Dear Elon: Tesla’s Base Is Not the Model S Coalition

Yves here. Author Matthew Klippenstein gave this further observation by e-mail:

Today’s SEC filing Tesla issued with respect to Musk’s future stock awards refers to him almost exclusively as “Elon” instead of “Elon Musk”. Which is another red flag. (Who is he trying to be, Madonna?)

By Matthew Klippenstein, who heads Electron Communications, a cleantech-centric consultancy. A long-time chronicler of the Canadian electric car market, he was the first person to report monthly Tesla sales figures for any country. He also co-hosts the CleanTech Talk podcast

Losing the Obama coalition cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency in 2016; her base wasn’t big enough to bring success. Losing the Model S coalition could cost Elon Musk his own dreams, because his base isn’t big enough on its own, either.

The Model S Coalition: Techies and Progressives

The Model S coalition of technophiles (techies) and progressives gave Tesla a strong tailwind when the vehicle launched. Techies formed the base, while progressives were the balance of the coalition. But while they came together for the Model S to strike a blow against Big Oil, these two groups aren’t natural allies.

We can see the rift growing in real time: while techies continue to celebrate Amazon, Uber, and Silicon Valley in general, there’s an escalating progressive backlash against labor conditions at warehouse distribution centres, more and more and more and more evidence of Uber’s culture of toxic lawlessness, and the obscene excesses of startup culture (which include a Dickensian digital class divide, possibly-endemic sexism, predatory sex parties and entitlement complexes worthy of the sons of Trump — and that’s only the stuff we know about so far).

The difference between the groups is aptly captured in the 2015 Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle study conducted by Simon Fraser University in Canada (webpage here, full report here, executive summary here).

Figure 23 from the SFU Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study 2015

The chart above shows the results of a study of Volt, Leaf, and Model S early adopters who were asked what images would be attributed to their vehicles. This tells us something about the buyers, because consumers purchase products whose so-called “symbolic benefits” (the brand, basically) match their own self-image, values, interests, and aspirations.

Volt and Leaf owners (yellow and green bars, respectively) are pretty similar, except when it comes to thinking their vehicle is attractive or sporty — the styling of the Leaf 1.0 is, shall we say, an acquired taste! Joking aside, this tells us that first-generation Leaf 1.0 buyers, like first-generation Prius buyers before them, really didn’t care about style. These people, and others of like mind, form the progressive coalition.

The Tesla early adopters are different in two categories, and extremely different in four, suggesting that Tesla buyers have different motivations than Volt and Leaf owners. Tesla’s “tribe” wants status goods – which for automobiles means something sporty, exotic, powerful, and successful. They’re Tesla’s techie base.

The Model S coalition emerged from the close overlap between the two groups in the categories of wanting vehicles that were environmental and responsible. I’ve annotated Figure 25 from the report below. While it’s based on in-depth interviews of only 24 individuals, the findings are largely consistent with a cluster analysis of 635 respondents.

Some progressives and techies are members of the “High-tech Green” group. But some techies aren’t interested in environmental issues (“Tech Enthusiast”) and some progressives don’t follow the tech sector (“Low-tech Green”).

The challenge Musk faces is that there are a lot more progressives than there are techies; they’re likely to be offended by some of his recent actions, so he risks losing their support; and that would have catastrophic consequences. We’ll go through some of the more odious lowlights, then explain why these enrage progressives so.

Loose Lips Sink (Relation)ships

The University of California–Berkeley, a half-hour’s AutoPilot ride from Tesla’s Fremont headquarters, has performed pioneering research showing how as people gain wealth and/or social status, they lose their ability to empathize with others. This manifests as narcissism, increased unethical behavior, and reduced compassion.

What happens when we consider Musk’s recent behavior through that lens?

  1. In June 2016, journalist and Tesla gadfly Ed Niedermeyer reported that the company had taken the red flag-raising step of having some customers sign an NDA after getting repairs. Instead of issuing a simple statement explaining a misunderstanding, Tesla (Musk) issued a long and aggressive rebuttal. There wasn’t anything neessarily wrong with that … until Musk insinuated that Niedermeyer might have been motivation by being short the stock. Niedermeyer posted a declaration under penalty of perjury that this wasn’t the case. Tesla didn’t amend their blog post.

Musk may believe that hitting back hard at critics projects strength and dissuades future attacks. That may be true. But it’s also true that the group who react to criticism most aggressively … are narcissists.

