Opinion | Is Elon Musk Really That Bad?


By staking a hefty chunk of his wealth to take the company private, Musk could also free Twitter from the stock-market’s short-term pressures for advertising growth, letting the company explore new business models — like subscriptions, perhaps — that may be more conducive to long-term sustainability. Or he might think of wholly new ideas for fixing up the place — and I, for one, am excited to see what he comes up with.

Musk’s detractors often paint him as motivated by little more than money and politics. But Musk is at best a fair-weather ideologue. His politics are all over the place — he has lobbed silly attacks at Democrats (“Please don’t call the manager on me, Senator Karen,” he tweeted at Senator Elizabeth Warren after she called for him to pay more taxes), but he also criticized Trump’s immigration policies and resigned from presidential advisory councils after Trump quit the Paris climate agreement.

Many of Musk’s entrepreneurial passions are long shot bets that could have easily blown up his fortune, and may yet still. In 2002, after earning more than a hundred million dollars by selling PayPal to eBay, Musk could have become a venture capitalist and lived the good life. “Among the least financially advisable projects imaginable for someone in that position would be to start a rocket company,” Ashlee Vance, the Bloomberg reporter and author of a terrific biography of Musk, once wrote. But starting a rocket company is what Musk did — and, after also pouring money into another money-burning venture, Tesla, Musk came very close to losing it all after the Great Recession.

Musk’s real genius isn’t in making money, but in making unusually ingenious products. Not long ago I drove a Model S Plaid, Tesla’s top-of-the-line sedan, on a long-weekend trip up the California coast. Tesla unveiled the original Model S in 2012. Back then it was a quixotic machine, a luxury electric car that looked like a plaything for tech execs and presented hardly any threat to the world’s gas-guzzling automakers.

In the decade since, Tesla has grown into a remarkable force. Year by year, it improved its products, expanded its product range, and built out a global production infrastructure that has become the envy of the automotive world. Its growth spiked, then exploded, then went supernova: In 2012, it delivered about 2,650 cars. In 2021 it sold nearly a million. And even though the rest of the auto industry, seeing Tesla’s growth, jumped on the electric vehicle bandwagon, Tesla has maintained an indomitable lead. According to Experian’s Automotive Market Trends, in the fourth quarter of 2021, Tesla had just under 70 percent market share of electric light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads; every other manufacturer’s share was in the single digits.

Driving the Plaid, I could see why. The car is a dream. It’s one of fastest accelerating vehicles on the market today — at about $130,000, it is said to have the acceleration normally found in multimillion-dollar hypercars. At the same time, like cheaper Teslas, the Plaid is also one of the most environmentally friendly vehicles you can buy. It has a range of up to 405 miles on a single charge and is as efficient as a gas-powered car that gets 101 miles per gallon.

What I found most remarkable was how ordinary Tesla has made electric driving. I was in sparsely populated areas of California, but wherever I went I was not very far from a Tesla Supercharger. The whole thing was effortless. As I’ve written before, the electric car is not a transportation panacea — but the world is undoubtedly a better place thanks mainly to Musk’s doggedness in making this outlandish dream a reality.

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