Commentary: Elon Musk and the future

Rocket flies for the second time, now from launch complex 39APhoto Credit: SpaceX

Over the past week or so, Tesla has made news because of some production delays regarding the rollout of the Model 3 compact sedan. Elon Musk stated that they’re in “production Hell” and that they were going to postpone the announcement of the Tesla Semi in order to work on getting the Model 3 on track.

Making a car is difficult. While the mainstream automakers are aware of that, it appears many Silicon Valley car companies are not. Faraday Future isn’t going anywhere. The Elio 3-seater seems to be dying a slow and painful death. The fact that Musk is having trouble with the Model 3 isn’t all that surprising.

He gets flack though, and rightfully so, for setting expectations that no sane person expected him to meet. Much like Steve Jobs at Apple, the market ate up the lofty expectations and the stock soared. But as of today, there’s still no $35,000 Tesla — they’re only making the 310-mile range ones that are over $40,000 — and the cars that are out there are only in the hands of employees and the most ardent fans for what amounts to beta testing.

“The Wright Brothers. Elon Musk. Zefram Cochrane”

The goal of the media that covers this industry is to look analytically at the companies that play in this industry. That means giving a close look to Tesla and their operations. But that doesn’t mean that many of us aren’t fans of Musk or don’t want him to succeed.

In a recent episode of Star Trek: Discovery, when referring to visionaries in transportation, Captain Lorca said, “the Wright Brothers. Elon Musk. Zefram Cochrane.” Removing the obvious fake character here — Zefram Cochrane — I believe it’s completely appropriate to put Elon Musk in with some of the greats.

The man is a visionary, and what he’s doing with SpaceX is nothing short of incredible. Some have compared him to a real-life Tony Stark, but as he continues with his plans for space travel, it looks like he has tasked himself with helping get humanity back into space and explore the depths of our solar system.

He is a man who hasn’t lost that sense of wonder that often comes when faced with the real world.

Distance yourself from your vision

Where I think Musk struggles is with the day-to-day operations of Tesla. He’s a visionary, and we wouldn’t be talking about electric vehicles at all today if it weren’t for Tesla and Musk. I believe that wholeheartedly. But Musk is focused in a lot of different places, and nobody is dedicated to just seeing to the success of Tesla.

It’s hard to let someone else run something you put so much heart and soul into. To continue with the science fiction theme of this post, let’s talk about George Lucas. The creator of Star Wars is a visionary filmmaker and created a universe that many millions of people love to escape to. But when he was tasked with writing and directing his own work, the results were less than amazing. The prequels are a prime example of that.

The Empire Strikes Back is arguably one of the best pieces of cinema ever, and it is one of the only Star Wars movies prior to the sale to Disney that didn’t include Lucas in major roles. When someone else was tasked with making sure Lucas’s vision was honored, the results were better than when Lucas took care of it himself.

I’m not saying Musk has failed at anything — he hasn’t. Tesla wouldn’t be where it is today without him. But when the company is moving in a direction where they are trying to make a mass-market car instead of a boutique brand, someone who has the experience in a high-production automotive environment might be better suited for the day-to-day operations.

Chad Kirchner
the authorChad Kirchner
In addition to Chad Kirchner's work here, he's a freelance automotive journalist for outlets around the world.