  1. When Tesla employee Jose Moran wrote a Medium post early last year explaining why he and some of his colleagues wanted to form a union, Musk claimed the fellow was on the UAW payroll and/or had been paid by them to agitate for a union. The UAW unequivocally denied this. Musk didn’t correct his very public allegation, nor is he known to have apologized to the employee, both of which he clearly should have done. Would progressives deem it acceptable for, say, comedian-suing coal tyrants to treat their own union-organizing employees in the same way?
  1. After a female engineer sued Tesla for discrimination in early 2017, the company insisted it did nothing wrong. That was fair enough. What wasn’t fair was that two days after she was fired, Musk wrote a company-wide email stating “[w]e have had a few cases at Tesla where someone in a less represented group was actually given a job or promoted over more qualified highly represented candidates and then decided to sue Tesla for millions of dollars because they felt they weren’t promoted enough.”

Will treating her in this manner strengthen the Model S coalition, or weaken Tesla’s support among progressives, feminists in particular? As loathsome as it is for a left-leaning environmentalist to type, Koch Industries has probably been more respectful towards women alleging sexual discrimination than tech’s most temperamental titan.

  1. After Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg called concerns about artificial intelligence overblown, Musk — whose SpaceX blew up a $195,000,000 Facebook (technically Spacecom) satellite in late 2016 — chose to insultingly tweet that Zuckerberg had a limited understanding of AI, rather than express respectful disagreement. Why risk being condescending toward someone who might be more of an expert in a topic than you are? Which leads us to:
  1. After prominent urban planner Jarrett Walker criticized Musk’s contempt for public transit, Musk called him an idiot, then doubled down with sanctimonious idiot, then attacked his academic credentials. Somewhere along the way, he Twitter-blocked the former Chief Planner of the city of Toronto — the fourth-largest city in North America. Musk’s impulsivenes probably cost the Model S coalition the support of every urban planner and transit advocate in North America, each of whom has friends. And as Hillary Clinton discovered, it’s hard to win with a shrinking coalition.

We’ll finish with this hat trick:

  1. In August 2016 Musk criticized the California Air Resources Board, whose staff are irritated by Tesla gaming their system with announced-then-withdrawn battery swapping station plans for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of ZEV credits it otherwise wouldn’t’ve qualified for. Instead of voicing polite-but-firm disagreement with the organization, Musk condemned CARB, saying their standards were “pathetically low. They need to be increased … they absolutely damn well should. It is a crying shame that they haven’t. And as a result, you can barely sell a ZEV credit for pennies on the dollar. CARB should damn well be ashamed of themselves.” (emphasis mine)
  1. When reporters insisted on calling Tesla’s 700 firings last October a layoff instead of performance review-related terminations, Musk said they “should be ashamed of themselves for lacking journalistic integrity“. (emphasis mine)
  1. Vanity Fair recently published an excerpt of journalist Emily Chang’s forthcoming book describing a sex party at the house of one of Musk’s long-time venture capital partners (Steve Jurvetson, who stepped down from his company after being accused of sexual harassment). Musk’s response was that the journalist “conflated what happens in SF sex clubs in the Tenderloin, which have been around long before Silicon Valley was anything, with boring VC parties on the Peninsula. That is misleading to the public and she should be ashamed.” (emphasis mine)

If this had been the first time I’d heard Musk trying to demolish a critic or journalist, I’d probably believe his side of the story. But the prior two times he played the “should be ashamed” card, he had a really weak case: he should have been appreciative of the $100,000,000’s of 100%-profit-margin revenue CARB credits have provided Tesla, and a layoff is a layoff is a layoff, whatever euphemism you couch it in. So from past precedent, him saying the journalist should be ashamed makes me more likely to believe her reporting: to resurrect the cliched hashtag, #ImWithHer. (Several people have said they didn’t see any sexual activity at the party. I believe them, having been to parties where drugs were present, but not in the rooms I was in.)

Moving away from specifics, the problem in these three cases is that repeatedly saying others should be ashamed of themselves — trying to put them in a one-down position relative to you — can’t be normal. It brings to mind that other “n”-word from the Berkeley research: the one Musk’s ex-wife Justine ruefully wrote about.

Elon Musk’s default response to criticism is bombast and bluster, with ad hominem attacks thrown in for good measure. Three times in the past 18 months, he’s even claimed other parties he disagrees with should be ashamed.

That’s the Donald Trump playbook.

Let that sink in.

Shrinking to Sub-Critical Mass

Musk’s techie base will probably forgive the above examples as acceptable collateral damage from an impassioned man whose heart is in the right place. But for progressives, this behavior isn’t just a cardinal (deadly) sin, it’s the worst of the secular sins.

