It’s happened again. Someone who hasn’t followed or has only loosely followed Tesla and Elon Musk in the past decade has swooped in with a damning, critical take on the two. The problem is that it’s based on an absurd lack of context, Trump-style hyperbole (i.e., rhetorical lies), and illogical conclusions.
1. Let’s just jump into the final conclusion — the title — which I think is absurd and an unfortunate clickbait title for someone who has done so much. It reads, “Elon Musk is a total fraud.” Wow, not just a fraud, but a total fraud! Of course. One of the most successful entrepreneurs of the past century is a total fraud. How could it be otherwise? For sure, everyone driving a Tesla today has been defrauded. For sure, every SpaceX launch is a sleight of hand. For sure, the tens of thousands of SolarCity-installed solar roofs are not generating real electricity.
It’s easy to call someone a fraud, but a little harder to prove it. Let’s give this writer the time of day and see what she has to back up her dramatic claim.
2. Well, the opening line is not a strong start. It states, “One disastrous tweet has finally revealed Elon Musk for what he is: a fraud.” Huh? One tweet? Did he tweet, “I’m a fraud! Mwahaha, tricked you!” No, the writer is referring to a personal spat with a British man who helped save recently trapped Thai kids from a cave. The full story is here, but nowhere does it reveal Elon as a fraud. I think it’s rather confusing to come to such a conclusion, so I’m not going to spend more time explaining why the writer’s claim is wrong, but suffice it to say that getting into a Twitter spat with someone who attacked you personally and seemingly made false claims about you is not proof of fraud. Bad PR? Indeed! But that’s a different story.
3. The writer then makes it sound as if a Tesla house of cards is collapsing because of a Twitter spat. “Just like that, Tesla’s market value plummeted by $2 billion.” Can you spot the plummet from the following 1 month graph of Tesla stock [TSLA]?
Okay, you can probably spot it because I highlighted the bottom of the plummet, which was on July 16. I have a hard time considering that drop on July 16 a plummet, but maybe it’s just my weary eyes.
How about a little more context? How about a 1 year view and a 5 year view?
Whoops — that didn’t help. Is there any sign of a deep plummet after last weekend’s tweeting?
Let’s not even look at the max view. No, let’s not do it. Okay, fine, one short peek.
Well, that didn’t help. I see a strong long-term rise (apparently on the backs of tricked investors who for some reason still believe the company is worth $53.85 billion), but I don’t see a comparable plummet.
4. This is where it really gets fun. “He has yet to succeed at anything but somehow spins every failure into proof of imminent success. His only accomplishment has been this decades-long Jedi mind trick.”
Wait, what? “Yet to succeed at anything?” I feel embarrassed just thinking about a response to this since it means I’ve been sucked down into a deep, dark pit of ignorant trolling. But I am apparently a sucker.
Tesla has …
¤ Produced the car mostly highly rated in Consumer Reports owner surveys (which is different from the independent Consumer Reports rating mentioned above).
¤ Come to dominate the US large luxury car market and place well in the large luxury SUV market.
¤ Taken the #1 spot in the small and midsize luxury car market.
¤ Risen from a production rate of 0 cars a year to a rate of approximately 350,000 cars a year in the past decade or so.
¤ Mass produced the safest production car ever, according to the NHTSA rating system at least, and the safest production SUV ever.
¤ Mass produced one of the quickest production cars in history and the quickest by far in its class or any nearby class.
¤ Mass produced the quickest production SUV in history.
¤ Been a recognized leader in the energy storage and rooftop solar energy markets.
¤ Become a global powerhouse that pulled in hundreds of thousands of staggering, record-shattering, $1,000 reservations for a car that wouldn’t be produced for years.
In California alone, Tesla has generated a $5.1 billion economic boost for the state’s economy, and $5.5 billion more sales activity.
How someone can consider and claim that none of those things are accomplishments blows my mind, and they are really just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath all of those is a long series of accomplishments and clear leadership in innovation.
5. The false claims go on. “Tesla is best known for blowing deadlines and consistently falling short on production.” No, not really. These are certainly blemishes on Tesla’s highly regarding image, but I expect Tesla is best known for the superb, highly desired vehicles it designs and produces. I would like to make the claim that is what Tesla is best known for, since I assume it is, but I haven’t seen data on the matter and don’t like to make claims I can’t back up, unlike some writers. (Ahem.)
