There's no win here for Musk.
It all started with Musk's reactionary response to Porsche after the German company laid down a sharp lap of the Nurburgring in 7 minutes and 42 seconds with its all-electric Taycan. First Musk mocked the Taycan's Turbo name, then declared: "Model S on Nürburgring next week." Now the Tesla S has made it to the Nurburgring, and our spy photographers caught it in action.
Tesla publicly called out Porsche as a target as it headed to the Nurburgring with one of its cars. But even if it does "officially" lap faster than the current Porsche Taycan's time, this won't end well for the Californian carmaker. Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, has set himself and his company up for failure at a very high level.
Musk's response to the Taycan should have been to welcome Porsche to the electric car party, or say nothing at all. Instead, he's committed his young company that mainly builds premium electric sedans to go toe-to-toe with a performance car company that has a long history of building incredible sports and race cars and try to beat it around a track on its home ground.
Now Porsche has mentioned it was just the Taycan Turbo, not the Turbo S that set its lap time, and Porsche has quite the budget for this sort of thing and a faster car to pull out of its garage at the Nurburgring. And unlike the prototype Tesla Model S you see in the pictures, the Taycan is actually a production model.
The thing is, Musk didn't have to commit to this. Tesla is building respected cars, still setting the standard for the upcoming automotive segment, and has a loyal following. That's a solid position to be working from. The problem is that Tesla won't come off looking good here by trying to start a measuring contest at the first hint of big competition. If you've been paying attention, Porsche hasn't actually publicly acknowledged Musk's sudden interest in the Nurburgring.
And that's where we find the point here. Porsche laid down the Taycan's time at the Nurburgring based on long, hard earned, experience and having a home base there. Porsche went in, set a time to its own satisfaction, and then went about its business knowing it had a faster car if a pretender showed up. The German automaker has taken the high road by not even acknowledging the idea of a performance competition with Tesla. And that's an image problem for Tesla because now it looks like the yapping little dog desperately trying to gain the attention of older, wiser, and much bigger dog by trying to nip on its heels. The bigger dog doesn't need to acknowledge the small dog but knows it can put Yappy in its place if it needs to.
That's fine as far as analogies go, but in the big and very real world of the global automotive business, it makes Tesla look desperate to the vast and global audience watching.
For a young and growing company eager to build upon its innovative lead in a segment it all but created, that's not a healthy look. A more considerate, or at least a much less reactionary, CEO would probably understand his company's own strengths and that the Nurburgring isn't a game it needs to play right now. Tesla certainly doesn't need the distraction of a mission it's not even vaguely prepared to accomplish. Even if Tesla does take a chunk out of the big dog, Fido will simply turn around and smack it back into its place again. Then Tesla will either have to give up and lick its wounds or escalate and risk getting smacked down harder.
This comes at what's going to be a decisive time for Tesla as the long-term players bring their electric vehicles to market, and that means it's also the time for Musk to start choosing his battles more wisely. Porsche is playing to its strengths, and Tesla needs to learn to do likewise. Except Musk has just declared that the upcoming Roadster will take the overall production car record at the Nurburgring.