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff explains why in his book, Moral Politics. For progressives, selfishness and antisocial behavior are the primary social vices. The major reason progressives have turned against Silicon Valley is the antisocial (exploitative and/or unethical) nature of many of its titans’ behavior.

In Tesla’s case, the examples above are nothing if not antisocial. The targets of Musk’s vitriol have included women, lawyers for people of color and the LGBTQ community (perhaps he realized how bad the optics of attacking the plaintiffs directly would have been), unions, public transit advocates, CARB, and on several occasions the media. They read like a go-to scapegoat list from Fox News.

The next time Tesla needs help — and all businesses occasionally do, whether it’s with finances, policy support, social licence, or other domains — will progressives stand with him? After Tesla’s vindictivenes towards the aforementioned female engineer, will women’s groups offer support? How about organizations for people of color, or the LGBTQ community? Or the 39% of Americans who want unions to have more influence, or the 61% of Americans who approve of unions?

And if some of those groups only express lukewarm support, will he turn on them, too? Remember, techie and progressive opinion on Silicon Valley is already divorcing. Even if Musk was a model CEO — composed, professional, never impulsive, always respectful — Tesla (and SpaceX and his other ventures) would be caught in the maelstrom. But on many occasions, he’s been the polar opposite. If he doesn’t rein in his temper — if he doesn’t start empathizing with others when he disagrees with them — he’s going to lose the progressive coalition. If and when that happens, his support will have reached sub-critical mass. It will have shrunk below the level he needs to achieve his goals:

  • SpaceX has suffered more failures than its main rival, ULA. The world’s richest man is investing $1 billion per year into his own space company, Blue Origin, which may supply the engine for ULA’s next rocket. Not only is Jeff Bezos known for cutting prices to destroy his competition, he’s on the Pentagon Defense Advisory Board. SpaceX will need all the friends it can get.
  • The Boring Company is already at a double disadvantage for infrastructure projects, never having built any, and having a CEO renown for overpromising and under-delivering on timelines. It now has a third disadvantage in that its CEO has made enemies of almost every urban planner on the planet for ridiculing public transit and then lashing out at one of their colleagues on Twitter.
  • Musk will never sell many cars or solar panels to conservatives; they’re predisposed to hating him. Techies alone can’t buy enough cars per year to justify Tesla’s valuation, so Musk needs progressives. Given the antics above and the fact that every auto company is now rolling out electric cars, many progressives may decide they no longer need him or his products. And if that happens…

Hitting Reset

I want Tesla to succeed, because I want to believe that plucky, audacious electric car upstarts can revolutionize the auto industry for the better. It’s a narrative I buy into. It reinforces my dearest values.

At the same time, I want jerks to fail and suffer comeuppance for their disrespect and disdain towards others. This feeds my deepest beliefs — perhaps my deepest belief — that everyone is worthy of respect.

With the aforementioned bilious barbs (and countless others skipped over for sake of word count) my desire for Tesla’s success is about evenly balanced with my desire to see Musk face serious consequences for his antisocial behaviour. And if it’s a close call for me, he’s probably lost a lot of progressives already: the aforementioned urban planners and transit advocates and union employees, for starters.

This is all the more reason someone needs to reach out to him before he crosses the Rubicon — someone he trusts and will listen to — to shake him out of his comfort zone and explain that what worked when he was a scrappy disruptor “punching up” against Big Oil bullies is completely backfiring, now that he’s a bullying tech titan and is “punching down” at others whose station in life is more modest than his.


The vigorous support of the Model S coalition of techies and progressives helped propel Tesla to success. Its triumph (thus far) has brought Musk extraordinary wealth, fame, and influence. These are scientifically demonstrated to corrode people’s judgment, and their fingerprints are all over his consistent inability to respond civilly to criticism. Progressives are already turning against Silicon Valley culture, and Musk’s behavior will cause them to turn on him, unless he maps a fast, full change of course.

In short, Musk’s path to success has narrowed to a razor’s edge. With everything coming to a head this year, 2018 will tell us whether he can walk it, by keeping the coalition he needs, together.

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  1. Michael Fiorillo

    Political “coalitions” based on automobile branding and marketing?

    To quote Lambert, please kill me now.

    1. Anam Kuyusu

      “The vigorous support of the Model S coalition of techies and progressives helped propel Tesla to success”

      A cursory examination of Tesla finances will show that Tesla has never been successful except in the imagination of the gullible and uninformed public.

      1. a different chris

        You are so 20th century. Tesla and Musk’s earnest space competitor, Jeff Bezos have never turned a penny of profit. They don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Profit has nothing to do with 21st century “success” unless you are talking about the 99%. And nobody talks about them.

