The Truth Behind Doug DeMuro's Tesla Model 3 Review
DeMuro blew his Model 3 review by ignoring Tesla's biggest secret.
You’ve got to hand it to broken clocks. So reliable. You know exactly when they work. Take Doug DeMuro. He’ll do whatever it takes for traffic. Facts? Figures? Doesn’t matter. Whatever it takes for traffic. Let him near a Tesla and the weathervane of clickbait writes the story. Everyone loves the Model S? DeMuro will hate it. Tesla taking a bath in the media? Let’s do a Model 3 review and call it awesome.
Of course the Model 3 is awesome, but DeMuro is too right by half, and misses the real story.
Rather than take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do real journalism, DeMuro applies the usual aw shucks routine to one of the most important cars since the Ford Model T, a car that may transcend the ability of the current generation of auto media to review it. That DeMuro loves it conceals the truth, which is that he became an unwitting pawn in a much bigger game: Tesla’s asymmetric war on the auto industry.
All those Tesla shorts harping on production issues, firings, and the minutiae of the house of Musk? Like DeMuro, they're missing the big picture. Even if everything the trolls say is true, Tesla is too big to fail. I don’t mean the company. I mean the brand, which is the company.
In an increasingly commoditized world, brand is everything. By that standard, Tesla has already won. Every Model 3 would literally have to explode on opening the door for the brand to take a hit, and even then it probably wouldn’t matter. Tesla holds too many cards—good, bad and unknown—to lose. What is “winning” and “losing” for a poker player as good as Elon Musk, who can afford to come back to the table over and over? As long as the Model 3 is halfway decent—and it's clearly far better than that—Tesla will survive. Its structure, operations, and partnerships may change, but it's here to stay, and its survival is about much more than car reviews, or even cars.
To understand why, we have to do a real review of the Tesla Model 3, which must start far, far outside the car itself.
[Disclaimer: I don’t own any $TSLA. I derive no material or financial benefit from my Tesla coverage other than a fixed paycheck from Time, Inc., who have generously granted me carte blanche in my writing. As for the whores, shills, and trolls, no comment other than my obvious contempt for most on both sides.]
Why There Aren’t Real Model 3 Reviews
In what universe does a useful idiot like Doug DeMuro become the first (ahem) automotive journalist to review a Tesla Model 3? One in which Tesla has kept—to the best of its brobdingnagian ability—ironclad control over who, where, when, and how anyone gets to drive one—and that includes the cars “sold” to employees. The launch event earlier this year, where the media got a two-minute ride through a darkened parking lot in Hawthorne? I was there. The New York City Philharmonic doesn’t have orchestration like that. We all know Teslas are fast. A lighter, more aerodynamic Tesla is going to be even faster.
Abre los ojos, mis agimos. The people behind what passes for automotive “journalism” can’t get their hands on a Model 3 without a Tesla employee coming along. Road & Track recently tweeted asking any employee “owners” if they would lend that venerable publication a car. No luck, apparently. What about about Motor Trend’s recent, brief drive in the hills above Los Angeles? “It’s great,” they said, or something like that. Of course it is. No mention of the compartment-facing camera above the rearview mirror. When legacy auto media misses things like that, we need new media.
What is Tesla hiding? Little about the car, everything about their strategy. Actually, I take that back: you have to be blind not to see what’s going on with the Model 3. We’ve already seen 90 percent of it in the Model S. The rest can be assembled from fractured coverage and Instagram. Every nugget of Model 3 information is another facet of the brilliant jewel that is the Tesla narrative. That last 1 percent? We’ll get to that.
But first, the recent spate of unofficial reviews. First there was the video from a wrap shop in California. Then there was an hour long video from the Tesla Model 3 Owners Club.
No explosions. Tesla wins.
Then I started getting e-mails. People who work for Tesla. People who don’t work for Tesla. Were they real? How to know for sure? Ride in my Model 3. Drive my Model 3. Some let me look at the car. Ride, and drive? Yes, and no. Proof? Pictures and video? Not as much as I would have liked. What was going on? Anyone who doesn’t think Tesla is the Apple of transportation is crazy. It's duplicating the psychology of needs/wants perfectly. Replace Maslow with Tesla and you have the modern era’s hierarchy of needs. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but one has to marvel at the unfolding of the world’s greatest public relations plan, which is only partially by design. If Tesla truly controls as much of the information flow as its enemies believe and fear, everyone in its communications department deserves a raise and a long-term contract. If not, Tesla is riding a perfect storm of tech, communications, rumor, jealousy, and lust.
Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.
