Everyone in the media fawns over Elon Musk, the patron saint of innovation. Everyone? No. I refuse to sing the praises of this overrated CEO. Elon Musk will not save us from any transportation and energy crisis.
Musk is a capable technology entrepreneur as his former success with Paypal proves. But a thought leader worth following? No.
In fact, his grandstanding while reality proves him wrong, places him in one league with US president Donald J. Trump.
Here are the reasons.
1. He over-promises and under-delivers
The most recent and obvious scratch in Musk’s shiny paint job is the huge discrepancy between his promises and his actual results. When Tesla delivered 95% cars less than the 25.000 projected Model 3 cars last quarter, people started to notice the gaping rift. Musk had over-promised and under-delivered in the past but this blunder made it clear for everyone.
2. His ventures thrive on subsidies
That’s not all. Musk moonlights as a rent-seeking crony capitalist. Among his different companies he got supported with 5 billion tax payer dollars up to 2015 in the US. Ventures like Hyperloop and SpaceX seek contracts from the notoriously corrupt public sector. Additionally, buying electric cars is heavily subsidized in most countries. This is all in Elon Musk’s best self-interest. But it is neither beneficial for tax payers, nor is it proper entrepreneurship in a free market.
3. He pushes an inadequate technology
Lithium-Ion batteries are a great technology. In phones, laptops and smartwatches. They also work very well on electric bikes and scooters. But not in cars. Cars are heavy, go fast and go far. Make no mistake: electric drivetrains have many advantages over gasoline motors. But Lithium batteries cannot hold enough electricity to move a car reliably over long ranges at an acceptable price. Still, Musk pretends that this is the technology to bury fossil fuels.
4. His views on AI are crackpot at best
There is no shame in misunderstanding a key technology. But using a position of high public visibility to spout doom and gloom? That is shameful. Elon Musk thinks that we “need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.”
Well, he is wrong.
5. He underestimated engineering
Engineering software products (like Paypal) is relatively easy. If code doesn’t work properly you can tinker with it until it does. Developing prototypes for new technologies and building them in small numbers (like spacecraft) is similar. But building the very machines that build cars at high volumes is a completely different game. This is mechanical engineering where things like supply logistics, wear and tear on tooling, timing, physical distances and much more come into play. And this is where the old carmakers outperform Tesla dramatically.
There you have it. A leader that constantly brags about things he is going to achieve, while his actual accomplishments are quite underwhelming, a corporatist that talks publicly about topics he doesn’t quite understand and who proposes solutions that don’t work well in the real world. Sounds familiar?