Tesla's Elon Musk: A Man Who Knows How To Get Attention

June 16, 2009

Here's what we know about Tesla's Elon Musk: he's an outside-the-box entrepreneur. He's become ludicrously wealthy thanks to PayPal and other pet projects. And he's a top-notch showman. Seriously: a SWAT team full of supermodels could start playing naked Twister at one of his press conferences, and Musk's banter would still be more interesting.

That's partly because Musk is a loose cannon--the auto industry's answer to Joe Biden*. Unlike our vice president, however, Musk occasionally puts that foot in his mouth on purpose. Say what you will about publicity stunts, but the man knows how to work a spotlight.

Given all that, we weren't entirely surprised to hear Musk (speaking at the Wired Business Conference in New York) advocating for $10-per-gallon gasoline. His argument? No one is "paying for the true cost of gasoline at the pump...since nobody's explicitly paying for the CO2 capacity of the oceans and atmospheres, it's getting consumed. We will pay for it down the road, but we are sort of ignoring it for now." Which sounds terrifically green and eco-friendly, but also like part of a pitch. Making it sound even more like a pitch--for, say, a fully electric car--Musk added: "A Prius is not a true hybrid, really.... The current Prius is like, 2 percent electric. It's a gasoline car with slightly better mileage."

That, ladies and gentleman, is one tenacious shill. Either Musk really believes in his Tesla products (and we have every reason to believe that he does), or he's getting a little desperate to move some cars, now that the lawsuits are rolling in.

Musk went on to say some very interesting things about how companies should function (e.g. they should be led by innovators, not bean-counters), and how the auto industry's adversarial management/union system sets the stage for resentment and mistrust, when everyone should really feel like they're part of one big team. However, that's not the sort of stuff that's likely to grab headlines.

On the bright side, Musk's dream of $10-a-gallon gasoline may not come true anytime soon, but Kelley Blue Book has reported that $3-a-gallon is enough to make people think seriously about hybrid and electric vehicles. Maybe that'll make Musk happy for a while.

[CNET]

* Some folks at Stalag TCC have also likened Musk to Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch--you know, the adorable little scamp brought in to save the show, but instead he just put his tiny little foot on the accelerator and steered straight for the cliff--but we thought the comparison was too mean. Not to mention obscure.

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