Elon Musk Totally Botched His Latest Master Plan
Late last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk presented Master Plan, Part Deux, the second half of his vision for both Tesla and electrification at large. In his typical fashion, Musk expounded upon how he accomplished his first set of goals, before explaining why we should care about his projections for the future. The problem is, while the original Master Plan described products that Tesla was actually in the midst of preparing, Part Deux doesn't really say too much.
There are definitely elements of Musk’s blog post that deserve recognition -- and the best bits have nothing to do with cars -- but overall, it reads as if it were designed to provide distraction, rather than direction. Even for a man known as much for his pie-in-the-sky ideas as he is for his brutal efficiency, Musk seems to have finished his latest assignment with the help of some espresso and midnight oil. And when the chief executive hands in an assignment at the last minute, maybe it's finally time to raise an eyebrow.
Call me a skeptic, but I'm still not convinced that the follow-up to Musk's magnum opus is anything but a diversionary tactic.
It was a hollow bait-and-switch for the Tesla faithful
Tesla may not be a car company the size of General Motors or Toyota, but it's unequivocally the most fascinating automotive startup of the 21st century. When Musk announces that he's going to release some new tidbit of information, people listen.
The big news that Musk announced? Tesla is going to focus its efforts on "stunning" solar roofs, self-driving technology, a small SUV and pickup truck, and advancements in -- wait for it -- electric tractor-trailers. Notably absent were specific details for any of it, which does nothing to quell the fears of investors or stoke excitement in fans.
Really, the last thing that Silicon Valley-proud Tesla needs to do is present a lineup that mimics that of a traditional car company -- which it will, if Tesla indeed introduces a small crossover and a pickup truck. Nevertheless, Musk is advocating for a product portfolio that hits precisely what consumers want right now, instead of trying to alter the public's perception as Tesla did with electric vehicles.
The most interesting and unexpected element of Musk's manifesto was that Tesla may enter the sphere of semi-autonomous road trains -- aka tractor-trailers that can drive themselves. Last year, Freightliner -- the trucking giant-slash-sister company to Mercedes, under Daimler-Benz -- showed off Inspiration, a highly advanced self-driving truck. Simply put, Tesla doesn't have unique expertise in the space of Autopilot-like systems to compete.
It's a distraction from the real issues
News trends surrounding Tesla for the past few weeks has been less than positive, to say the least. A weakly tuned Autopilot might be responsible for "driver" error and subsequent injuries or deaths. The Model 3 is late, and getting later. The Gigafactory battery plant still isn't ready. And a government inquiry into Tesla's build quality isn't exactly a sign of confidence, either.
In the midst of all this, Tesla understandably wants to pivot the conversation -- that it started -- away from the benefits of self-driving tech and electric cars, and bring our attention to a new plan for products that might not yet exist. Musk, in announcing the deal with SolarCity and his vision for a Tesla future that needn't necessarily involve or even be reliant upon cars, is merely providing a distraction from the current stream of bad news.
Musk treated the plan like homework -- and botched it
Musk is a busy man who runs several companies and doesn't have the best reputation for timeliness, so expecting a master plan to be on time isn't very realistic. Still, Master Plan, Part Deux was as delayed as a second-semester senior's homework assignment. Musk was expected to reveal his next blog post by July 16th, or as he tweeted, "Working on Top Secret Tesla Masterplan, Part 2. Hoping to publish later this week."
With devotees likely on the edge of their seats (along with the media), the waiting game began. First, Musk tried to manage expectations: "Sunday is the end of the week :)." Two days later, "Bit of a distraction yesterday. Working on plan today."
Finally, in an attempt, perhaps, to convey that he is a man with deadlines, just like everyone else, he basically went back to college-mode:
Will be working at Tesla on Autopilot & Model 3 today, then aiming to pull an all-nighter and complete the master product plan— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 19, 2016
A "master plan" isn't something you throw together at the last second. Pulling an all-nighter is something you do to finish up a term paper, not a visionary manifesto intent on changing the world. Industry commentator Ed Niedermeyer said it best:
Y'all think it's hard waiting for a blog post that's still only 10 minutes overdue? Imagine waiting years for a delayed car launch.— E.W. Niedermeyer (@Tweetermeyer) July 21, 2016
In past blog posts, Musk has been known to ramble. Master Plan, Part Deux is no exception. Ten years from now, if not sooner, we'll see if there's a Master Plan, Part Trois, in which we'll learn that the solar roof project will be funded by Model Y deposits to the tune of $800 million. Knowing Musk, he'll finish it a few moments before pressing "publish," perhaps clutching a Red Bull in the other hand, or whatever kids are drinking by then.
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