My Car Quest

December 6, 2021

Editorial: On Observing the Phenomenon of Elon Musk

by Wallace Wyss –

Mea Culpa. I think that’s Latin for “I’m guilty.” And I am, of the sin of not recognizing a sea change in the auto industry that took place right in front of me. On my watch as it were.

I’ve always been an internal combustion guy, more so when I moved to California from Michigan and got rides in cars like a Ferrari P250 and the Ferrari 250 GTO. I was seduced by the siren song of the V12. But a few years ago I kept reading about this upstart South African immigrant, Elon Musk, who wanted to make an electric car. When it first appeared I could see it was naught but a Lotus converted to electric.

Elon Musk

A novelty, I thought, good for a niche but not significant in terms of the entire auto industry. It made no dent in Detroit’s plans. Back then I wasn’t yet aware of what a hot property Elon Musk was. A lad from South Africa, who back there, sold his first software program (for a game) at age 12.

Part of my ignorance, my failure to see this change he instigated, coming, I say, was due to my background. I am from Detroit. I worked in advertising there, writing ads for performance cars like the Camaro Z/28.

I thought the executives who lived in those lakeside mansions in Bloomfield Hills had a handle on it, that they could turn the Detroit auto industry’s guns to counter any threat from abroad. I never thought it would come from within. I mean who would be dumb enough to go up against GM or the Big Three in total?

Now, with the recent Hertz order of not just 10,000 Teslas, not just 50,000 but 100,000 cars, I can see Tesla is a game changer for the entire American auto industry. Because the only thing holding the Tesla back, besides its high price, was not enough people had experienced driving one.

All the Tesla owners I have met are The Converted Ones. The ones Not Going Back. Only recently did I investigate more of Elon Musk’s approach to building his cars. There was a lot of internal resistance in me there, because I am the son of a UAW worker–a European immigrant– who worked at Ford in the 1930s, building Model A’s. I thought Musk was trusting robots too much but you have only to go to You Tube and watch inside a Tesla factory to see the cars being built largely without people. People, you see, don’t want to work 24 hours a day and on holidays. I would almost say the pace of building Teslas is relentless compared to the days when I toured auto factories and saw people building cars.

And then I’ve studied Musk more–in relation to the growth of his “side hustle,” building rockets at Space X. I never knew an executive in Detroit who could handle being a kingpin in two industries simultaneously. Up against the formerly richest man in the world–Jeff Bezos of Amazon–Musk shot past him with superior spacecraft and the Hertz order which pumped up his stock as well. He sees a need and builds something to meet that need. Example: a lot of the third world can’t get wireless? No problem, just put a ring of satellites around the world so even in the jungles of the Mato Grosso, a native can dial up Google. Musk is doing that.

So, in my role as a co-host of a weekly radio show (Autotalk, broadcast on KUCR FM Riverside 88.3 6:30 p.m. Thursdays) last week, on the show, I confessed that I had underestimated Elon Musk. True, I can still say disparagingly that electric car sales at this point in time–November 2021–are less than 3% in the US. But he has created a product that is almost irresistible to the intelligentsia.

More important, though, he has changed the American auto industry in the 21st Century as much as Henry Ford did in the 1920s. He has shown the way, shined a light into the darkness and said “follow me.”

Oh, I had many clues along the way, which I chose to ignore. Like the first inkling I had that he was on to something was when I saw a dashboard video from a Tesla in Holland on You Tube where the Tesla was following another car on the freeway at around 55 mph. The Tesla kept slowing when I could see no problem with the car ahead–no brake lights. Then the car ahead of the Tesla hit a car stopped on the freeway and both cars spun around to a dead stop. The Tesla, well back of them, slowed to a stop and the driver went to give assistance. I was blown away. The Tesla had somehow seen underneath the car ahead and knew there was trouble up ahead and slowed down. The Tesla had anticipated the accident before it happened.

Some of Elon’s other ventures– digging tunnels for fast transport subsurface, the flame throwers, the colonization of Mars–I’m not on board yet but I can say this–I’m a little more open now to those guys that come out of nowhere with a fresh idea…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car books and co-host of Autotalk, a show broadcast weekly on KUCR FM Riverside.