        1. Robert McGregor

          I thought Amazon was profitable here and there–but certainly not over their lifetime so far. Great point though re “Class Definitions of Success.” The 99% needs wages or profits to survive. Not so the 1%. For them, it’s stock value at “selling time”–Kalanick, Bezos et al. Interesting how that works. I have a friend whose brother-in-law was Chief Counsel (#3 executive in the company) in a mining company. The mining company did an IPO, but in a few years went bankrupt, defunct,delisted from the stock exchange! But he sold out his shares ahead of time–as did the other execs–and walked away with I think, $8 million. Financialization is a wonderful thing.

          1. D

            Some where i read that Amazon is not supposed to make, and that’s by design, dont recall why that was though

            1. Ed Miller

              IIRC the Amazon goal is to generate capital gains because such gains are taxed at a lower rate if at all. Stock passed on to future generations get the bump up in basis, so the tax disappears completely up to the point of an investor’s death. Their future generations pay no tax on the original investor’s winnings.

              As I see Wall Street, the insiders don’t really care if Amazon and other disruptors don’t actually make any money. Their importance to capitalism as disruptors is the decimation of working class lives.

              Low taxes + pushing down working people = a big two-fer for the system

            1. robt

              Amazon makes the recent big profits on the cloud services. Otherwise, no – the bulk of the cash has gone towards expansion. With extraordinary results …

        2. Ernest De Zoe

          Amazon does make money and reinvests every penny, Tesla bleeds money and relies on the capital markets to stay alive, also Amazon has AWS which has the kind of margins Musk dreams to have , also Bezos looks around and sees nobody, Musk looks around and sees BMW, Daimler, Nissan-Renault, GM, Ford, VW, FCA, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Volvo, Peugeot, Audi,…. the 2 companies could not be more different .

      2. karl marx

        He depends on venture capital and of course, being a capitalist, he is in the business of making money. As a scientific socialist myself, when I run my business with my capitalist hat on, I play by the rules.

      1. subgenius

        Tesla was, until the ‘founder’ lone skum bought in and got his name branded on documents via a court case a few years later…

  2. cnchal

    This is all the more reason someone needs to reach out to him before he crosses the Rubicon . . .

    Why do that and reap the narcissist’s wrath?

  3. JTMcPhee

    Yah, the grand notion of giving wealth and power to “audacious” people like Musk is still believed to hold the keys to the electric future, all right. So seductive—no need for 8 billion of us to reduce our impacts, just wait for the seemingly green substitutes to hit the market.

    The author— is he a Green techie progressive? Believing that if “we” can just cross over the river to the EV promised land, of course with some other massive changes maybe, details to be worked out via public-private partnerships like Musk’s constructs, what, things will be better?

    But he notes that the supposed means of fording that river of waste and contamination via carriages sold by Musk types carries the seeds of its own, internal-contradiction defeat: “success” breeds great wealth, concentrated and packaged with hubris and “antisocial behavior,” in the progressive lexicon.

    Musk hopes to escape death for himself, and get off the dying planet his kind in other looting and extraction scams are killing. Where’s all that lithium and rare-earth scarce resources going to come from, at what externalized costs, eh, Elon?

    “We have seen the future, and it sucks.”

    1. visitor

      I concur. The section “hitting reset” baffled me. The author is not concerned that the traffic model based on individual cars — electric or otherwise — leads into an impasse, nor about Elon Musk’s ferocious opposition to public transport, nor about the dubious economic and ecological consequences of a mass market of electric vehicles. All that is written off since what Tesla does “reinforces his dearest values”.

      The problem is that Tesla’s CEO is an uncouth boor.

      If that is the standpoint of progressives, then this leaves the impression that they care more about the packaging and are not too particular about the content.

      1. sylva

        Classic really. Non-science people talking about how they know about everything, even technology that is currently being developed. I bet both Elon or the author never even tested an electric motor, yet they sure do love the “progressive”-ness of electric vehicles – which have been around since the dawn of combustion vehicles. In fact, they were already competing with each other back then, but due to the EXACT reasons that people are still wary of adopting them today (high cost, low range), they lost the battle.

        If Elon or any of these pathetic unduly worshipped billionaires (that seem to have all made their fortunes off lucky bets in during the rise of the internet) actually had any sense, they would be pumping all their billions into renewable tech R&D, instead of these hair-brained “lets go to Mars” ideas that honestly sound like they come from some movie they watched as a kid.

        It’s exactly as the author mentions: as people get richer/more famous, they deviate from reality. They become surrounded by an echo-chamber of sycophants who literally believe their ‘master’ farts gold. Another reason to dream about a world where one idiot can’t amass billions while half the world starves.

