Is Elon Musk the Next Steve Jobs?

The new Tesla Store in Oak Brook, Ill.

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?

The chassis of the "S" model

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22 thoughts on “Is Elon Musk the Next Steve Jobs?

  1. Tom Belville

    I passed a gorgous black tesla a couple months ago in Columbus, Ohio. I had to slow up and watch it pass then pull up to pass him so I could take another look then he decided to show me what it is made of and that was the last look I got. What an intriging vehicle! Wish I could afford one though maybe I could by it like I bought my Audi TT, 9 years old.


  2. Robert Mac

    You better get Obama off the coal industry’s back if you expect these to sell in quantity. Coal is what powers these cars. In addition, they are 30% efficient when you calculate the energy cost of digging the coal, transporting it to the coal power plant and sending the electricity to your power outlet with inherent curent losses along the way.

  3. Rick

    @ Robert Mac
    Coal is not the only form of energy creation.

    I would buy a car if i had the money. I live 15min from work and I don’t do much commuting other than that. I love the idea of not paying for gas all the time.

  4. Jim

    Interesting question, I personally don’t believe the green carbon footprint of a Tesla is green at all, and the only thing green that I can see with a Tesla is the amount it extracts from ones wallet! I am thinking to buy a more green car than the Tesla, a new Ford Mustang with about 650 horsepower. This is funner more economically friendly when you see the devastation battery mining and disposal creates versus proven technology we already have, so I am thinking about 5-7 years and battery technology will be better and actually will be green if you will and affordable, meanwhile, will be having a hoot driving in the meantime!

  5. Joe C

    If they can actually get the price range down in the $30k range, I would definitely buy one. I looked into his cars when he started with the the fully electric sports car. At $30k it is less than I spent on my truck that I haul anything and everything. It would be nice to have a family car that does not suck the fun out of the family.
    The problem will be people do not want to accept change very well. The technologies are coming quickly for vast improvements in electric cars as well as home electric conversion kits to transfer solar or wind to usuable, sustainable resource for home users. This is the type of technology and thought process the United States needs to get us on top of the world again. Time for the next industrial revolution and progression.
    Let’s step up on the platform and make the big changes.

  6. Daniel Richter

    I would never use any gas. I only fill my tank once every other week as it is, so the price would have to come down a lot and every Prius driver I see is a sad puppy dog eyed liberal and I would hate to lumped into that group. Seriously, have you ever noticed that anyone with those eyes is a liberal – my wife didn’t believe me until she staryed paying attention to it.

  7. Joe Dvorak

    Hey Peter D., Does your cave have insulation? Winter is coming. Tesla was founded in 2003 with it’s first roadster burning up the streets in 2006. The first electric car hit the road in 1892. That’s a long time to be called a fad.

  8. Steve Horn

    I see the current trend in the “Green Energy” market and “Green Cars” as going down in flames. It seems that the Europeans are coming to the reality of life very quickly about “Green Energy” now that they are running out of credit. The same will probably be true for Tesla motor. A better question would be if these $5000 depositors ever take ownership before they go broke. Can you spell Solendra?

  9. Gary Slack

    Lloyd, Tesla has intrigued me for some time and, as a frequent early adopter of much of what is new and revolutionary, I plan to stop by their store (brilliant move… not just to get in front of more people but to avoid the car dealer feel) and place my order before the end of the year. If at least some of us don’t buy now so Tesla and others can genererate the cash flow to do it even better the second time around, who will?

  10. Scott

    Its a cool toy with cool technology and if I could afford one I would buy it. However I am doubtful that full-electric vehicles will become more than playthings for the rich or super “green” if you can call them that.

    It’s been proven that old SUVs from the 90’s are greener than a Prius as the energy it takes to build a Prius is equal to building a gas guzzling SUV and driving it for 20 years. Its just the Prius’ carbon footprint is created upfront before the end user takes delivery of it as well as after it exhausts its usable life and is disposed of. It’s nice that the owner doesn’t have to feel guilty about it though. They think they’re saving the planet while saving money on fuel, which is what the Prius’ gimmick is.

