I don’t know anyone who will buy another Tesla. And I know a lot of people with Teslas, and they LOVE their Teslas!
But they don’t like Elon Musk.
If you’ve been following the news, it’s getting hard to sell electric cars. The Big 3, not so big anymore, are slowing development and production. Which is the exact wrong thing to do, because that will only put them further behind when the revolution comes, and it’s inevitable, and it will be gradual, then all at once.
Gasoline cars are a right wing cause célèbre. They don’t like that the government is subsidizing electric cars, even though it subsidizes oil companies, and electrics are seen as a left wing thingy, and if the left loves them, the right hates them.
Now don’t tell me I’m pulling this out of my rear end, I’ll just point you to this recent story in the “Wall Street Journal,” and it’s a free link:
“Electric Cars Were Already Having Issues. Then Things Got Political. – The 2024 race for the White House reignites debate over EVs”
Electric cars were the new new thing. Early adopters were status seekers and the environmentally conscious and the Model S and then the Model X were expensive. It was a rarefied air, it was a luxury item, and it burnished your image if you had one. And anybody who did have one couldn’t stop talking about it. The acceleration, the lack of regular maintenance.
And then came the Model 3. Suddenly everybody could get in on the action. And they did. Tesla sold through its inventory and the stock went up and up and then…
The Chinese ramped up. Just like TikTok is the biggest competitor of Netflix, BYD and the other Chinese car companies are the biggest threat to Tesla. And other than Tesla, every other manufacturer’s sales are in the toilet in the People’s Republic.
Now if you’re a record company or a movie company, you don’t think about the future, you believe it will never come, you love your fat salary and believe you can litigate upstarts away.
Well, that didn’t work out so well, almost all of recorded music revenue now is from streaming. Spotify is excoriated and vinyl is venerated, but the latter is a de minimis part of overall revenue. But vinyl is sexy. It’s physical, it’s big, it’s retro, it’s cool.
Tesla was cool, but it’s not anymore.
The rest of the auto industry got on the electric bandwagon, but the truth is not one single company is in the league of Tesla when it comes to technology. Kia and Hyundai are the only ones close, but they do not use the Tesla charging system, and that is everything.
Detroit thought consumers were stupid. That they’d keep paying more and more for SUVs, which is why Stellantis has a huge inventory of overpriced Jeeps. I mean 100k for a Jeep? Did anybody ever see Jeep as a luxury brand?
And since there’s more profit in trucks and SUVs, Detroit convinced the public to buy one, even though they drive worse than sedans, but you get to sit up high and impress your neighbors! Idiotic.
And then came Tesla.
Think of Tesla as a software company. Period. Tesla built its electric cars from the ground up. Every other manufacturer, except the aforementioned Koreans and VW, bolted electric on to a gas body/chassis. They could say it was electric, but it made no sense. All they were selling was sex. And Volkswagen started early, from scratch in the wake of Dieselgate, but still can’t get the software straight.
So not only does Tesla have a first mover advantage, no one else is even close, not in electric cars. I’d like to say otherwise, but it is untrue.
So you go into the dealership and you ask yourself, do I want to buy a car with a 220 mile range, and pay handsomely for the privilege? Even Porsche can’t get the range right. As for Lucid, it’s overweight and overpriced. And Rivian is in serious trouble. And who wants to buy a car that’s going to run out of fuel/energy?
Early adopters, but that ship sailed. Yes, there was a small scrum of people who would overpay to be the first purchasing Detroit and European electric iron, and that ran out.
And then Elon Musk lowered the price.
Today you can buy a Model 3 for the same price as a gasoline car. After incentives, there’s no premium. But Tesla can no longer sell as many as it makes, because of Elon Musk. Let’s just call it the X-factor.
And the competitors don’t use Tesla’s charging network, which has had years of development and truly eliminates range anxiety. Whereas the builders of infrastructure for competitors has been done by sleazy independents who if they even build charging stations, they’re oftentimes broken. The story is everywhere, you calculate how long to the next charging station, you finally limp in, and the charger doesn’t work.
Tesla’s charging network is seamless. It exists, it doesn’t break, and the transaction is all done on your phone. Competitors have realized Tesla’s superiority, so they’ve jumped to Tesla’s system, but it’ll take a few years for them to produce compatible cars.
And then there’s Toyota. Caught behind the 8-ball on electric cars, way behind, and therefore Toyota says everyone wants hybrids. That’s been the building story for a month, people want hybrids, but they’re not ready for electric. But that’s complete b.s.
Electric cars are no longer cool, Elon Musk eviscerated all of Tesla’s coolness.
