EVs & Tesla Are Strong Enough To Go On Without Elon

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I don’t think I need to introduce readers to Elon Musk’s online antics. I also probably don’t need to explain that it’s seriously hurting Tesla’s brand, its stock value, and its future. Zach already did a thorough job of explaining this and showing the receipts, so I won’t do that again. Instead, I want to approach this from a more optimistic angle.

In short, I am glad that Elon’s mental problems and focus on right-wing politics happened in 2020–2022 and not, say, 2010–2012 or 2016–2018. Why? Because EVs have become enough of a force, and have gained sufficient momentum, to succeed with or without Elon Musk — or even Tesla now.

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Before I explain why I’m still very optimistic about clean technology and EVs going forward, I do want to quickly show why people are starting to worry. Zach’s piece does a much more thorough job of this, but I think the fundamental problem here can be explained in just a few embedded tweets that should horrify anyone who’s got a lot of money invested.

In just five words, he managed to kick the LGBT hornet’s nest, call for the imprisonment of a highly accomplished and altruistic public figure, and express support for a complicated set of conspiracy theories around the origins and handling of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for just a few words.

But, this isn’t just about United States politics and “libs” hating on Elon. If you’re familiar with the accusations Republicans make against Anthony Fauci, the biggest accusation is that he worked with the Chinese government to engineer the virus and make it worse. Even if this was true (most medical experts say there’s insufficient evidence of this), saying that Fauci did this puts Elon Musk at odds with the autocratic Chinese Communist Party, whose good graces he relies on to do business in China.

As big of a deal as the Shanghai plant and other Chinese operations are to Tesla, this is a pretty dangerous thing for Elon to keep pushing. I’m not in the habit (and lack the expertise) of giving people financial and investment advice, but I’d be very worried right now if I owned any Tesla stock. He’s skating on some thin ice with the Chinese government.

And he seems to be doubling down on every aspect of that Fauci tweet:

While most people don’t consider a CEO (or Technoking, or whatever Elon’s identifying as these days) and his political views when purchasing a car, it’s generating enough bad feelings that people are starting to shift their EV buying to other companies. Here are a couple of well-known people who did just that:

The EUV is a great pick at a great price (I own one myself), but I’d imagine that seeing notable people bail on Tesla because they can’t stand Elon Musk isn’t going to be great for the brand.

Why I’m Still Optimistic About EVs, Cleantech, and Tesla Itself

When I saw that Tesla was being hurt by Elon Musk’s behavior, I have to admit that I was a little bit like Jeremy Clarkson in the short video clip embedded above. When faced with some bad news, he was like, “Oh NO! Anyway…”

I’m feeling that way about Tesla in 2022 because it’s not the center of the EV universe that it once was. If Tesla had gone down in flames in 2010, the industry wouldn’t have moved in the direction it did, because there would have been no real pressure. Even as late as 2016–2017, cars like the Model S, Model X, and Nissan LEAF were niche cars and most manufacturers didn’t have any serious EV efforts going. If the pressure had dropped off in those days, most automakers would have probably backed out of the EV world with a wry smile and kept making bank on ICE vehicles.

But today, things have moved quite a bit. EVs are available at prices well below the average cost of a new car today (with the Chevy Bolt EV being the cheapest pre-incentive example). Used EVs are available in the teens. So, basically, every segment but the “shitbox” or “beater” used segments have a decent EV. (Even then, heavily degraded LEAFs make an OK short-range “shitbox” for some people.)

Non-Tesla charging infrastructure is very usable compared to where it was even in 2019, and the infrastructure bill is going to massively expand CCS charging. Tax incentives are coming back for all brands, and even will be available as a point-of-sale rebate for participating dealers. There will also be US rebates and credits for used EVs for the first time.

So, I think it’s pretty safe to say that even if Tesla completely imploded, the rest of the EV industry isn’t going anywhere. That cat’s out of the bag, and it isn’t going back in.

I’d also argue that the complete destruction of Tesla is also extremely unlikely. The stock and the sales could take a major bloodbath if Elon Musk keeps acting like he lives in a right-wing version of Wait But Why’s “Political Disney World,” where fantasy and what feels good trumps reality, and you don’t need to know the facts. His flamboyant ways could, at worst, get the company kicked out of China, and we’d watch the Shanghai plant start churning out Tesla cars without Musk’s permission.

Even if things got that bad (and I don’t think that’s terribly likely), I don’t think Tesla is going to die. It’s a big company, and it survives on the hard, hard work and talents of tens of thousands of people. Musk could do some serious damage, but the cars are decent cars and they have a very decent charging network (the best in some countries). The company is now a huge industry player, not a precarious upstart. It would probably take damage far beyond that which Elon Musk is capable of to destroy Tesla.

So, I don’t think Tesla or the wider EV industry is in mortal danger. If Tesla disappeared, the rest of the automotive industry is already committed to EVs and can’t back out now. Tesla itself could be seriously hurt by Musk, but it is very unlikely to go away and never recover. There’s simply too much potential value there for it to not be put under new management if things got that bad. There could be some short-term problems, but in the long run Tesla will very likely still exist and thrive.

For these reasons, I’m still a cleantech optimist.

Featured image by Tesla and CleanTechnica.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1780 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba