With Nürburgring throw downs and 'Top Gear' drag-race disputes versus Porsche's Taycan, Tesla is squandering its cool

PorscheThe Porsche Taycan at the Nürburgring.
  • Tesla has developed a weird preoccupation with a niche area of high-performance motoring: Nürburgring lap times.
  • Nürburgring times were more than a tad dorky before Tesla started making noise about taking on Porsche and its new Taycan, which holds the record for an all-electric Nürburgring lap.
  • Cool is a big part of the Tesla’s brand; the Nürburgring fixation is making it less cool. A lot less cool.
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Once upon a time, Tesla was cool. Very cool.

The all-electric carmaker started out cool, with its original Roadster, proving that EVs could be more that souped-up golf carts. Tesla’s cool culminated in a raucous, rock-n-roll spectacular at its semi-truck reveal in late 2017, when to the pulsating thrum of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” CEO Elon Musk staged the greatest “Just one more thing” moment in high-tech history and rolled out the new Roadster, to a crowd that went completely bonkers.

It’s been downhill since then, with the company mired in the plug-and-chug manufacturing of its Model 3 sedan. Making matters worse has been the arrival of the Porsche Taycan, which in proper German-car fashion became the fastest production EV to lap the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife track. More recently, the Taycan has outrun the top-speed Tesla Model S set in some quarter-mile drag races.

Musk and Tesla said that the Model S would take to the Nürburgring (something the carmaker has never officially done) to prove that its four-door is faster around the 13-mile “Green Hell.” That hasn’t happened yet (there have been some unofficial times), and while we’ve been waiting, ‘Top Gear” pitted the Taycan and Model S against each other in a showdown.

“Top Gear” found the vehicles compelling for different reasons, liking the Model S for its versatility and the Porsche for, ahem, being a Porsche.

That didn’t stop Musk from complaining about the drag-race results, and to be fair, he and Tesla have a fraught past with “Top Gear,” dating to the period when the show was cohosted by Jeremy Clarkson and was vocally unfriendly to EVs.

Nothing is less interesting than a fight about Nürburgring times

Elon MuskGetty ImagesThe Nürburgring isn’t cool, Elon.

The issue here is that all that gearhead-y feuding is utterly uncool. It was always uncool; nothing is less interesting than young men (it’s mostly young men) with too much time on their hands blabbering about Nürburgring times. Even people who love Porsches (I’m one of them) don’t care much about Nürburgring times. Even the word “Nürburgring,” in this context, makes me cringe.

Drag-race times are even worse. Drag-racing is cool under exactly three conditions: when it’s between a pair of screamin’ top-fuel dragsters at an NHRA event in California; when it involves James Dean (and even then, it’s a tragic cool); or when … actually, there aren’t three times when it’s cool. Top-fuel and James Dean is all I’ve got. OK, I’ll give you funny car, but just because I’m not a total curmudgeon.

Tesla’s mission is supposed to be to accelerate the world’s freedom from fossil fuels. Not duke it out deep in the furrows of online uncool with people who give a hoot about the NUR-BURG-RING and straight-ahead speed on uncluttered asphalt.

Better than the best – but stay cool, please

Tesla Model 3Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderThe Model 3 is plenty fast.

Yeah, I get it: Tesla wants to brand itself as not just as good as the great names of motoring but better. And faster is better, even though Tesla has avoided any sort of factory supported participation in motorsports. In many ways, Tesla’s entire identity is based on speed, so when its achievements in speed are challenged, it has to rise to the fight.

Or does it? Tesla’s bread-and-butter now is the Model 3, and while that’s a zippy set of wheels, it hardly presents a road-scorching profile. It’s a four-door, for cryin’ out loud! (In fairness, Tesla has offered a Track Mode upgrade.)

Besides, the whole point is sustainable mobility, an admirable goal and a key reason why Tesla has the market cap of a Ford or GM rather than a boutique maker of neurotic Nürburgring conquerors. That Tesla was moving past speed was, in my view, a good sign.

That it’s been dragged back in, in my view – isn’t.

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