The Future Of EVs Can’t Rely On One Man’s Mental Health
In a number of recent articles like this one at Futurism, Elon Musk has been described as broken. Specifically, one author familiar with the Twitter purchase said, “Elon didn’t just break Twitter, Twitter broke Elon Musk.”
To justify that statement, the author points to several incidents that Twitter employees told him about. In one case, Elon Musk is said to have retreated into his office at Twitter HQ and locked himself in. For reasons not fully explained, Twitter employees almost called the police because they reportedly had reasons to believe he’d harm himself.
The author claims that as public opinion of Musk fell, Musk’s mental state fell with it, because he cares deeply about his public reputation.
To be clear, all of this information comes second and third-hand. Anyone along the way could have said something untrue or be exaggerating the truth. But, it does come from a credible author who is well-respected in the field for this type of behind-the-scenes reporting and writing, so it’s not just an internet rumor.
But, whether it’s true or not, it’s something that should give EV advocates pause. Anyone can fall prey to mental health problems, so we’ve got to think long and hard about having one man have so much influence and control over the industry.
I Don’t Mean This Disparagingly
Before I delve deeper into this issue, I want to make it pretty clear that I’m not writing this to hurt Elon Musk. It’s well known that I have some deep disagreements with the guy, especially over LGBT rights issues and some of his less-informed statements about firearms regulations. But, at the same time, I’ve also written articles about how we should treat eccentric geniuses like Elon Musk better if we want to thrive as a civilization and even invited Elon Musk to have lunch and shoot at Cybertruck metal.
Like most other CleanTechnica writers, I used to admire and look up to Musk. He had basically taken a stubborn and unchanging industry and drug it into the EV transition kicking and screaming. He also has been a major force for reforming space travel, another industry/endeavor that had fallen into a bad rut.
So, I’m really not trying to hurt his reputation. I’m genuinely concerned for the guy and sort of understand what he’s going through (I personally know exactly what it’s like to fall for depressing far right doomsday propaganda). But, at the same time, we’re dealing with an issue that deeply affects the future of our species, so there’s not room for unlimited slack here.
The Problem: Tesla Is Near-Synonymous With EVs
Anyone who knows much about the EV industry knows that Tesla is far-and-away the biggest player. Tesla’s selling the majority of EVs. At least in the United States, the company has the largest, most reliable charging network. The company’s name is so deeply associated with EVs that most anti-EV rhetoric is targeted at Tesla’s shortcomings, even when other EVs don’t share them.
It doesn’t help that most EV fans are also Tesla fans and often Stans. When something goes wrong with another company’s EVs (especially charging), dozens of Stans will show up to tell everyone, “Should have bought a Tesla.” or, “Don’t buy any EV that isn’t a Tesla.” I think a good chunk of these accounts are fake, but I know many are real people.
So, for better or worse, we’re now in a position where if Tesla falls, the EV transition in the United States and in many other places also falls.
Questionable Decisions Have Been Made
I know everyone isn’t going to agree with my opinion here, but I don’t think Elon Musk’s questionable decision-making has been limited to his bombastic Twitter behavior.
For one, the company has invested a lot of money in a state that’s hostile to it. Sure, Texas welcomes the factory near Austin and all of the jobs that go with it, but at the same time, they still don’t allow Tesla to directly sell its cars in the state. There are various workarounds, but Cybertrucks being built at the Texas factory might have to be shipped out of state and brought back for Texas buyers.
In other words, getting conservatives to say nice things about you on Twitter for letting them doesn’t mean they’ll start supporting EVs.
Speaking of the Cybertruck, we have to consider how long it has been since that announcement. I personally haven’t liked the thing from the beginning, but it grew on many people (like a fungus). But, changing opinions among the Tesla Standom doesn’t mean the company’s inability to bring the thing to market for four years (likely five years before full production) goes away.
I get that innovative and groundbreaking products take time, but we can’t assume that there are no opportunity costs to delays like this. Instead of making the truck Tesla’s first pickup, Musk could have easily done a small pickup like the popular Ford Maverick on the same platform as the Model 3 and Y. At least one such Tesla pickup has been built in a garage, so Tesla could have brought that to market quickly and made money while taking time getting the Cybertruck right.
What’s sad is that analysts and writers told Elon Musk that the Cybertruck wasn’t a good idea from the beginning. Instead of listening to critics, or better yet having people inside the company to give him counterpoints, he seems to have surrounded himself with yes men who tell him what he wants to hear.
Another questionable decision is the company’s approach to gigacasting. On the surface, it appears to be a good approach to reducing vehicle production costs, but a broad variety of automotive analysts and writers are warning the industry that this could lead to unrepairable cars after collisions. There are also problems with at least one customer finding a cracked frame on a new car built this way!
I know the Stans are going to mob the comments telling me that I’m wrong about all of this, and I’ll get the usual “Elon Musk has accomplished more than you ever will!” tripe. But, I’m still of the opinion that avoidable mistakes were made by a man who appears to be losing grip on reality.
Even if I’m completely wrong, it’s never wise to put too many of your eggs in one basket. The industry needs to achieve a more diverse mix of leaders.
Featured image by Tesla.
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