I’m not an Elon Musk hater. Yes, I’ve exited Twitter (aka “X”), and if Elon Musk were the man of the hour, I’d have someone watching him every minute. I think he’s a sleazeball.
But I also think he’s arguably done as much to advance the acceptance of electric cars as Henry Ford did to advance the cause of internal-combustion automobiles in the 1900s. Without Tesla, it’s unlikely that GM, Ford, Toyota, VW and Stellantis — who spent decades explaining why electric vehicles couldn’t be successfully built — would be currently tripping over themselves to rush their own electric vehicles to the market. Tesla embarrassed the big carmakers, over and over again, just as Henry Ford ran circles against the other carmakers in the 1910s and 1920s.
Alas, after the wild success of the Model T, and the almost-as-successful Model A, Henry Ford became convinced of his own infallible genius and launched one crackpot idea after another — a rubber plantation in Brazil, cars made of soybeans. Worst of all, of course, were Henry Ford’s efforts to mainstream antisemitism by promoting the hoax, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which influenced Nazis in the 1930s and continues to poison minds today around the world.
By the time World War II rolled around, the Ford Motor Company was functionally bankrupt. The Roosevelt administration ordered Henry Ford’s grandson to be released from the military so that he could come home and save the old man’s company from the founder. Henry died a lonely, isolated, frustrated man.
Elon Musk is speed-running Henry Ford’s career now — including, it must be said, the antisemitism.
But Henry Ford was pushing 70 when his cheese slipped from his cracker; Musk is losing the plot when he’s only 52.
I guess that’s what makes him a prodigy.
That vehicle at the top of the page is the much-ballyhooed Tesla Cybertruck, which has been in development for at least five years. Pilot models are finally trickling out to the public this month.
According to everyone who’s seen one up close or ridden in one, the early Cybertrucks combine the manufacturing excellence of a toaster from the Soviet Union with the ride quality of a Radio Flyer wagon.
And, on top of that, it looks ridiculous. Like the flour scoop I made in eighth-grade metal shop.
I look at the Cybertruck and I see an AMC Pacer for the 21st Century. It’s a Pontiac Aztek for bitcoin bros.
The original Teslas are lovely designs. I wouldn’t want to own one, mind you, but they’re beautiful shapes, especially in some of the candy flake paint jobs. I see them frequently in Oakland these days and I always stop to admire them.
The Cybertruck looks like the car Homer Simpson designed, bankrupting his brother’s car company.
Musk, a well-known fibber, originally said the manufacturer’s suggested retail price was going to be about $39,000.
More recent estimates put the retail price at more than $50,000. That’s the same territory as a BMW X1 or a Cadillac Lyriq, cars that can be serviced at dealers anywhere in the United States or Canada, and which aren’t subject to Tesla’s whimsical and capricious terms-of-service.
Which would you buy?
Only someone who sniffs Elon Musk’s bicycle seat could possibly think this is going to be a success. This is a lemon.
The Ford company recovered from Henry’s mismanagement; and then, 10 years later, introduced the Edsel, one of the most notorious automotive flops of all-time. Edsels were made for barely three years, from 1957 to 1959, before the company pulled the plug on them, losing $350 million (in 1950s dollars) in the process.
Slap a toilet seat on the front of Tesla’s truck and call it the Cyber Edsel.
Of course, just as the Edsel was being pulled from the market, Ford was introducing a wildly successful compact car, the Falcon, and a few years later, Ford launched the even more successful Mustang. The Edsel wasn’t a long-term disaster for Ford, and it’s possible that the Cybertruck will be a similar blip on Tesla’s trajectory.
But it’s also not unreasonable to suspect that Tesla’s investors are getting tired of the shenanigans of old man Henry — I mean, Elon. Does he have a grandson in the military who can come home and rescue the company?
The Cybertruck is not the product of a genius mind; instead, just like Musk’s purchase of Twitter, it’s the product of someone who’s become so rich, powerful and toxic that none of his closest associates will tell him “no.”
So I suspect the car-buying public is going to say it instead, just as hundreds of thousands of former Twitter users have told him: No.
Just … no.