I’m a Musk fanboy – don’t hate me

Let’s cut to the chase. I am an Elon Musk fanboy. A Tesla tragic. It’s not something I am entirely proud of, but there it is. I have outed myself.

It’s not like Musk makes it easy for us. My two teenage daughters are utterly dismissive of my attempts to play defence for him. I do my best, but his purchase of Twitter for an eye-watering $US44 billion has put a sizeable dent in my “Elon is saving the world” mantra.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk.Credit:AP

What has become plainly evident is that when the Tesla titan strays from electric cars, rockets and various other engineering challenges, he quickly loses his footing. Taking charge of a social media platform has forced him to play umpire on a global scale on what is deemed acceptable public discourse. To put it politely, it’s not his strong suit.

Earlier this month, using his Twitter account that boasts more than 131 million followers, Musk trumpeted his support for Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s attempts at downplaying the violence during the January 6 riots on the US Capitol building. Musk also took a swipe at several US lawmakers who investigated the riots, accusing them of “misleading the public”.

Late last year, he justified his ruling to allow Donald Trump back on Twitter by declaring the former president “didn’t violate the rules” of the platform. Advertisers have fled the blue bird as Musk’s views have attracted widespread criticism and more than 60 per cent of Twitter’s staff were sacked, leading to a proliferation of hate speech.

But while his actions at Twitter are attracting the most headlines, it should not diminish the remarkable global revolution Musk has kicked off in the car industry. I may be too starry-eyed, but I don’t believe any private individual is having a greater impact on transitioning to a low emissions future than Musk.

Elon Musk has kicked off a remarkable global revolution in the car industry.Credit:Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Passenger vehicles and trucks account for about 15 per cent of global CO2 emissions. Until Tesla came along, the car and truck industry was making a comfortable living by building millions of vehicles powered by fossil fuels. Toyota may be leading the way in hybrid technology, and various governments (not including Australia) were enforcing stricter fuel efficiency standards, but all these efforts have always been about extracting the most out of an old technology. It was about incremental change, not revolution.

Then along came Musk. His initial efforts more than a decade ago to develop an electric car were, to say the least, problematic. But the company has rapidly gone from an innovative sideshow to sending seismic shockwaves through the car industry.

He has proven incredibly proficient at not only developing highly sophisticated new models – Toyota engineers recently described the Tesla Model Y as “a work of art” – but, more importantly, he has made Tesla highly profitable by ramping up production to the point where, last year, it built more than 1.3 million vehicles. It has its sights on building at least 1.8 million this year.

And despite its early reputation for producing cars with their share of glitches, Tesla has never found itself short of people lining up to buy one. Quite the opposite. The surging demand for electric vehicles means most legacy car companies are now in the unenviable position of having to play catch-up developing their own electric models.

And they are finding themselves not only competing with Tesla, but Chinese start-up electric car companies such as BYD, which are growing rapidly. This shift has also forced most car companies – Toyota being the outlier – to put a use-by date on the manufacturing of cars with internal combustion engines.

And that is what makes Musk such a powerful force. There is no turning back. By 2030, when buying a new car you will most likely have more electric than petrol or hybrid engine models to choose from. For those car companies that don’t transition fast enough, the prescient business lesson of the Nokia phone will be apt.

Thanks Musk, you may be all at sea at Twitter, but Tesla is a game-changer for the good of the planet. I only have one apology. I have ordered an electric car and, well, it’s not a Tesla. Sorry about that.

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