When Tesla delivered its first Model S to a paying customer on June 22, 2012, it delivered a car that was a quantum leap forward, not just over its own first model -- a Lotus-based roadster that was little more than a proof of concept -- but also over any other electric car on sale from any manufacturer, big or small. But for how long can the company stay ahead of the competition?
It was the first production EV with a 200-mile+ range between charges and the first targeted squarely at consumers that were used to driving the best that German manufacturers had to offer.
"Our aspiration with the Model S was to show that an electric car truly can be better than any gasoline car, which is a critical step towards the widespread adoption of sustainable transport," said company CEO Elon Musk at the time.
And, while initial sales were slow as production ramped up, the company had delivered 2,650 cars by December, and by the end of 2013 a further 22,477 -- impressive numbers for a start-up offering a car in the $100,000 luxury sedan bracket.
Silicon Valley parking lots were soon awash with Teslas and their owners were becoming the automotive equivalent of Apple product fanatics, their love of their cars so strong that they wouldn't let quality or technical issues get in the way of it. Initial Model S sedans seemed bulletproof in construction but as time as passed newer examples have suffered from poor panel fit and finish, and have even been poor at keeping out the rain.
Yet despite the hype, and despite adding the Model X SUV to the range and soon an "affordable" Model 3, Tesla could be in danger of becoming a footnote in the annals of automotive history, as the company that created the demand and desire for EVs but wasn't around long enough to take advantage of it.
Chevrolet has already taken a very brave step into the market with the Bolt, a $30,000 compact car with a 238-mile range. VW and Audi are set to launch fully electrified versions of their most popular cars by 2020 in the belief that 25% of all sales will be of electric cars by 2030. And to meet demand, all those companies will need to do is slide a battery into an existing, mass-produced shell.
In a statement published alongside its Q1 2017 figures, Musk offered news of the much-anticipated Model 3, saying that the production plant will be ready to build 5,000 cars a week by the end of the year and 10,000 a week "at some point in 2018."
If it can get the Model 3 into production on time and build it fault-free, then its future could well be secured. But mess it up and customers operating in that particular price bracket might not be so forgiving.