared to any other car too -- especially important among Silicon Valley engineers.
2. General quality issues. Building a car is more than the powertrain. The established car companies have had in some cases more than a century of experience in endurance testing. Tesla must not get only the powertrain and its revolutionary telematics system right -- it must also get all the other "boring" details right in terms of building a car that will exude quality from Day 1 to . . . many decades from now. Fortunately, this second risk is less severe in terms of what would happen in the event of a failure, but it is nevertheless a source of worry. The press will be watching the Model S real-world performance with a hawk eye, and issues that would get no attention if they happened in a Ford, VW or Honda, will be all over the news if discovered in a Tesla. Unfair, but true.