Tesla reported its first-quarter sales on Monday, and deliveries fell short of expectations (about 15,000 vehicles versus an predicted 16,000).
It wasn’t a horrible miss, and Tesla has a history of overpromising and underdelivering, which is actually a good thing given then company’s ambitions.
But the electric automaker made a remarkable admission in explaining the shortfall, which largely resulted from a lack of necessary parts for the Model X SUV.
“The root causes of the parts shortages,” Tesla said in a statement, was “Tesla’s hubris in adding far too much new technology to the Model X in version 1.”
Tesla has said some revealing things in the past — Elon Musk was actually calling the car maker’s stock overvalued when it was surging above $200 per share in 2014 and 2015. And we already knew that problems with the Model X’s exotic “falcon wing” rear doors and sculptural rear seats nearly sank a timely launch of the crossover last year.
“I’m not sure anyone should have made this car,” he said in October. “We probably should have just [modified the Model S],” he added. “There are so many more features and difficult to build parts on [the Model X] than it is necessary for us to sell the cars.”
Hence the remarkable “hubris” admission this week. In case you were wondering, the word “hubris” comes from Greek tragedy — it means, in fact, “tragic overconfidence” and to fall victim to it leads to a confrontation with Nemesis, the goddess of retribution.
It’s the ancient equivalent of a world of hurt.
Tesla is the only car maker on Earth and probably in history that would analyse a disappointing quarter in such highfalutin literary terms. This is both good and bad: good because it shows that the company contains some folks who can grasp the tragic implications of a shortfall in sales; bad because it’s continuing evidence that Tesla can’t turn itself into a true automaker — one that, you know, can make its cars on schedule and without a lot of drama.
A General Motors or Ford would brush off a weak sales quarter, acknowledging the disappointment but not treating it as an existential failure. A Japanese automaker might engage in a round of ritual apology — but this would be rare, because Japanese car companies are stupendously good at building cars.
Yes, it’s just another very big way in which Tesla is different. Extremely different.
But that raises an obvious question: Can Tesla overcome its tragic overconfidence in the Model X, or is it destined for a grim reckoning with the automotive gods in 2016?