Renowned Tesla bear Bob Lutz has recently sung praises of the build quality of Tesla’s vehicles, saying of a Model 3 that he inspected, “not only was the paint without any discernible flaw, but the various panels formed a body of precision that was beyond reproach.”
This is a significant high note from Lutz, who has been singing of Tesla’s imminent downfall for years. Now a retired veteran of the auto industry, Lutz’s views on the world’s largest EV producer have been mixed, at best.
Recall that, back in the July 2006, Tesla revealed the world’s first compelling long-range EV, the Roadster. Then, in August 2006, Elon Musk “leaked” the secret Tesla Motors master plan, announcing their intended product roadmap of increasingly affordable EVs.
Lutz later famously credited Tesla’s Roadster and early EV plans (along with the early success of the Prius) as inspiring GM to work on the Chevrolet Volt (watch Chris Payne’s Revenge of the Electric Car for more early history). Lutz has also said of Tesla, and its pioneering work in EVs, that he will “always owe them a debt of gratitude for having kind of broken the ice.” Lutz evidently recognizes the role Tesla played early on, in creating the EV renaissance and inspiring others to work on their own EVs.
Lutz has frequently praised Tesla’s vehicles themselves, saying of the Tesla Model S: “A Model S, especially with the performance upgrades, is one of the fastest, best handling, best braking sedans that you could buy in the world today. … The acceleration times will beat any $350,000 European exotic.”
However, Lutz has often expressed doubts about Tesla’s business model and lack of focus on profitability. There are many examples of Lutz’s Tesla bashing, but this one gives the general flavour: “Tesla’s business model is upside down. … Their costs have always been higher than their revenue. … They always have to get more capital, then they burn through it.” We have several times covered the shade that Lutz has thrown Tesla’s way over recent years — if you want more examples, our full archives are here. Charles Morris also has an excellent article charting many of Lutz’s various statements on Tesla and Elon Musk, if you want a deep dive.
My own take on Lutz’s misunderstanding of Tesla’s investment-for-growth-before-profit strategy is fairly simple. Lutz himself was always a career man working for existing, well-established automakers which were well beyond their early growth phase, and likely never understood the culture of an innovative startup looking to disrupt the status quo. He probably didn’t grasp Tesla’s deliberate focus on continuous investment in (extraordinarily) high growth, not quarterly profits per se. This is conscious business strategy on Tesla’s part, and one that Elon Musk re-iterated in the recent 2019 Tesla Annual Shareholder Meeting.
In fairness to Lutz, given his own career, he could scarcely hope to understand this. Since retiring from his fairly conventional management roles, Lutz has only been involved with two small startup auto businesses (VIA Motors and VLF Automotive). It seems neither got beyond showing rough concepts and have now both seemingly either failed or gone into suspended animation. In short, Lutz has never been involved with a successful startup. He is not an entrepreneur.
The wind has now changed once more and we find Lutz singing the praises of Tesla’s vehicles again. In a recent Road and Track article, Lutz writes, “When I spied a metallic-red Model 3 in an Ann Arbor parking lot, I felt compelled to check it out.” Lutz was expecting to see evidence of the Tesla Model 3’s “production hell” writ large, in uneven panel gaps and imperfections in the paint work.
To his great surprise, Lutz found something completely different:
“But, when next to the car, I was stunned. Not only was the paint without any discernible flaw, but the various panels formed a body of precision that was beyond reproach. Gaps from hood to fenders, doors to frame, and all the others appeared to be perfectly even, equal side-to-side, and completely parallel. Gaps of 3.5 to 4.5mm are considered word-class. This Model 3 measured up.”
In case anyone is concerned that Lutz may have been abducted and replaced with an avatar, don’t sweat it:
“So, while I continue to be critical of Tesla’s business model and Musk’s strategy, it was impossible to find fault with the visual quality of that Model 3.”
Thanks Bob, good to know some things never change. 😉
Editor’s note: As much as I’ve enjoyed laughing at Bob Lutz’s comments about Tesla over the years, I think he deserves huge props for having a fairly open mind and so publicly praising Tesla after putting so much pessimism out there about the company’s ability to succeed or to even produce some of its vehicles (Model S, Model X, Model 3). Thank + kudos to Bob for not being a tribal Tesla troll.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
CleanTechnica Holiday Wish Book
Our Latest EVObsession Video
CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.