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Report from Germany: Tesla years ahead, German automakers falling behind

Model 3 Performance - Red Static Rear.jpg
2018 Tesla Model 3 (Image courtesy of Tesla Inc.)

Stop us if you've heard this before: A plucky, California-based startup managed to leapfrog the titans of the automotive industry and claim the title of world's first luxury EV automaker.

That Tesla leapfrogged a large portion of the industry and pioneered the premium EV is hardly an earth-shattering revelation, but what makes this particular take unique isn't the content; it's the source. This comes from Germany's Spiegel.



"Depending on how you see it, this marks either the beginning or the end of an era," says an editorial credited to the outlet's staff, referring to kick-off of ID 3 production at Volkswagen's Zwickau, Germany, facility. It's a moment, the editorial says, that marks the end of a century-long period of German leadership in the car industry.

"[I]t was only very recently that the German automobile industry finally came to the realization that it is going to need to radically adapt," the editorial says. "The industry, led by Volkswagen, believed it could solve its problem in two ways: first by creating better, less-polluting and more efficient (diesel) cars and secondly, when the first approach failed, by cheating or denying reality."

It's hard not to read the piece as an admission of failure, and it's sure to throw fuel onto the Tesla-versus-the-establishment fire, which has been burning even more brightly of late, with Silicon Valley and Stuttgart at each other's throats in a battle for electric performance supremacy—and what may end up being a battle for the very soul of the automotive industry.



Google's role in shaping the future of the auto industry may seem like less of a fundamental disruption, but after a century of selling itself as the cradle of driving enthusiasm, Germany should be intimidated by the encroachment of technology into the space traditionally occupied by a leather-gloved human being with a heavy foot and a determined gaze.

If this has the potential to be Germany's Titanic moment, Volkswagen's aggressive foray into the mainstream EV market is evidence that its captain is not asleep at the helm—at least not anymore.

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