I know this verges on heresy, but I'm just going to come out and say it. It might be possible that Elon Musk is not that great at making cars.
Today, after Musk was kind of a dick on a conference call, a bunch of analysts are waking up to the fact that Tesla has spent a billion dollars a year for ten years, and they're still producing fewer than 30,000 cars per quarter. (Not to mention all those injuries on the production line.)
And yet Tesla, which lost $675.35 million last quarter, is worth more than Ford — which has been building cars for more than a century and made $1.74 billion in profits last quarter. Ford currently trades at about 11 bucks a share. Tesla trades at about $277.
I know people who will say, sure, but Teslas are cool. I have several friends who own them, and they say it's the best thing they've ever driven. The car of the future. They go at ludicrous speed!
Which is not a great argument. Ford could build a car that sold for $100K and it would have most of the neat stuff you find in a Tesla. And I bet it would not be struggling to get its "flufferbot" to work.
The problem is, Ford doesn't make cars just for millionaires who live in California. They're in the business of selling the most cars to the most people.
So what makes people think Tesla is fundamentally different than Ford, which is far more successful at moving cars off the assembly line and actually delivering them to customers?
Only one thing: Elon Musk.
This is probably obvious to anyone who's been paying attention, but it's been banging around my skull for a long time. Tesla is not a car company. Tesla is a company that sells Elon Musk.
I'll admit it: I'd like to believe in that. Aside from his apocalyptic predictions about AI, Musk is one of the few people who seems to believe in a boundless future. I know he's way, way smarter than I am, so I would love to let him deal with global warming and space travel and he'll solve it on a spare weekend.
But that's the problem with celebrity. It distorts our picture of real people, and turns them into symbols. And eventually, if you treat people like celebrities, guess what? They start acting like celebrities.
I don't think it's entirely their fault. I think it's an almost-rational response to the pressure of being the most popular kid not only in school, not only in town, but in the entire world. It's hard enough to live with the expectations of the small circle of people you know on a daily basis: your family, your friends, your co-workers, your boss. Now imagine that you also have to live with the needs and wants of literally millions of observers every day you wake up; that your livelihood and the jobs of hundreds or thousands of others depends on how you conduct yourself; that you're treated like a god some of the time, but the trade-off is everyone feels they own a piece of you, because they helped make you.
Yeah. That sounds insane. And so it should be no great surprise that even the most stable, well-rounded individuals sometimes lose it a little. If you're not a stable, well-rounded individual — if you began with a need for attention, or love, or success to fill the hole inside your chest — then just imagine what might happen.
Musk is compared to Tony Stark all the time. So, if this were a movie or a comic book, the conference call yesterday was basically that scene in Iron Man 2 where Tony was a cocky asshole to the Senate committee investigating him. And eventually, it turned out that Tony was right, and the senator was a Hydra agent, and the good guys won.
In the meantime, Stark Enterprises gets reduced to rubble roughly once a year, and its stock price regularly tanks because Tony is so busy being Iron Man or chasing supermodels that he doesn't care much about getting the latest StarkTech out the door.
Which is great, as long as the world actually gets saved. The problem is, that sort of ending generally only happens in comic books and movies.
Pretty sure there's a lesson there for anyone who wants to see it.