In Elon Musk We Trust – One Man’s Rant

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Whether it’s for something shady or something quite remarkable – as was the case with Thursday’s achievement – the company led by Elon Musk always manages to make its way on what would have once been the front pages of news outlets. Why is Tesla acting like such an attention-whore instead of trying to maintain a more professional appearance, the kind you would expect from a company worth nearly $730 billion? Well, because if it did, it never would have reached this valuation in the first place.

Tesla is the perfect embodiment of Phineas T. Barnum’s century-old famous quote saying, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” I say that, but Elon Musk is known to vent his frustration at the press when the coverage is less than favorable. For instance, he almost called most of those who covered last year’s Battery Day “stupid” for not getting how brilliant the stuff he was promising would come in three years was when most reports were actually rightly cautious about both the claims and the timeline.

Why do we say “rightly?” Aren’t we supposed to take people’s promises at face value? Isn’t that common courtesy? Yes, we are, and it is, but when someone has been spouting countless unmet promises, that’s what tends to happen. Fool me once, shame on me; fool me a few dozen times, well, then it might just be something wrong with you.

If there’s anyone who still doesn’t see Tesla’s strategy for what it is at this point, they must be blind – probably blinded by their love for Elon Musk. The company has been systematically making bold claims while setting aggressive deadlines for them, knowing very well that, save for a miracle, they would eventually announce one delay after another. The miracles rarely came, which is why you really shouldn’t plan as much as a vacation based on any promise made by Tesla.

Once, it was relatively easy to keep track of everything that should have been delivered and wasn’t. Now, though, it’s become nearly impossible, and even though it may seem counter-intuitive that more unfulfilled promises leave a lesser negative impression overall, it seems to be working. People have accepted that it’s just Tesla’s way of doing things and are rolling with it. Why? Because, if you ask them, Tesla is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I feel like, before continuing any further, I should give credit where credit is due. Tesla deserves to have a few very important achievements acknowledged, but that doesn’t mean they are never-expiring get-out-of-jail-free cards. The main thing Musk’s company did was to, for better or for worse, accelerate the industry’s transition to electric power.

The Tesla Roadster was basically the first modern EV (GM’s EV1 aside), and the Model S was the first that managed to keep the then dreaded range anxiety in check. This last bit ties in with another feature Tesla deserves to be praised for: realizing how important the fast-charging network was and not relying on the Government or other third parties to have it built.

It was all written in the Masterplan, the document that also proclaimed Tesla’s main mission: saving Earth (and if that fails, that’s what SpaceX is there for). It may seem hard to believe right now, but some people still think that to be true. To be fair, we can’t know that it isn’t, but we have been given a few clues that suggest the contrary.

Just to be clear, I don’t refuse to believe those might have been Elon Musk’s initial intentions. However, it seems pretty obvious his priorities have changed along the way. It feels like his main worry now is to maintain or increase Tesla’s insane valuation, and if you think he’s doing it to “further the mission”, you too must be blind.

Blind to all the manifestations of his immense ego, blind to the fact he can’t once admit he was wrong because that would destroy the myth, blind to the fact he’s way too eager to slap Bezos with every chance he gets just because the Amazon CEO stubbornly still sits at the top of the wealthiest person list – if there ever was a mission, it’s either gone or sitting forgotten somewhere in the pile of papers underneath the giant mirror that must occupy most of Elon Musk’s desk.

At this point, even if he was the Messiah some people think he is, I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with the salvation he offers. It’s tainted.

Am I shamelessly saying that knowing full well that, thanks in large part to Musk and Tesla, I now have a much larger pool of decent EVs to choose from if I so wanted? Yes, I am, and if I ever get the chance, I will thank him for that. I won’t, however, thank him for promoting a business model that borderline relies on deceit.

I’m well aware that, at the end of the day, it is a free market and as long as Tesla is selling its cars and the company is expanding its physical presence next to the one on the stock market, that means a lot of people must feel very differently than I do. However, the real test for Tesla is only just beginning. The rest of the industry is catching up in terms of range and charging speed, which is why Musk has been shifting focus over the last years from the vehicle’s propulsion type, to what is actually driving the car.

Tesla’s next bet (gamble?) is autonomous driving, and it’s actually the way the company went about this side of its business that’s made a lot of people – me included – go “nope!” At this point, though, too many things have been said, too many promises have been made, which means there’s no turning back for Tesla. It’s gone all-in.

Tesla couldn’t have got where it is without Elon Musk, there’s no question about that, but even he now says he doesn’t really want to be Tesla CEO anymore. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the situation is such that neither can exist without the other. If Elon Musk stands down as CEO, the company will nosedive, and he will lose his platform and instantly become at least 75 percent more irrelevant.

The two have become co-dependent, which is a lot more dangerous for the company than for Musk himself. Personally, I’m not worried for him – and you shouldn’t be either. Even if he was to lose everything, he’s smart enough to rise back up, and not be too long about it either. Tesla, on the other hand, the implications there would be a lot more severe.

So, we’re looking at one of those situations where it’s bad if they stay together, but it’s also bad if they part ways. Since those are the only two options, does that make Tesla doomed? Well, there’s one potential solution: Elon Musk becomes a boring, responsible CEO. I know, I laughed at the idea too, but it had to be put out there. Whatever happens, it’s definitely not going to be boring, so stick around and we’ll all see how it unfolds.