The charging network sucks for Tesla’s competitors.
Gasoline and hybrid were cheaper than electric.
Why in the hell would you buy an electric car?
Oh, there are many reasons. But the public is ignorant, and doesn’t know most of them. One day, your gasoline car is going to be worth nothing, like your old Nikon SLR. It’ll happen overnight, you’ll be left holding the bag. Do you want to take that risk on the second most expensive purchase in your life, after a house? Most people say no. Or, you could lease, but that’s for the broke and the rich, it’s just a plain rip-off for most, and leasing is cratering too, because of soaring interest rates.
So you’re scared.
You were against computers, you saw no reason to buy one, they were used by nerds, and then came AOL. In one summer, in 1995, seemingly everybody bought a PC, they wanted to play online. Tesla was AOL, but Tesla blew it. Unlike Elon Musk, Steve Case was not insane. And Elon Musk is, a great example that you can be great in one thing and clueless in another. And now we know that those who squeezed him out of PayPal were probably right. This guy is whacked.
But he brought electric cars to the forefront.
And then undercut the business.
So we have Elon Musk to blame for the slowdown in the adoption of electric cars. Teslas were not sold by advertising, they were sold by word of mouth, and now Tesla owners are not bragging about their cars, because that brings up a discussion of Musk, and the only people who seem to be in his camp are the troll bros on X, most of whom can’t afford new cars anyway. This guy has a stink upon him, he killed word of mouth overnight.
And everything sells by word of mouth today.
So don’t blame the slowdown in electric car adoption on the consumer, that people are not ready for electric, blame it on Elon Musk and the rest of the lame industry that still hasn’t caught up with Tesla. Oh, it will, but it’ll be years more, just like it took until Windows 95 for Microsoft to have even a reasonable competitor to Mac OS.
And let’s be clear, Detroit doesn’t want to sell electric cars, it wants to rest on its laurels. And it doesn’t want to invest. And this story that the public has turned on electric cars is just plain wrong.
Well, let me make this simple, it’s just a matter of when, when the country goes electric.
One in four new cars sold in California are now electric. Yes, the Golden State is still the harbinger of the future, despite the blowback of it being behind. There was a great story in the “Los Angeles Times” about how much workers sacrificed by moving elsewhere. They thought they were winning, but they were giving up protections.
“Hidden costs for remote workers moving out of California”: https://tinyurl.com/bdh76jm8
As goes California, so goes the country. Believe it.
So we’re in the middle of a perfect storm. People don’t want gasoline cars, but they’re afraid of electric cars, because of Musk’s antics and poor products from competitors.
The public hasn’t rejected electric cars so much as the purveyors convinced them not to buy them. Ford and GM cutting production and investment in infrastructure, they’re just reacting to problems that they created.
And the Chinese electric cars keep getting better and better.
And you want an electric car. Unless you’re out of town, on a road trip, you never have to go to a gas station, never have to be exposed to cancerous vapors, don’t have to waste the time. And fuel is cheaper. And maintenance costs are cheaper.
And all the red herrings of the past are gone. Turns out electric car batteries last for years, for hundreds of thousands of miles. And Tesla build quality has improved, as has its service. But you wouldn’t know this reading the press. The public says no is the story, the public wants hybrids.
Hybrids are an antiquated half-step. Usually electric range is short, they still pollute, you’ve got to go to the gas station… Hip fifteen years ago, outdated today. Would you want to use an iPhone 7? We can’t convince you to buy one, it’s obsolete, and so are gasoline automobiles, you just don’t know it yet.
Get rid of the government incentives, why have them if people don’t want electric cars! But the industry made them not want electric cars, they were primed and they ultimately will buy electric cars.
Spark plugs? Tune-ups? Oil? Imagine if your computer ran on those. Stinky, gooey, icky machines.
We’re being sold a bill of goods. The public didn’t turn on electrics, the press and industry missteps made them gun-shy.
But when you can buy a Chinese electric car for maybe even less than a gasoline car, and there are few moving parts to break… Remember when Hyundai was a joke? Now Hyundai is number three in the U.S. Perceptions change. And Teslas are already mature, far superior to the Hyundais of the nineties.
But many people don’t want to put money in Musk’s pocket. They don’t want to support this guy. So electric car sales crater and we’re told the public isn’t ready.
Oh, the public is ready, it’s just that self-inflicted wounds have given them reason to stay with gasoline automobiles.
Isn’t it a pity.
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Originally published by Bob Lefsetz in the 11/02/2023 at the Leftsetz Letter