6. “Tesla was founded in 2003, but the world’s largest automakers quickly surpassed Musk’s vision for electric vehicles. Tesla will never catch up.”
I have no idea what Maureen Callahan thinks she’s referencing, but it makes no sense, so all I can say is that, no, no automakers has surpassed — or even come close to — Musk’s vision for electric vehicles. That also helps to explain why Tesla can earn approximately half a million reservations for a new automobile and no other automaker can come close to that.
7. “Shareholders are finally catching on.”
Again, I’m not sure what Maureen Callahan thinks she’s referencing. I assume it’s the “plummet” we discussed above, which is already tiny noise in the much bigger story. As I also noted above, Tesla’s market cap is now $53.85 billion. Ford’s market cap is $41.52 billion. GM’s stock is $56.31 billion. Fiat Chrysler Automotive’s market cap is $30.08.
I’m not exactly sure what Callahan thinks she knows better than shareholders. I’m not sure what she assumes shareholders need to “catch on” to. But it’s clear that shareholders today, in net, assume Tesla is worth far more than Ford, almost $25 billion more than Fiat Chrysler Automotive, and a bit less them GM. Must all be based on nothing but masterful spin, eh? Jeez, at such a market cap, Musk must be brainwashing people.
8. Another broad, misleading claim: “Musk infamously does not take criticism well and refuses to be questioned or challenged — three lethal traits in a leader.” Musk doesn’t refuse to be questioned or challenged. He specifically likes being challenged. He likes thinking through issues and discussing with others. He routinely questions himself and even criticizes past decisions publicly.
He may be strong willed, especially when it comes to something he has a strong belief in, but that is undoubtedly one of the key traits that have made him so successful. During much of his life, people have claimed he couldn’t do what he set out to do. Even he thought he almost definitely couldn’t achieve what he set out to achieve. Yet, through perseverance and innovation, he has become one of the most successful figures in American history. After such a rise, I imagine it would be easy to sometimes think that you can achieve something that a lot of people say is impractical or impossible.
Remember, every step of Tesla’s progress has come with claims of its imminent demise and inability to deliver. There was a widespread assumption that Tesla couldn’t produce a vehicle, couldn’t mass produce an original sedan (the Model S), couldn’t make a profit on the Model S, couldn’t at all produce its innovative Model X with falcon-wing doors, certainly couldn’t mass produce it, couldn’t get the Model 3 to market, definitely couldn’t produce 3,000 of them a week … er, 5,000 of them a week. Either Callahan missed all of that or just skipped over it since it didn’t fit her warped narrative of Tesla and Elon Musk. Shucks — that would have added some actually useful context.
The articles actually goes on and on with more misleading statements and absurd claims. Of course, it covers a couple of Tesla vehicle fires (not putting them in the context of 10+ million fires, 19,000 deaths, and 70,000 injuries from gasmobiles), Tesla subsidies (not putting them in the context of much larger subsidies for Tesla’s competitors), claims from infamous Tesla short seller Jim Chanos (not checking those claims against reality, finances, or Jim Chanos’s history on this topic), SpaceX rocket failures (not putting them in the context of SpaceX’s tremendous success), and much more.
While @elonmusk is in the headlines for many reasons these days, this particular chart probably doesn’t get enough attention. 10 years after founding, SpaceX had ~0% market share. 16 years: >50%. pic.twitter.com/uBMEj2Y9P6
— Patrick Collison (@patrickc) July 20, 2018
The problem: It appears that over 230,000 people read that New York Post article. How many of them now think Elon Musk is a fraud? How many at least have a stain on their mind and a dirty taste in their mouth? What does the writer or New York Post get for such a misleading hit piece? What does humanity get for the slander, for debasing the discussion around electric vehicles and Elon Musk, for so many mistaken leaps in logic?
And this also gets to the roots of some of today’s media problems. Wikipedia states, “The New York Post is the fourth-largest newspaper in the United States and a leading digital media publisher that reached more than 57 million unique visitors in the U.S. in January 2017.” It is owned by News Corp, a Rupert Murdoch corporation that has degraded media coverage, all but flushed journalism down the drain, and done one of the greatest disservices to society in human history. Yes, I am making that claim seriously due to how his media outlets have misled the public, stalled action on global warming (an existential threat for human society), helped to dissolve democracy.
The New York Post was actually established in 1801 by United States Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. It is shameful what it has become since that honorable founding. It appears to now be more or less a junk bin of sensational, misleading