However distasteful Elon Musk seems to be, the nuttiness of Tesla’s treatment nonetheless deserves comment.
Tesla was the first (as far as I know) to figure out that current battery technology is practical to power a car. They have also been the best thus far at figuring out how such a car can be made uniquely attractive.
This is an intensely competitive business, and they have been trying to maintain first-mover advantages in features, battery technology, and the manufacturing process. That is a very tall order, and it involves enough risk-taking that there is no surprise that it is tough to keep commitments. Until they reach some sort of stable state vis-à-vis their auto competitors, Tesla has to be regarded as still in a kind of startup phase. That applies both to risks and rewards. No one expected iPhone penetration to grow as fast as it did (I can still remember articles talking about mobile phones as a mature, saturated market), and the same kind of thing could happen with electric cars.
Unless you’re a deliberate non-believer in climate change (and these days you have to try hard), the role of electric cars can hardly be overestimated. Transportation accounts for 28% of carbon dioxide production, and there is no one proposing to put carbon dioxide scrubbers in every car. Tesla is trying to become the Apple of transportation, with perhaps an even bigger impact on the US economy.
How are we helping Tesla in that undertaking? Well, we haven’t cut out the electric vehicle subsidy entirely (as the House Republicans proposed to do), but there’s no evidence we’re trying very hard either. The administration is just not interested in anything that raises even the suspicion of climate change. A carbon tax for example. We are minimizing Tesla’s value in its home market, while the rest of the world catches up.
As for the business community, everyone seems eager to predict the Tesla’s demise. Certainly the traditional auto companies would like that, and Musk’s antics make it exciting for the press to think about a deserved fall of arrogance.
However as an indication of what that might mean, people should recognize that all of the core technology in the Chevy Bolt comes from South Korea. And that story can hold for the rest of the multi-trillion-dollar investment that will be needed to combat climate change.
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