Last week I showed you how some electric car “journalists” were reaping massive rewards for recommending Tesla over other electric cars. I also showed you how poorly they reacted to being found out. My coverage of Electrek’s Fred Lambert ended up being linked, referenced, or just flat-out copied in outlets as diverse as the WSJ and Zero Hedge.
As I had feared, however, most of the aforementioned media sources used my articles as stones on which to grind their ax, not mine. My concern was with the ever-more-permeable wall between automotive journalism and outright PR/promotion; theirs was with Tesla as an automaker and/or business entity. For me, this was a story about double dipping, but for them it was yet another example of reality distortion on the part of Elon Musk and his secretive cabal.
There are plenty of Tesla skeptics out there, including this site’s august founder, who once referred to Model S early ordering as a “Ponzi scheme,” and two former Editors-In-Chief of TTAC. I’m not one of them. Sure, I’m happy to admit that the company has a long history of playing fast and loose with the facts, and I’ll also freely stipulate the idea that Tesla as a whole is so entirely dependent on government subsidies as to be completely unviable without the steady drip of corporate welfare. What I want to suggest to you is that none of that matters, as conclusively proven by a series of trips I recently took to Western Europe and Northern California.
A few months ago, I drove the AMG GT-C and Porsche 911 GTS through Switzerland and Italy in a test that would have been sheer automotive heaven on earth if I hadn’t been dealing with several broken ribs at the time. It was my fourth trip of the year to Europe â€” in the interest of autojourno integrity, I should point out that none of them were paid for by automakers and one of them was just to visit my tailor â€” and it served to further confirm a pattern that I’ve noticed again and again over the past few years.
There are only two American cars with any sales volume whatsoever in Europe â€” those cars being the Ford Mustang and the Tesla Model S. That’s it and that’s all. Sure, you’ll occasionally see a Corvette or a Chrysler (nee Plymouth) Voyager or even a full-sized Silverado Crew Cab, but those are rarities. Tesla is a legitimate presence, doing about 15,000 sales per year in Britain and the Continent combined. In fact, the Model S outsold the Mercedes-Benz S-Class across Western Europe in 2015.
If Tesla didn’t exist, if the Great Accounting for which every TSLA skeptic devoutly wishes were to occur and the firm were to be wiped into receivership, then every one of those sales would go to the German luxury automakers. But they aren’t. They’re going to an American car built by an American company on American soil. I realize many TTAC readers consider themselves to be Citizens Of The Flat World, arrogantly dismissive of any pretense to national or local interest while at the same time blissfully ignorant of the nationalist and local protections that have enabled their own little economic niches to avoid competition with overseas providers (lawyers, doctors, and Wall Street types, I’m looking at you),Â but for the rest of us, Tesla’s American heritage genuinely matters.
You might say that General Motors and Ford are going to build better, more reliable, and more thoroughly developed electric cars than Tesla can, and you’re probably right. But the world doesn’t want an electric Cadillac or Lincoln for the same reasons it doesn’t want gasoline-powered Cadillacs or Lincolns. The world sees Tesla as an aspirational, upscale brand with unstoppable momentum, and it wants to purchase Tesla products.
Without Tesla, the electric future is almost certainly going to be a sort of Poland-in-1939, divided equally between the Chinese generics on the low end and the German name brands on the high. The proles will commute in a Changjiang/Dongfeng/whatever and the top ten percent will have a Benz or Bimmer. Nobody else is going to have enough momentum to beat the fact that the Chinese own the means of production and the Germans own the valuable brands. It’s sad but true. GM and Ford could easily go the way of Curtis-Mathes, Magnavox, and all those other invincible-looking electronics brands of the Sixties and Seventies.
It’s obvious, therefore, that we need Tesla. This is a brand-conscious era and Tesla is the only desirable American electric car brand. Period, point blank. The evidence is all around you, from the long waiting lists for products that don’t even have a production line in place to the monotonous similarity of Napa Valley valet parking. Wherever the beautiful people gather, there are two kinds of cars: German luxury sleds and Teslas. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Boston or Berlin or London.
Is Tesla a welfare recipient? Does it receive subsidies that enrich its shareholders at the expense of other American businesses and people? Absolutely â€” but that’s the way the auto business has always been, and it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the state of Lower Saxony supporting VW in its adventures or the Japanese government trying to make the yen serve its exporters or the 2008 automaker bailout here in the States. Governments have to give automakers welfare because the alternative is giving welfare directly to the people who go out of work when the automaker closes its doors or ships its jobs to Third World countries.
I realize plenty of people out there have all sorts of distaste for Elon Musk and his increasingly bizarre pronouncements, but how can you not prefer Musk at his worst to the Finance/Insurance/Real Estate crowd at their best? At least he’s trying to build and create actual, tangible products, not use the American taxpayer as a bag-holder for billion-dollar bets on junk mortgages.
Surely most of the vitriol sent in Elon’s direction comes from people who are uncomfortably conscious of the fact that they are nothing but repugnant, ridiculously compensated leeches on the American bloodstream. Meanwhile, Musk bestrides the globe like the proverbial Colossus. He’s digging tunnels! Building cars! Sending rockets that come back and land square! What do you do? You package derivatives? You sell bonds? You provide cautious legal advice for $500 an hour, knowing full well that not a single human being on earth would mourn your untimely death?
Or it could be something as simple as this: Elon is the nail that needs to be hammered down. He needs to have his dreams shoved rudely back into line by the Orren Boyles and Wesley Mouches of the world. They’ve already engineered the sale of this country’s future to China and they’ve already collected the commission that will allow them to insulate themselves from the consequences. How dare anybody throw a wrench into the works? That is reason enough to support Tesla and its projects, no matter how half-baked. Like it not, he’s the hero of our collective American automotive story â€” and we’ve needed one for a long time.