 
 
 

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Editorial: On Observing the Phenomenon of Elon Musk
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Editorial: On Observing the Phenomenon of Elon Musk
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Now, with the recent Hertz order of 100,000 Tesla cars, I can see Tesla is a game changer for the entire auto industry.
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Comments

  1. Glenn Scott Krasner says

    Like he did with PayPal, he will cash out everything at one point, selling Tesla to Ford, and SpaceX to Boeing. I, too, underestimated him, but everything he has is overvalued. A $1 trillion capitalization for Tesla, a company with 3 brick & mortar plants, and minimum volume (I know all about that Hertz deal, too) and miniscule profits. He had the brains to fill a niche (electric cars) at the time when people had global warming concerns (well, we will need a lot of volts from somewhere to power those cars), and another niche (privatization of space) when NASA laid off 16,000 workers and decided to not pay for workers and their benefits anymore. All these emperors have no close, including Bezos. But, what do I know? I only make $75,000 per year, working six days a week and double shifts. Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  2. wallace wyss says

    I might have spoke too soon. After Tesla and Hertz stock went up, Musk put on his “who me?” mask and said he didn’t receive a signed order for those cars, whereupon his stock and Hertz stock dropped, and he no doubt fell behind Bezos in net worth. Which make some wonder, don’t such august publications as the New York Times check out their news sources? But it matters not , because once the Berlin plant is fully operational, and the Chinese plant and the Texas plant, along with Fremont, CA, we all know he has the potential to fill an order like that and the next rumor should put him on top of the heap again. People want to believe. My point is still the same. Detroit ignored him.

  3. Rob Krantz says

    I view Musk as a modern day Howard Hughes or Steve Jobs….an entrepreneur with a vision, who happens to be a decade ahead of the largest automakers in terms of electric cars. They are all in catch up mode. I saw my first Model S on Ocean Avenue in Carmel in 2012 during Monterey car week. There were three of them parked along the curb with some Tesla employees there showing off the cars. I was duly impressed by the build quality and design of the cars. Amazing that such cars could be built by a start up, fresh out of the box! I’ve driven the Model S and Model 3 and impressed by both. A few of my Cobra friends own Model S’s and love them, and these are died in the wool IC engine, wind in your hair, horsepower guys! Musk seems to have the golden touch and has persevered through some trying times with Tesla, but looks to be well on track now, especially with the Hertz order. I admire him and his brilliance but not quite sure if the world is entirely ready for a conversion to electric vehicles. With this said, Musk has created an amazing niche with Tesla and I wish him well.

  4. Wayne Watkins says

    I think it is strange that the left wing greenies love electric vehicles and want everyone to be driving them , but hate Capitalists .Isn’t this being a bit hypocritical as Elon Musk is the richest Capitalist in the world and they are basically Socialists ? Apparently just 2% of his wealth could solve the world’s starvation and homeless problem , instead of taking his wealthy friends into space for a few minutes .

    • Rob Krantz says

      Agreed! While the left wants Socialism, that System does not promote innovation. So, the young college student who wants everything given to them and hate the society we live in, go on Instagram or Facebook on their Apple device and don’t realize that is is Capitalism that allowed these innovations to happen.

      • That is a myth, what you call leftist and ‘greenies’ are just fellow Americans, 50 years ago they said the hippies would live alternative lives and change the world but they ended up joining the work force. The blue meanies that you call socialists are people that want clean water and air, equal rights too and every one of them that I have ever known is a capitalist and simply against CORRUPT capitalists. Why do you leave that out? It’s like when I say that EVERY conservative ONLY supports the side of more pollution on any and all issues, it just isn’t true, surely there is one , maybe two of you that don’t.
        I am on the fence about these billionaires going to space. They get too much gov. financing and help but if not Bezos and Musk then other guys would make the money doing what they are doing. Wealthy people need to pay tax otherwise we create a class that doesn’t innovate and just perpetuates itself as with the current love for voter suppression. I hate when this site gets political, damn you Wally, lol

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