I’ve been sitting on my review for weeks. Why? Because none of my time with the Model 3 gave me what I needed, nor what anyone really wants to know: are the shorts right, or wrong?
And then DeMuro published his video, removing any concerns I had about having incomplete information—let alone content—which completely abrió mis ojos.
Was DeMuro’s review car actually an employee “owner” car? Who cares? He loved it. Tesla wins.
Innovation Versus Innovation
If you want to understand the Model 3, read retired auto exec and hobbyist bomb-thrower Bob Lutz’s screed on the future of the auto sector. He thinks dealerships, car magazines, legacy auto makers, and human driving have 20 years left. I think it’ll go quicker than that for some, slower for others.
One thing is certain: When the auto sector as we know it is annihilated, it will be because of the Model 3. Based on what I experienced, everything in the Model 3 will be duplicated by everyone else, except for the public relations and mythology, which no automaker outside of the hypercar circles understand.
The genius of the Model 3 is the inversion of expectations and total break from the past. Its only forebear is the Model S. Spiritually, maybe even the Citroën DS. Every design “flaw” is a feature, not a defect. One can’t compare the Model 3 to anything else on the market, because Tesla is selling an idea—albeit one with functionalities attached.
The only fair comparison? The old vs. the new. When legacy carmakers talk about innovation, they’re merely packaging “innovation” they buy off the shelf from the same Tier 1 suppliers as everyone across town. Bo-RING. Sometimes they do something really interesting, like Cadillac or Audi, but mostly it’s the same shtick.
Innovation is all or nothing. No matter how much “innovation” customers think they’ve bought, the next five generations of customers aren’t going to put up with a car, at any price, that has Bluetooth and infotainment inferior to their latest phone.
Tesla speaks directly to these so-called digital natives; everyone else is in the stone age. Why? Because innovation is binary. Something is innovative, or it isn’t. One flaw is failure. But it’s not hardware flaws that are deadly, it's software. Hardware can fail all day long—we expect it to fail. Not software. Legacy carmakers are selling packages wherein they design the cosmetics but buy the software. It's almost 2018; if it isn't upgradeable in the field, by the user, it's essentially dead to that user.
The Tesla Model 3 is the purest essence of new. The old? If innovation is binary, then there is only one contender for this face-off. A car that is all hardware and no software. Pitting a modern sedan against the 3 would be suicide, which is why we need a car with no software to understand what Tesla is doing. A car that is the purest distillation of the old that you can still buy, and that has more in common with the Model 3 than you’d think.
Morgan Versus Tesla Model 3
I can’t actually show you any of the Tesla Model 3s I've ridden in or driven, because all my conversations were off the record, for reasons I’ve already hinted at. Instead, you get a black box over what I cannot confirm was a Model 3, at a location I cannot disclose. But none of that matters.
Week after week I pit my Morgan 3-Wheeler, both the best and worst car of all time, against the best new and used cars on the market. My Morgan—unreliable, finicky, weird, and lacking in obvious features—always wins. Why? Because it delivers the highest pride of ownership and driving excitement of anything on the road today. It defines "authentic." Because when it comes to narrative, everything else on the road is junk. I will forgive anything it does, or doesn't do, at any price.
Put a Tesla Model 3 next to a my Morgan and something strange happens. The crowd that would otherwise flow to Malvern’s magical rolling casket parts the sea like Moses and gathers around Tesla’s creation. The past loses its luster as the future bursts into light.
For the first time, the Morgan loses, and with it the past, dragging down all the hollow innovation coming out of Japan, Detroit, and Germany.
The Tesla’s central gauge cluster? The Morgan has one, too, but it doesn’t do anything. I have to suction-mount my iPhone there. The Model 3? The screen replicates everything I want my phone to offer while I’m driving. All the buttons critics think people will miss? There’s a reason Blackberry died. Have you seen an IPhone X? No buttons.
The Model 3’s spartan interior? Gorgeous. Clean. Devoid of the BS nonsense and clutter we’ve come to mistake for “design.”
Performance? The Morgan’s performance sucks, yet I still love it. The Tesla Model 3? Tesla has already commoditized EV performance for those who get it. The slowest Model 3 variant will outperform most of the so-called sports cars ever made. Old news.
Comfort? If DeMuro can fit in a Model 3, anyone can. Is he 6’4”? I forget. No one cares. I fit in the car perfectly with my second ex-fiancee behind me, and we’re both six-foot tall. Tesla wins.
