Tesla Lost the Minute Musk Tweeted

I have been watching with curiosity the battle of words between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the NYTimes. On balance I think Musk miscalculated and has come out on the losing side of the bigger issue he is confronting… complexity.

As I drive around I see a surprising number of the Tesla Model S sedans and with each sighting I find myself saying “I should get one of those”. I am at heart a gear head, I love cars and motorcycles, and for me factors like fuel mileage and cost of ownership are outweighed by g-forces and smiles per mile. I would rather go zero-to-sixty in 3.9 seconds than get 36 miles per gallon and when I walk out my door in the morning I want to look forward getting into my car. The Tesla offers performance and a really compelling aesthetic… the fact that it is an EV is secondary.

When I looked at the Tesla site I was inspired by the experience and the fact that the model that offers maximum range and performance is considerably more than $50k wasn’t a deal breaker. Installing the charging infrastructure in my house is non-trivial, but the cost is manageable as a result of recent renovations that upgraded our electrical system. I could make this work.

In the end what dissuaded me what the NYTimes article and Musk’s response. On one hand Musk demonstrated the scrappy action-oriented demeanor that I find inspiring about him, but more significantly he confirmed a key weakness in the EV paradigm, complexity.

The core problem that EVs face is that they will always be measured against the utility and convenience of internal combustion technologies. I really don’t want to have to condition the battery, plan my route and destinations to accommodate charging requirements, sit around for a hour while my EV fills up, and think about what accessories I use (e.g. heater, wipers, lights) in the context of how far I can drive.

Tesla and other EV manufacturers could end up with very lucrative niche products, and a much larger opportunity around industrial markets, but I simply don’t see how EVs can ever be mainstream.