Is Elon Musk, the head of Tesla Motors, the Steve Jobs of cars? Is his all-electric line of autos going to revolutionize the industry? Can one man with a vision and charisma redefine an aged, redundant, bureaucratic mammoth business with creativity and the leverage of ideas?
Noah, my son-in-law Scott, and I decided to seek some answers at the brand new Tesla store in the Oak Brook shopping center just west of Chicago. Yes, store, as in Apple Store, or Brookstone, or Victoria’s Secret, which are its neighbors. The store manager Seneca Giese explained that Tesla used to be located in a conventional showroom in downtown Chicago but got no street traffic. In the upscale Oak Brook Mall they get a tremendous number of lookers who meet the upscale demographic of a Tesla buyer.
The store had the Beta version of the five passenger “S” model, which is priced like a BMW 535 sedan, over the past weekend, but it had been dispatched to its next destination (Washington DC) on a flatbed 10 minutes before we arrived. Young Mr. Giese was extremely knowledgeable and patient with us. Since he has no cars to sell at the mall his job is to educate potential buyers about the sedan, the company and its concept. What he can sell is a refundable $5,000 reservation for a car that will be built in the spring of 2013. He says they sold five such reservations on Monday, a testament to the buzz Musk has built and the growing attraction of gasless driving.
The electric fever is definitely building. Bob Lutz, the former GM mogul responsible for pushing the Chevy Volt through the General Motors bean counter mentality, recently appeared on the Charlie Rose Show with Elon Musk. He said the Volt would not have been built if Musk’s success hadn’t given the idea credibility. With Nissan’s Leaf joining the fray at the same time, the electric car is reaching the first stage of critical mass.
Musk sold a piece of the company to Toyota and Mercedes to get cash, credibility and collaboration. It gave him the leverage to go public with Tesla earlier this year and the wherewithal to buy the 5,000,000 square foot Numi factory in the Bay area, in which he could produce 500,000 cars in a year. Tesla’s technology will be in next year’s electric Toyota RAV4 SUV being produced in Canada.
The pieces are coming together. The Tesla small car, similar in size to the 3 series BMW, will be built in 2015 if things go as planned. It will be priced in the $30,000 range.
I find Elon Musk a compelling leader, a Steve Jobs-like master of business who clearly is following the Jobs game plan. Personally, I’m undecided about buying a reservation, but I am leaning toward the purchase because by 2013 my 2003 Toyota Avalon will be deserving of replacement. I think the hype about Tesla is deserved. Musk is the kind of visionary that makes America unique. Call me nuts, but I believe Tesla is where Apple was when the iPod hit the market.
Question: When will you buy an electric car?