        1. Roddy Pfeiffer

          Elon Musk has mentioned that he is somewhat bipolar. These people, when on the “up” or manic side of things, take huge risks that have little chance of succeeding. They have no fear of failure and can’t see that they are going down a risky road. Later, it all comes crashing down and they have to deal with the failure. Musk is right on track.

    2. karl marx

      “Giving”? Have you any idea the lengths this man has to go to to get that wealth and power. Don’t underestimate the work it takes to amass capital. That said, it is not a process that leaves you saintly.

    3. Rosario

      As far as being a “visionary leader”, the colonizing Mars part of Musk should have been the red flag that he is a bit dense in all the ways that matter.

      Creating new problems we don’t have does not deal with the ones that we do.

  4. lakecabs

    Elon Musk has proved his incompetence. Let him fail. Thats how capitalism is supposed to work.

    The problem with America today is we pick the most stupid people to give money to.

    1. Octopii

      Incompetence? Are you actually serious? This is a dude who acts on his ideas and makes them reality. I have absolutely no problem with the guy who has a lot of responsibility for the first electric car that wasn’t kooky and weird. I have no problem with the guy who’s figured out how to mass produce rocket boosters that land back on earth after doing their job, ready for another launch. I have no problem with the guy that spent much of his personal money to keep a company or two alive during challenges.

      Musk may be a boor, I’ve never met him. But I respect his achievements and I don’t believe, given the focus of his efforts, that they’re for greed or self satisfaction. I do believe that this article and its comments here are misguided.

  5. The Rev Kev

    Halfway through this article I had to go back and make sure that it was about Elon Musk and not Travis Kalanick. Maybe someone from Hollywood should mention to him that old saying about being nice to people on the way up.

  6. a different chris

    *I* hope Tesla succeeds — in a world where “personal” cars are a much smaller proportion of overall transport than they are now.

    I hope they succeed because we need to move on from the infernal combustion engine. Yeah, Tesla “failing” means Musk “failed”, but what do you envision that means? If he loses 90% of his wealth he will still have 100x what most of us wishfully imagine having to retire on. And he will quickly build it back up again because, well because he’s Elon Musk and he will always find people to give him enormous amounts of money and other people to overvalue what he’s doing, thus multiplying the pile in a perfect repeat of Tesla.

    What I’m saying is that he isn’t moving back into any of our ‘hoods anytime soon, regardless. Aim your fire at something you can hit. Thinking we can somehow stick it to one guy, and especially that even if we could it would make a significant difference in the world, is a TV show level of simplicity.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, Musk may be a horrible person, but Tesla and the related companies serve a purpose. There is no question but the initial success of Tesla scared the hell out of the main car companies and forced them to perform a radical change in their stance on electric vehicles. Ford and VW Group have recently announced a huge expansion in their electric car ranges, and BMW is already well on the way to having a wide EV and hybrid range. It would probably have happened anyway, but the success of Tesla (along with the fiasco of diesel in Europe) have been a major push factor.

      It was always probable that due to the immense investment involved, a complete electrification of personal transport could only be led by the established big companies – despite silicon valley dreams (as Apple have found out), the big car companies do actually know what they are doing when it comes to churning out cars by the million. Tesla’s cars are actually an amazing achievement when you see how hard even companies like BMW and Lexus have had to work to match them.

      Likewise, although his solar and battery companies will probably not survive long term, his investments have pushed things forward very significantly. He raised the game for everyone.

      If we have to suffer a world of billionaire narcissists, at least let them be like Musk who actually do build things, rather than just ‘do deals’ or produce vapourware.

      1. urd

        Hyper-loop or MarsOne anyone?

        Musk is the last person we should have to suffer as he has more vaporware than actual product. And the product he has is failing, only supported by government money.

        It’s not how I want my taxes spent.

        1. nowhere

          Not sure you can call it vaporware when you get purchase 3 different models of actual production, or when NASA contracts to lift actual supplies to the ISS.

          Maybe we have different ideas of the meaning of the word?

            1. PlutoniumKun

              It depends on what you mean by ‘the company’. I think eventually the bezzle will catch up on Musk, but Tesla cars themselves are well ahead of the curve from what I’ve read (I’ve never sat in one myself, they are way out of my league) and there is unquestionably a market for them.

              I suspect its long term future will be to be bought up as a prestige brand by a mainstream company like Ford or VW. They would drive down costs by enforcing commonality across platforms and through scale purchases of batteries.