Despite all the promises from the legacy car makers, Teslas remain the only cars on the road that function like phones. They can break all day long, but those wireless updates speak directly to digital natives. Every day, the supply of potential customers who expect software updates to come standard increases. Does it matter if the Model 3 has production delays? What about panel gaps? Guess what: no one really cares. I certainly wouldn’t. None of the kids or parents I saw gawking over the Model 3 cared. I’ve seen this happen multiple times.
The hardware details are irrelevant. I could go on and on, but DeMuro’s already done it. The Model 3’s details? Nobody cares, and no one should, because…
What Is Tesla’s Big Secret?
While the media and auto sector slept, a weird Model 3 story recently unfolded that tells us more about Tesla’s future than the Model 3 itself.
Remember Cannonball Baker? He’s the guy they named the illegal race after. He set dozens of cross-country driving records in the first half of the 20th century. Speed limits barely existed. Same for the interstate system. His motivation? Bought and paid for by internal combustion car makers to prove the reliability, safety, and fuel economy of cars as we know them today.
The cross-country Cannonball record times went from 271 hours, in 1915, to under 29 hours in recent years. The rate of improvement, however, has slowed to almost nothing; internal combustion has nothing left to give.
Electric vehicles, on the other hand, have loads of untapped potential, as proven by a small group of people taking EVs in Cannonball Baker’s footsteps. EV record attempts were sparse until the arrival of Tesla’s Supercharger network, but within the last four years we’ve seen incredible improvement in cross-country times.
The Tesla Model S was the first EV to get cross country in a time that wasn’t laughable, with total hours logged in the mid-60s. Then a team made the run in a P85D in just over 59 hours.
Then I joined another team who got across the country in 58 hours, 55 minutes (again in a P85D).
Then I joined another team in a 90D and drove across in 55 hours. A bigger battery pack in the same car doesn’t explain the enormous time improvement, nor did our attempt to optimize our speeds, or use the expanding Supercharger network.
Something is happening, and it’s in Tesla’s battery management software. Let’s keep going down the rabbit hole.
A few months later another team—in a P85D, not a 90D—got across in just over 51 hours. That’s an improvement of over three hours, with the smaller battery.
Something is happening at Tesla.
Then, in the biggest mystery of all, a Tesla Model 3 appears on Instagram, sitting on a pier in Manhattan Beach. Approximately 50 hours later, that car appears on Instagram parked in front of the Red Ball Garage in New York City—the traditional start line of the real Cannonball Run race.
How did a Tesla Model 3 get across country over an hour faster than a Model S P85D? The Model 3 is lighter and more aerodynamic than an S, but its largest battery pack is rumored to be a 75. No one’s talking. Not Tesla, and not the alleged drivers of the Model 3 that allegedly set this alleged record.
Why? Who knows? Any potential evidence of this new record has disappeared.
Something is happening.
Tesla claims the Model 3’s longer-range model will go 310 miles.The EPA says the Model 3’s range is actually 334 miles.
I’ve done this more than anyone, in ICE cars and Teslas, and I think Tesla is improving their battery management software faster than they, or anyone else, is improving battery hardware.
What is happening? Information control. Managing expectations. When the public gets their 3s, they will marvel over how much better the range is than stated. By which time Tesla will have released another software update.
Where was the legacy media on this? Blind. Talking about panel gaps. No one cares.
Everyone Is Half-Right
Demuro is right: Model 3 buyers are going to love them. Lutz is right: The auto sector is going to get annihilated. Jeremy Clarkson is right: Human driving will survive. Rimac is right: People are going to buy EV hypercars.
But everyone is also wrong. Tesla’s big secret is that they are manufacturing demand for a product the car industry stopped making long ago: real emotion. With every overt and covert manipulation of their own narrative, Tesla amplifies desire for cars upon which a world of potential customers are projecting desire for something better, newer, fresher, more authentic.
Better, new, fresh, and authentic are all in the mind of the beholder, and Tesla has already delivered everything a hungry public needs to put faith in the mythology. You can see it in peoples' faces when a Model X or 3 drive by. You can see it in the product plans of every other automaker on the planet.
The Model 3, both in design and marketing, is beyond genius. It is the car of the next twenty years. Make that fifty. It is the end of the beginning. Execution? I'm not a financial analyst, and don't pretend to be. Tesla’s future is theirs now to lose, and I’m rooting for them.
I'd buy one in a heartbeat, and keep it forever. It will be a future classic.
But I’m still keeping my Morgan.
Alex Roy is Editor-at-Large for The Drive, Host of The Autonocast, co-host of /DRIVE on NBC Sports and author of The Driver, has set numerous endurance driving records in Europe & the USA in the internal combustion, EV, 3-wheeler & Semi-Autonomous Classes, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.