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The Emperor Has No Clothes: Elon Musk Has Become One of the EV Industry’s Biggest Obstacles

Unchecked power in the hands of a volatile man rarely ends well.

Published May 13, 2024

A Tesla Supercharging station stands empty. Image credit: Joe Hendrickson via iStockPhoto

Just to get it out of the way: Elon Musk has got to go. The man who almost single-handedly made the EV industry has since become one of its biggest obstacles.

Like every other EV industry watcher, I was horrified to learn that Rebecca Tinucci and her Charging Infrastructure Department were let go without concern for the impact on Tesla’s customers, employees, or contractual obligations to its partners. Plenty has been said about this, and I doubt I can add much to the discussion. But that’s not the story I want to tell.

What seems to be missing from the discussion among EV industry watchers is why Elon’s behavior matters. The events that culminated in Tinucci’s firing are simply the catalyst.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

The 19th-century English historian Lord Acton wrote the famous line, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This quote leaped to my mind while discussing Elon’s gutting of Tesla’s Charging Infrastructure Department with a like-minded friend. This friend had said something along the lines of, “Elon is an impulsive imbecile,” in part reacting to the news that Tinucci was fired because she was unwilling to cull her talented staff.

But Elon is not an impulsive imbecile. Elon is impulsive, no doubt. Dangerously arrogant and self-serving, Elon will gleefully tell those that pay his bills to go fuck themselves, openly acknowledging that X could simply wither due to lack of advertising without him caring in the slightest. Walter Issacson, Elon’s biographer, summarized it succinctly:

[Elon’s] father’s impact on his psyche would linger. He developed into a tough yet vulnerable man-child, prone to abrupt Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings, with an exceedingly high tolerance for risk, a craving for drama, an epic sense of mission, and a maniacal intensity that was callous and at times destructive.

Impulsive? To a fault. But an imbecile? No way.

Elon Musk has been hailed as a savant, and there is little wonder why. SpaceX has revolutionized aerospace. Tesla single-handedly made EVs not only cool but also a normal part of transportation. In addition, Elon owns X, The Boring Company, and Neuralink, co-founded OpenAI, and the list of his achievements only grows from there. Any of these accomplishments would be the hallmark of a brilliant visionary. It is not hyperbole to say that all of these accomplishments combined are singular in human history.

These successes have made Elon Musk among the world’s richest men and given him unprecedented access to levels of power. More troubling is that Elon has surrounded himself by flatterers for so long that he now believes everything he thinks.

My thesis is that no one should have as much unchecked power as Elon Musk does. You know, because Lord Acton. But far graver is that the immense unchecked power is in the hands of a brilliant yet mercurial man who craves drama, is callous, and sometimes even destructive.

Elon’s Board of Directors (BOD) is the only entity that can check his power. Yet it would appear that Tesla’s BOD is set to cave on his tantrum for another $56B. The Board should forget the $56B and show Elon the door. Unfortunately, the BOD are some of the enabling flatterers in this story. It’s too bad, because things are likely to get worse for Tesla.

Die the Hero, or Live Long Enough to Become the Villain

It was Road & Track’s 2023 brutal takedown of the Model S Plaid in its Performance EV of The Year review that compared Elon to the Dark Knight, but I would take it a step further. Elon has become the bully of his own story — the kind of bully he seems to be still running from. In said review, Road & Track made the case that the Model S was the most important car of the century before devolving into a terrifying caricature of Elon.

If Elon’s penchant for dangerous drama was limited to Tesla or his other companies, this would be the end of the story. But it isn’t. Just a few weeks ago, I noted that the industry transition from CCS to J3400 should be rejoiced by everyone. I also noted that the plug itself wasn’t the reason the J3400 (or the NACS) was so successful, but rather the team behind the plug.

That team is now gone.

No one said the industry transition to a single plug would be easy, but major roadblocks should not be self-inflicted by the petulance of one man-child. And we need to stop pretending that we can’t see through the sham to the very real issues hidden just beneath.

Read more about: Tesla | EV Industry | EV Manufacturers

By: John Higham

John has been driving electric for 12 years. He served on the Electric Vehicle Association Board of Directors for three years. His first EV was a Miata, converted in his garage. Since then, he has owned seven other EVs. John recently retired from aerospace after 32 years of building spacecraft. In retirement, he looks forward to working to accelerate the adoption of electric mobility.

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