Grille - 2017 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T S Auto
Looking back from the 2020s or 2030s, it's entirely likely that the unexpected arrival of Tesla Motors was a major force—along with legislation, perhaps the major force—in getting legacy automakers to produce electric cars.
Competition has always spurred innovation, and German makers in particular were caught entirely unprepared for the 200,000 or so buyers who's happily paid close to $100,000 for a large, good-looking, all-electric car from a Silicon Valley startup maker.
Now the Germans are playing catch-up, but history also shows another principle: those who innovate are often not those who profit from the innovations ... or even endure.
Which brings us to the topic of our latest poll of Twitter followers: the recent pledge by the head of the global Volkswagen brand that VW Group's electric cars would "leapfrog" Tesla's by 2025.
VW is one of the world's three largest carmakers, along with General Motors and Toyota, and it says it has refocused its efforts toward a lineup of 30 different electric vehicles by that year.
We wondered whether the company's pledge seemed believable to our followers—among whom, it's fair to say, there are quite a number of Tesla owners, fans, and advocates.
VW Group says its electric cars will "leapfrog" Tesla by 2025— Green Car Reports (@GreenCarReports) May 8, 2017
Only a very few respondents (4 percent) felt it was a "certainty" that VW would outdo Tesla eight years hence.
But among the other three responses, the verdict was split more or less evenly.
The largest remaining group (36 percent) said it "seems unlikely," which translates to a vote for Tesla, but one that's sufficiently hedged.
"They might be able to" (a hedged vote for VW) got 30 percent of the votes, but so did "They're dreaming," a ringing affirmation of Tesla support.
2017 Tesla Model S
On VW's side is the strong desire to move away from its ongoing diesel scandal, its need for a new technology to set it apart from Toyota (known for developing hybrids 20 years ago) and General Motors (which has a variety of powertrains, including electrics and plug-in hybrids, in the market).
Certainly the global scale and reach of the VW Group and its brands should not to be discounted, let alone its strong foothold in the world's largest car market, China.
On the downside, VW Group is a huge ocean vessel whose momentum is strong and whose management has been conservative in the past in many ways.
It's as far from the lean startup culture of Silicon Valley—with its ethos of innovation, real-world market testing, and fast failure—as you can get.
All of which means the duel, if it is one, promises to be fascinating to watch as we count down toward that 2025 deadline.