Elon Musk is hailed as a “genius” by some.
And he is – but not in the way they mean it.
Like Henry Ford, Musk took something he didn’t invent that was essentially a curiosity and recast it in a different way. The difference being that when Henry Ford simplified the car by standardizing parts and mass producing them on an assembly line – as opposed to hand-building them, one at a time, as had been prior practice – the result was a much less expensive and far more practical car that almost anyone could afford to buy.
The early electric cars were simpler as well as more practical than non-electric cars; this was a big part of their initial appeal, 100 years ago, when they were (briefly) competitive with early non-electric cars. You didn’t have to hand-crank the engine and risk breaking your wrist – because of course there was no engine. Instead, an electric motor connected to the drive wheels and an array of lead-acid batteries. The car turned off – and on – and off you went.
You didn’t go very far, of course – and you had to wait (as now) for the thing to recover its charge. As the non-electric car became less fussy – and especially once the electric starter motor was invented and eliminated having to hand-crank the engine – it became the car of choice for most people because it made the most sense for most people. It cost less and went farther. It was not tethered to anything. It could be owned by a farmer whose house lacked electricity, for instance.
The electric car reverted to being what the non-electric car had been, at the beginning: A curiosity rather than a conveyance. It remained that for the next roughly 80 years because the electric cars that were made after Henry Ford made his Model T were fundamentally the same as all the electric cars that had been made before. Some of them even looked like modern takes on the Model T, in that they were very basic vehicles – a flimsy box on top of a chassis and the main amenity being an On-Off switch. Most lacked even the “luxury” of a heater (which in an electric car saps power from the batteries, further reducing the already limited range of the vehicle).
Forget AC and other powered options.
Why buy such a car when you could buy a non-electric car that not only came standard with a heater but much else besides – including the freedom that came with being able to drive it for hundreds of miles without having to stop, which made it easy to go wherever you wanted whenever you liked?
Musk’s “genius” was to recast the electric car as a high-performance, luxurious car – with all the amenities people expect in any car and the acceleration capability that very few non-electric cars could match. This made the electric car appealing – but not because it was affordable, practical or efficient. In fact, the recast electric car was the antitheses of all of those things. In order to be quick it needed a massive battery pack, which made it both extremely expensive and extremely heavy – which made it inefficient.
But it was attractive – in the same way a very attractive woman is to most men – including those who cannot afford her.
What Musk did was to rebrand the electric car as something sexy and “new” – even though the electric car concept is older than any Model T. But he made it seem new – and very sexy – by making it very quick and very sleek, with all the very latest in the way of gadgetry. All of which served to distract from its unaffordability, impracticality and inefficiency.
Musk grasped that people love to look at what they can’t afford and which makes little sense. A good example of this being the old TeeVee show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Also the general obsession with rich and (sometimes) attractive celebrities – few of which most of those gawking at and reading about will ever date.
Enter Elon’s real genius.
Unlike Henry Ford, who appealed to the marketplace, Elon Musk appealed to the government. Not merely to subsidize what he was otherwise unable to sell but – far more fundamental – to promote the sell. That is wasn’t merely an indulgence to purchase (or subsidize) an electric car.
It was a kind of moral necessity.
In order to forestall what is now styled – oilily – “climate change.” Oilily because it is obviously all-encompassing and so cannot be “denied.” It gets warmer – then it gets colder. The “climate” has “changed.” Much harder to explain the con to the average scientifically illiterate and fear-addled peasant than the “global warming” which preceded “climate change.” If it didn’t get as “warm” as the computer modeled hysterics claimed it would, it was easy to “deny” what they claimed – by observing that it hadn’t.
But when every “change” is taken – is touted – as a pathological event?
Then you suddenly have a “market” for electric cars. A justification for the subsidies and the mandates. For the outlawing – via ever-stricter regulations – of the affordable, practical efficient alternatives to electric cars.
This is the nature of Elon’s “genius” – as contrasted with that of Henry Ford.
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