              1. bob

                The Bigcar co’s need Elon like a 5th wheel. They are head and shoulders above him and his tiny little car company.

                Buying him? Goodwill only. Branding. That’s all he’s got. That this post is about EXACTLY THAT shows how little it’s worth.

                Everything else the big car co’s do better. And bigger, and more broadly and it actually works, on a LARGE scale.

                To ‘buy’ elon would be to own a bunch of debt, with very little ability to ever sell enough cars to pay it back.

                Take away the “electric” and what else does elon have? Nothing, with less than .001% of the experience that the other car companies have developed over decades.

                He has no dealership network to speak of, beyond a few storefronts in very high end neighborhoods.

                He has no part supplier networks.

                He has no reliable PRODUCTION.

                All he has is a brand. His petulant outbursts seem to be ruining even that tiny little bit “value”.

              2. Altandmain

                The only technology that Tesla truly has right now is their battery technology. But even there, Panasonic is very much the driving force behind that technology.

                In other areas, they are pretty much comparable or behind the curve. In the case of the Model S, as Musk likes to compare it to the full sized luxury segment (although to be honest it probably should be compared to the E class – see here:, it’s less luxurious than the other cars in its segment.

                That’s a big deal by the way. People buy Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, Genesis, and similar luxury brands because they want a very comfortable car and surrounded by technology. Others buy high end sports cars for the raw performance (Tesla cars are awful at the track and will go into limp mode due to overheating batteries). So that limits the base to a handful of techies really for the Model S and X.

                If you want to know how bad the fit and finish is, here is an example:

                As bad as a Kia in the 1990s or a car from the 1970s. Note the other design flaws.

                Then there’s stuff like this too:

                That’s awful. Imagine paying thousands extra for the luxury interior package and then finding out you got cheated by your dealer?

                Otherwise it’s pretty much very similar.

                – Every car maker can make a car with a giant screen
                – Electric motors are not secret technology
                – The rest of the Tesla vehicles are not that special either – some reports say Tesla is actually lagging now for future self-driving capabilities (interestingly GM is in the lead now)

                The other big problem is reliability. Tesla is pretty awful at it. By contrast, the Nissan Leaf has done very well, so electric cars are not inherently less reliable.


                The lower the price, the more important reliability has to be by the way.

                The reality is that this is an industry with a very high barrier to entry. Tesla has a huge learning curve and well, Musk himself probably is hurting a lot more than he is helping. It is possible for a new entrant to succeed, but very difficult. It also requires a lot of humility, which I think is in short supply these days.

                Full disclosure: I have worked for one of the big 3 US automakers. I currently work at a major Tier 1 supplier in the industry.

      2. Marlin

        It is far from clear, that going into battery + electric is the future of mobility. Tesla mostly pushed politicians into this view and then car manufacturers followed the public.

        At least in countries far from the equator the medium of energy storage probably will be some form of gas, even if renewable energy takes over. In that case, fuel cell + electric might have a higher efficiency than converting the gas to electricity somewhere and send the electricity to the battery etc. This technology is lead by Toyota and the reason Toyota abandoned battery + electric despite early successes with Prius et al.

        1. Octopii

          Several things are said above that just aren’t true. Tesla didn’t push politicians into battery electric. The electric car owner tax credits gave Tesla a way to make the costs work for production while remaining within reach of customers. It turns out that people really like the car, and it made everyone realize that electric didn’t have to mean kooky and slow. That is what has dragged the rest of automakers along – didn’t you ever watch “Who Killed the Electric Car?” They didn’t want to change!

          And Toyota never sold a plug-in Prius until the third generation (two Prius family here). They now sell a new model of plug-in Prius – they haven’t abandoned it at all.

          It’s really annoying when people come into a topic cold, read a few articles, and start posting nastygrams.

          1. Marlin

            Of course, for years they didn’t sell a full electric car. They thought about it and decided, that there is no market for it and that they should likely go a different route despite at the time they were among the leading companies for electric car technology. This doesn’t contradict my statements, but confirms them.
            As for the other statement, I don’t know the details of the situation in America, but in Europe, the political push for electric car subsidies clearly involved Tesla.

        2. fajensen

          This technology is lead by Toyota and the reason Toyota abandoned battery + electric despite early successes with Prius et al.


          1. Marlin

            For what exactly? That Toyota did have an early lead on electric car technology? For the fact, that they didn’t invest in all electric cars despite that lead? That is public knowledge.
            That the greater prospects for fuel cell technology was the reason behind the move? Well, you can use an internet search engine yourself, if you need information from the internet. My information on the technology is mostly not from the internet, but from people, whose job it is to estimate such things in person.