    I still feel our future resides on filling our tanks with some form of combustible liquid, not necessarily gas but perhaps biodiesel or Ethanol derived from algae fermentation farms or something like that.
    and pairing that with some of our current advanced emission control systems fitted to current diesels and gasoline engines.

  11. Ted Roberts

    I drive a Prius and I’m no “sad puppy dog eyed liberal “. To me it is unamerican to drive a gas sucking vehicla if its not needed to perform a work task (and how many carpenters need a V8 and 4 wheel drive to get to the job site?).
    Anyway, I think electric cars will take over as soon as battery technology leaps ahead.
    The design freedom on an electric car is amazing and the cost of entry to get into the auto business will drop like a rock. Not to mention the green advantages.

  12. dan k

    Never….on the electric car, second the pipe dream comment.
    Unless they stop selling diesel or gas of course.
    I’ve been driving VW diesels for 25+ years, and they get around 50MPG with far fewer creature comforts or luxury, but you can’t have it both ways.
    And now the feds have passed strict regs on all (new) diesel powered cars that make them unduly complicated and costly to produce.
    You can’t win with the EPA and Feds.

  13. Peter @ Polygon Solutions

    My Chevy Uplander can use E85 Flexfuel. I was intrigued by the option when we got it, however, there aren’t any E85 stations here in southwest Florida yet. That said, I hope the infrastructure to support these new technologies will be able to support it. If we’re really focused on saving energy, I think paying attention to re-building the grid is a much more worthy cause.

  14. Larry A

    We were driving a 16MPG Minivan for years. The wife was driving about 500 miles per week doing kid and business stuff. It was costing us $5-600/mo for gas. We bought a Prius at $450/mo and now spend less than $200/mo on gas including the occasional trip we make with the Minivan. The savings in gas nearly makes the payments on the Prius, but the payments on the Prius will end someday…about the time we get to 100,000 miles on it. We’ll hope to get another 50-80,000 miles out of it before retiring it. For us, it was a simple math problem. The Prius will save us over the long haul. When gas goes up over $5/gal, we’ll be saving more. It’s just a matter of time before gas goes to $6-7/gal or more. I can’t imagine how SUV owners will cope when that time comes. The only reason gas prices are holding below $4 is because of global economic conditions. Once the economy gets back on track, gas prices WILL GO UP.

  15. Eric

    I would buy a turbine-electric or diesel-electric if someone out there made one. It would have a similar drive train that locomotives have been using for decades. I don’t like the Hybrid technology that requires heavy expensive glorified laptop batteries that destroy the environment in their own special way under the guise of being green. Until then I’ll drive my Corvette that gets 26mpg and 436hp. Best of both worlds.

  16. RichardS

    Early adopters usually get burned, but maybe not in this case. My car runs on gas as do most of the vehicular traffic on the road today. Unless someone figures out how to segregate and tax the power in your house used for car plug-ins at 25-50% or more, all electric cars are all politically doomed from the start. Why? Predictable and widespread use of gasoline and gasoline related products are the economic backbone of state, federal and local tax gas revenues. Shifting transportation to the grid amounts to fiscal suicide unless you can make up those taxes.

  17. @ConcentricCNC

    I give Musk credit for dreaming big but so far he has only proven adept at acquiring government subsidies. When he produces affordable goods that people want, need, and desire without government subsidy; then we can start talking about the Jobs comparison.

  18. Lloyd Graff

    I received an email about Musk that the writer sent to me personally but requested that I not publish. He said that he had been in the Tesla shop and felt they were disorganized and amateurish. From what I have seen in Palo Alto I would agree, but Musk has ideas and money and buzz and now the Numi factory in Fremont. He has access to Toyota and Mercedes. He can buy the manufacturing skills. But this is definitely something to watch.
    Apple uses Foxcomm in China to build many of its products while Musk will make his cars in San Francisco . This is a great opportunity for him but could also be his downfall.

  19. Kelly Hagberg

    RichardS has it right on the head. Once our fat cat government sees a opportunity to fleece Joe tax payer they will. That is the one thing you can count on. Our government will never sacrifice its glutenous bureaucracy for Joe tax payer.


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