The Tesla-Volkswagen Bromance Should Be a Model for the Electric Car Industry

While other automakers fight, CEOs Elon Musk and Herbert Diess show a better way forward

Tesla CEO Elon Musk (left) with Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess in Berlin in 2019
Tesla CEO Elon Musk (left) with VW Group CEO Herbert Diess in Berlin in 2019.
Jörg Carstensen/dpa/AFP via Getty

Tesla was originally a David and Goliath story, with the fledgling electric vehicle maker facing down the seemingly insurmountable, gasoline-powered automotive industry. Now that Elon Musk’s company is the most valuable carmaker in the world, in terms of market capitalization, and other brands are eyeing a transition to zero-emissions vehicles, the roles have been reversed. Today, everyone is trying to build a “Tesla killer.” 

At least, that kind of antagonistic competition has been the hallmark of the EV race so far. But one automotive bigwig is offering an alternative. 

On October 14, Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess was speaking to 200 of his company’s executives in Alpbach, Austria in an attempt to reinvigorate their commitment to electrification, as reported by Reuters. To help his cause, Diess brought in a special motivational speaker by video call: VW competitor Elon Musk.

On Saturday, Diess posted about the event on Twitter, acknowledging Musk’s presence and adding “we will visit you soon in Grünheide,” a reference to Tesla’s German factory that is nearing completion. 

So why did Diess invite Musk in the first place? Volkswagen is taking the transition to electric vehicles very seriously, so it would seem Tesla is a main rival, especially as the company encroaches on VW’s home country.

As Reuters writes, a post on Diess’s LinkedIn page explains that “he had brought in Musk as a ‘surprise guest’ to drive home the point that VW needs faster decisions and less bureaucracy for what he called the biggest transformation in VW’s history.”

This isn’t the first time Diess and Musk have shown what friendly competition in the EV space looks like. All the way back in 2019, Musk tweeted his support of Diess, writing that “[he] is doing more than any big carmaker to go electric.” In 2020, Diess met with Musk in private to, at least in part, get his opinion on VW’s ID.3. Then when Diess first joined Twitter back in January, his first post was a jab at the Tesla boss, which read like an affectionate elbow nudge compared to the gauntlet throwdowns we normally see. After last week’s event, it appears we have a solid automotive bromance on our hands. 

Part of this unlikely friendship stems from the fact that Diess and Musk have similar visions about the future of the car industry; for one, both are pro-electrification and anti-hydrogen fuel cells. With that in mind, this could be seen as a simple case of a rising tide lifting all boats, but it’s more than that. 

It’s become abundantly clear that the transportation sector has huge problems ahead: from building zero-emissions vehicles to figuring out EV charging to making batteries more efficient and eco-friendly. If the CEOs leading these developments are on friendly terms, even if they are technically still competing, we’re going to solve these problems much faster than if they’re weighed down by enmity. 

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