Elon is a comedian. How else could you describe the CEO of an automaker whose model line-up spells “S3XY,” or who blasts rockets into space with a company phonetically named Spay-seX...
I love Elon Musk. I don’t mean romantically, but like Mike Myers at his best in Saturday Night Live and Wayne’s World – everything he says is hilarious. Elon is a comedian. How else could you describe the CEO of an automaker whose model line-up spells “S3XY,” or who blasts rockets into space with a company phonetically named Spay-seX. To paraphrase pop duo Right Said Fred, Elon’s too S3XY.
Not only is Elon very funny, he is also a genius. What other word applies when, as of this writing, the stock market values Tesla at around $300 billion. By my calculations that’s more than BMW, Daimler, Ford, GM and Volkswagen combined. To appreciate how Elon can be such a funny genius, it helps to understand his personality, which I would broadly describe as the combination of three fictional characters:
Willy Wonka – the oddball eccentric and lovably childlike inventor.
The Pied Piper – the hypnotic, mesmerizing, irresistible bad boy.
Blofeld – the evil villain that is socially inept and really needs a couple of buddies.
RecommendThe rise of wireless connectivity for smart citiesSJ Consulting Report: Transformation in Retail, Logistics and Transportation
These characters make for first-class entertainment, but I’m not convinced any one of them is suited to the role of CEO, let alone a combination of all three. However, judging by Tesla’s stock price thousands of people disagree, which is just fine with me.
What I love most about Elon is that he almost lives life as a tragicomedy in which he is the protagonist. So, for a little light entertainment let’s look at the major character groups in the story and see if we can speculate on the ending.
SAE International, the standards body that gifted Elon the levels of driving automation in J3016. If the SAE had adopted any nomenclature other than the numbers 0 to 5, we could have avoided a marketing battle where bigger is always better. No one else talks of near-term L5 deployment anymore, leaving Elon with the field all to himself.
The adults in the room
The story unfolded nicely for over five years and everything was working out according to Elon’s plan, until last week when the adults at Ford entered the room. Ford simply isn’t playing Elon’s “bigger is better” Level 5 game and instead announced an expanded partnership with Mobileye for driver assistance systems operating at Levels 1 and 2.
Perhaps Tesla, Waymo, Cruise and a handful of other AV tech companies can burn money ad infinitum developing “self-driving” cars and robotaxis, but Ford cannot and as the announcement last week confirmed, it will not try. Ford has entrusted its AV future to Argo AI and I concur with Egil Juliussen’s analysis that the Mobileye announcement provides Ford with optionality regarding its future AV development plans.
Ford is a serious automaker and it would not be unreasonable to say that its F-Series trucks have played a leading role in building America. Many Ford trucks are operated as heavy-duty workhorses, often filled with lumber and power tools, now feature an on-board generator and are owned by highly-skilled manual laborers. Plans for fleets of robotaxis to replace these vehicles completely overlook their utility as mobile workshops. Ford intimately understands the needs of its customers, which is why it will survive in the long term.
In comparison Mercedes may have already experienced its Titanic moment and be holed below the waterline. Talk of supercomputers-on-wheels distracts from the fact that Mercedes is vulnerable to the competitive onslaught now coming at it on all fronts: Ford, Tesla, Waymo, Xpeng and all other licensees of Nvidia’s automated driving software, and BMW.
You don’t need much vision to see that BMW is reimagining the user experience for the upcoming i4 to encompass natural voice, gesture recognition and eye-gaze control. BMW has played Tesla at its own game and taken the Model 3 and made it better and safer. Tesla’s model lineup is suddenly going to look as dated as a 1970s Datsun in comparison to the i4 and over-the-air updates can’t do anything about that.
Like Ford, BMW will also survive in the long term but Mercedes has become an also-ran and no one will much care about its Nvidia-powered software-defined cars going into production from 2024 onwards. The “three-pointed star” now looks pointless.
Is Elon prepared for the challenge presented by the adults in the room, or has he been planning the ending all along?
Life on Earth must be so very tedious for Elon. He’s set to solve L5 autonomy “very soon” and has stated Tesla will have one million robotaxis on the road this year. “The fleet wakes up with an over the air update; that’s all it takes,” said Elon. Easy, right?
Having just posted its fourth consecutive profitable quarter, Tesla is now eligible for inclusion in the S&P 500. On current trends Tesla’s valuation will soon exceed that of global GDP. For a mere mortal that would be mathematically impossible, but I’m not betting against this guy. Then there’s Hyperloop; Neuralink; and his comprehensive coronavirus expertise.
The conclusion: Elon’s too S3XY for Earth and so bored it hurts. The solution: Life on Mars?
Once any entrepreneur has become one of wealthiest people on Earth, what better way is there to enjoy the riches of success than to decamp to an inhospitable, freezing, planet? Maybe the plans are advanced and he will be leaving on a SpaceX very soon.
Of course, on Mars there will be no one watching as Elon shakes his little tush on the catwalk but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether that is good or bad. I love Elon and would really miss him. Everything he says makes me laugh and that’s what makes him a genius.
— Colin Barnden, principal analyst at Semicast Research, writes a column, Seriously Skeptical, on EE Times.