      3. roddy6667

        Most of the Electric Vehicle advances are being made in China. They didn’t need to be “scared” by Tesla. BYD and Zotye have been at it for years. Americans forget that they are not the largest car market in the world, China is.

    1. Wyoming

      My daughter-in-law is a high end lawyer (Columbia) who lives in CA. According to what I hear having a Tesla is one of the main status flags of this general group of people regardless of their politics. Just like buying old houses in neighborhoods in the city at high prices and then remodeling them into really expensive boutique housing. In the neighborhood they live in my son tells me that almost every house has Tesla S, Porsche’s and other high end sports cars in the driveway. Not to mention they mostly own multiple homes also.

    2. phemfrog

      Here in a wealthy suburb of Dallas (conservative to put it mildly), there are plenty of Teslas. I agree that it is mostly a status symbol. They also make fun of how ugly the Prius is.

      1. Wukchumni

        It’s so conservative here that sometimes injuries are sustained from people falling down as a result of tilting so far right.

        That said, we’re in one of the poorest counties in the golden state, and no farmer mogul type worth his salt would be seen around these parts in a Tesla, so you never see them. That, and the idea a $10 an hour job is a good one, for the other residents.

    3. Octopii

      Plenty of them here in DC and Northern Virginia, although I suppose we are mostly blue. Not seen a Model 3 yet.

  7. Alex Cox

    I think I qualify as a tech/progressive type. I also support the Green party and don’t believe in throwing money away. For that reason I oppose my taxes subsidizing the middle and upper classes so that they can buy electric cars.

    If you must have a car or truck (and in rural Oregon, you must) the greenest option is to hang on to your old Subaru or Toyota till it hits 200,000 miles.

    It would be interesting if the media which give Tesla and Musk’s other toy, the Space X rocket, would attempt to calculate the carbon footprint of the latter, and its contribution to climate change.

    1. nowhere

      And it would still pale in comparison to hundreds of other systems that comprise modern life.

      What if that SpaceX rocket is lifting the next best NASA satellite to provide data to study AGW?

    2. Octopii

      My old Prius works fine and I don’t want to go to Mars. I still like the idea of the Tesla, and I like to watch the rocket launches. It makes me happy that SpaceX costs my government roughly 1/4 of what ULA launches do, and it makes me especially happy that my country has reusable launch system again. We need people who push the envelope. They may not be nice, or someone we’d want to have a beer with. We might not like the way they treat their staff or their business partners. But we need them.

  8. Foppe

    A better title would have been, help, experiencing cognitive dissonance — don’t want to have to judge, never mind put my money where my mouth is, or for others to have to do so.

  9. diptherio

    My ’91 Subie has around 250,000 on it and still gets over 30 miles per gallon, so long as I keep it around 60 mph on the highway.

  10. Altandmain

    It gets worse than that. Tesla has had higher than industry rates of injuries.

    Whatever Musk cares about, it is not the safety and well-being of the people who are working for Tesla.

    Working in the automotive industry, I have heard that Tesla is also below average in pay. The big issue there is that employees who work for Tesla are far more than likely to be working in places like California, which have high costs of living.

    Another issue is that Tesla’s product quality is not very good. Reliability has suffered and that has been a major issue.

    1. John k

      The 10% buy Tesla stock and Tesla cars.
      Few worrying about GW think the gov subsidies to promote electric cars are a bad thing.
      Hard to deny that musk is a visionary or has not been the biggest mover of the needle towards EV.
      Products get mostly rave reviews, including from CU.
      Will planners go for lower rated alternatives? Perhaps. At what price point. New cheap Tesla probable 2nd best EV.
      True, musk makes ugly mistakes. Probably as article postulates is a narcissist.
      Most visionaries hacking a new path thru the wilderness are under great stress, no doubt musk is, given the huge losses and missed schedules.

      An EV is not for me, can’t easily charge at home, and I drive far less in retirement. But I appreciate the advances he is making, not just in cars but in storage… the latter is critical to continue the solar revolution, CA generating so much solar now they have to pay other states to take giving away unusable solar power.

