Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors Hardcover – August 20, 2019
by Edward Niedermeyer (Author)
Tesla is the most exciting car company in a generation . . . but can it live up to the hype?
Tesla Motors and CEO Elon Musk have become household names, shaking up the staid auto industry by creating a set of innovative electric vehicles that have wowed the marketplace and defied conventional wisdom. The company’s market valuation now rivals that of long-established automakers, and, to many industry observers, Tesla is defining the future of the industry.
But behind the hype, Tesla has some serious deficiencies that raise questions about its sky-high valuation, and even its ultimate survival.
Tesla’s commitment to innovation has led it to reject the careful, zero-defects approach of other car manufacturers, even as it struggles to mass-produce cars reliably, and with minimal defects. While most car manufacturers struggle with the razor-thin margins of mid-priced sedans, Tesla’s strategy requires that the Model 3 finally bring it to profitability, even as the high-priced Roadster and Model S both lost money. And Tesla’s approach of continually focusing on the future, even as commitments and deadlines are repeatedly missed, may ultimately test the patience of all but its most devoted fans.
In Ludicrous, journalist and auto industry analyst Edward Niedermeyer lays bare the disconnect between the popular perception of Tesla and the day-to-day realities of the company—and the cars it produces. Blending original reporting and never-before-published insider accounts with savvy industry analysis, Niedermeyer tells the story of Tesla as it’s never been told before—with clear eyes, objectivity and insight.
In 2015 I decided on a whim to check out Tesla’s battery swap station that was earning the company 9 figures in California ZEV credits, and found it wasn’t real. Instead Tesla was using diesel generators to charge cars. Here’s how this changed my life
Up to that point I had been skeptical that any startup automaker could succeed. That view wasn’t about Tesla, it was about the car biz. But what I found at Harris Ranch was shocking, a cockroach, and I decided to follow a life-changing instinct: THERE IS NEVER JUST ONE COCKROACH.
Journalists are like investors, but instead of money they bet their time and effort. What I saw at the battery swap station was so at odds with the image of Tesla in 2015, I knew there was a good chance investing in scrutiny of Tesla would pay off. It did.
A year later I found another big cockroach: Tesla was hiding defects by requiring customers sign NDAs in exchange for free repairs. This cut off the auto safety regulator’s only independent source of information about defects. This led to a couple of important lessons…
First: MUSK’S KEY SKILL IS CONTROLLING INFORMATION. It’s not just crafting appealing narratives about himself and his companies, but also silencing anything that contradicts them. Tesla’s entire history is lined with NDAs, backed by sheer terror of what Musk will do when cornered
That terror comes from another lesson: MUSK DOESN’T REFUTE, HE ATTACKS. I learned this after the NDA story, when an official Tesla blog post accused me of fabricating the reporting and doing so for financial gain. Zero evidence was offered to support this attack on my credibility
What happened next taught another lesson: MUSK FANS DON’T CARE ABOUT FACTS. I was mobbed by online attacks that could not be dissuaded or mitigated by facts. My claims had evidence and his didn’t, yet hardly anyone knows my reporting and his 2016 lies are still repeated today.
My book made some key claims that have proven true: Tesla can’t make affordable cars, Tesla can’t make its “Full Self-Driving” work, Autopilot has real safety issues, Tesla is fundamentally weak on manufacturing, and more. Here’s the hardest lesson: NONE OF THAT HAS MATTERED.
As I realized this, and as I realized that Musk and Tesla were on a trajectory toward increasingly implausible and fraudulent claims (which massively enriched Musk), I realized: TESLA IS NOT AN AUTOMOTIVE STORY, IT IS A CELEBRITY STORY. Faith in Musk personally was what mattered
Along my journey I have heard a lot of rumors, evidence of big cockroaches, that I chose not to hunt down because I wanted to cover the automotive/mobility tech story, not Musk’s personal life. But his personal life, who he really is, is what actually matters here.
If Tesla printed cash like Amazon or Facebook, Musk’s character and personality wouldn’t matter. But Tesla has always been financially precarious and dependent on valuations based on Musk’s dream weaving: saving the planet, self-driving cars, Mars colonies, etc
In short: TESLA IS A CONFIDENCE GAME. Confidence in one man and the image he so ruthlessly controls is what holds it all together. Understanding why Musk’s dreams are bullshit is hard (learning about manufacturing and AI is cool though!), but anyone can grasp a person’s character
Like all human behavior, journalism has crowd dynamics. Every cockroach killed motivates other cockroach hunters to mount up, but celebrity journalism takes this to a new level. EVERY CELEBRITY STORY IS THE SAME: FIRST THEY ARE BUILT UP, AND THEN THEY ARE TORN DOWN
If celebrity journalists smell Musk’s blood in the water and start a feeding frenzy, they will find more cockroaches. Why? Because Musk’s history makes one lesson undeniable: HE DOES NOT BELIEVE THE RULES APPLY TO HIM. That is the core belief of every abuser.
That is ultimately why my view has evolved from mere skepticism about Tesla as a business to a belief that Elon Musk demands firm justice: his impunity and ability to meme reality to his will is making his behavior worse all the time. HIS TRAJECTORY IS UNSUSTAINABLE.
Even more importantly: his abusive behavior, his impunity and the unfathomable wealth they have generated for him create incentives for everyone else to mimic his behavior. Even if you think Musk deserves special treatment, do you want a society where everyone acts like him?
To wrap up: HAPPY HUNTING CELEBRITY JOURNALISTS! This is the moment for you to prove that what you do is as important to society as any business or political journalism. Musk’s personal life is a cockroach-rich environment, and your stories will have impact that mine never did.
I still think my reporting is important. Understanding cars, the car business, manufacturing, AI, autonomous driving tech and the other issues I cover in my book are critical to a better future. I hope more people choose to start learning about them now.