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Editorial: WNY should hope for the success of Tesla

Folks around here should be proponents of electric cars to the extent that the success of battery-powered technology helps one company, in particular.
If it isn’t clear, we’re talking about Tesla.

Elon Musk is the renewable energy visionary heading Tesla. Tesla is the company that absorbed SolarCity last year. SolarCity is the company poised to begin churning out solar panels from its giant factory at South Buffalo’s RiverBend.

So, back to electric cars. It’s a thing.

Other automakers have electric vehicles, but Tesla scored much notice with its $100,000-plus Roadster. Although the price tag targeted the well-heeled (even counting federal tax credits), Tesla’s stock soared until it challenged General Motors and Ford Motor Co. as most valuable automaker in the nation.

The stock price has since fallen, in part because Tesla has never turned a profit and has had trouble delivering its mass-market Model 3 sedan ($35,000 before federal tax credits), now expected later this month.

Meanwhile, Volvo made a huge splash when it became the first mainstream automaker to announce a new way forward, without a conventional internal combustion engine. Instead, all models starting in 2019 will be either hybrids or solely battery-powered.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that because the price of plug-in cars is falling much faster than expected, along with cheaper batteries and aggressive policies promoting zero-emission vehicles in China and Europe, the vehicle world is on the verge of a major change. Between 2025 and 2030, according to the group, plug-in vehicles will become cost competitive with traditional gasoline-powered cars, without subsidies and before taking fuel savings into account.

Skeptics are, well, skeptical. Electric cars are a sliver of the overall market, with their limited range, limited number of shops for maintenance and long recharging times competing with the familiarity of standard gas-powered vehicles.

Why is the electric car important to Western New York? Tesla’s future is riding on it, and the fates of SolarCity and Tesla are bound together. Any failure of Tesla to thrive will be felt at RiverBend.
As The News’ David Robinson wrote about Tesla’s recent stock tumble: “The sell-off wasn’t about SolarCity, but for Musk to deliver on his dream of creating a renewable energy juggernaut, he needs Tesla’s car business to grow rapidly, behind the Model 3, and push the company closer toward becoming profitable.”

It is what Western New York should be rooting for.

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