      1. RMO

        I’m certainly not a fan of Elon Musk but… without the Tesla Model S we would probably be years behind where we are now when it comes to the state of the electric car – in terms of public perception as well as technology. It made an electric car a status symbol and I never thought that would happen in North America. If you look at the success rate of others trying to start a new car company in post WWII America Tesla hasn’t done too bad. Even Henry Kaiser failed at that task. For that matter AMC effectively died (the Chrysler merger was more of a funeral than a rebirth) Chrysler itself has gone down twice and needed the federal government to bail it out and even GM went under. Ford came damn close too. I do think repeatedly making an ass out of himself could hurt the company. Right now lots of people desire a Tesla because of the hype and mystique surrounding the brand – just look at how few people are buying the Chevrolet Bolt compared to how many are still waiting, pining for a Model 3 even though they are functionally very much alike. In a short time the electric car will be a commodity and if Musk’s personality turns people off the brand they will go elsewhere. The other points about losing friends in government and industry are important too. In my reading of business history I’m frequently struck by how often having a few powerful figures even mildly friendly to you can make all the difference. Anecdotal bit here: The only Model S owner I know is both a techie and progressive (we’re Canadian so we could only stand by in horror during your last election but he is a Sanders fan – me too) and he loves the car but is getting turned off by Musk’s actions and the way the factory workers are treated. He also considers the anti-public transit stuff downright vile considering how serious the need to expand and improve it is.

        1. roddy6667

          Tesla does not have any proprietary technology. It is all off-the-shelf. They use 20 year old Li-Ion battery technology. You are a victim of Tesla’s hype.
          The “S” model is nothing else than a tax-subsidized expensive toy for rich jerks with self-esteem issues. It is not green. It is not progressive.

      2. Altandmain

        Consumer Reports has shown the Model X to be very unreliable.

        The Model S has gotten better as it ages, but the big test will be how these cars age after they are out of warranty.

        Another consideration is that Tesla at this point has been selling mainly to their base. They seem to be a fanatical base, and I think they may have skewed the results. The issue is that the general public is going to be much more harsh.

        If Musk has talent, it is as a salesman not a business operations person or in manufacturing I am afraid.

      3. Altandmain

        Consumer Reports has shown the Model X to be very unreliable.

        The Model S has gotten better as it ages, but the big test will be how these cars age after they are out of warranty.

        Another consideration is that Tesla at this point has been selling mainly to their base. They seem to be a fanatical base, and I think they may have skewed the results. The issue is that the general public is going to be much more harsh.

        If Musk has talent, it is as a salesman not a business operations person or in manufacturing I am afraid. If anything they seem to be looking down on car manufacturers with contempt as if they are going to be disrupted.

        We need solutions for global warming, but we also need them to be done by people who are ethical and who are able to keep their ego in check. We also need people who are capable of actually delivering the product. Musk has repeatedly over-promised and under-delivered.

  11. Stephen Gardner

    The disturbing thing about reading Musk’s twitter feed is all the acolytes parroting his ad hominems. He has groupies galore. I just don’t get how people can idolize guys like him. I suppose the PR works on some people and they become loyal fans. The real question is this: “Does Elon Musk really believe his press or is he just blowing smoke?” Every moment I become more and more convinced that our elites are just playing for time. It occurred to me while reading the latest article on Uber that the entire PR fest associated with Uber is about giving the original big investors time to get out and shift the burden on to greater fools. Tesla’s case is similar. Reading their defense in yet another accident caused by an “inattentive driver” while the autopilot was on makes me wonder does anyone ask simple questions like “What is the purpose of autopilot if you have to pay attention anyway?” The press may be just foaming the runway for a crash landing. After all, the elites keep the journos in their cushy jobs. And when I read people extolling the virtues of block chains and crypto-currencies I have to wonder what is the problem being solved here? And then I read Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s defense of bitcoin and I realized it was ideological. All this stuff is about dreaming Hayek dreams and fantasizing about bringing Galt gulch to the real world. What a sad little fantasy on the part of our elites but they wouldn’t get away with it if there weren’t so many people wanting to escape their own grim reality by idolizing the likes of Musk, Bezos, and the other tech grifters..

    1. Altandmain

      A lot of people have suspected that the Tesla bid for money for the truck and a supercar are a desperate ruse to try to raise operating cash.

      I don’t know if that is true. I do know that they are burning cash though and will have to raise more soon.

      Ironically Tesla is falling behind in the race for a self driving car.

      It may be as you note, Ayn Rand libertarian fantasy at work. The irony is that Silicon Valley itself owes a lot of its existence to the government funding and research money.

  12. cnchal

    This may not be news to anyone, but the model s has a history of suspension failure, which is beside the electric car point but it speaks volumes about Musk.

    Tesla Motors was chided by U.S. authorities for allegedly reaching out to a customer experiencing a suspension failure in their Model S sedan with an offer to cover the out-of-warranty repair costs in exchange for their silence on the failures, reports Automotive News.

    Even the Tesla bros are upset.

    Just don’t tell Musk the cat is out of the bag. He will blow his stack.

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