Is Elon Musk’s Master Plan Doomed to Fail?

Uber had better hope so

By Evan Bleier

 
Is Elon Musk’s Master Plan Doomed to Fail?
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21 July 2016

After pulling an “all-nighter” while listening to the soundtrack from The Great Gatsby, Elon Musk released his “Master Plan, Part Deux” on Tesla’s website on Wednesday evening.

Musk’s plan — in which he detailed his intentions to merge with SolarCity to create a “smoothly integrated and beautiful solar-roof-with-battery” bus for urban transport as well as a Tesla semi and pickup truck, all with self-driving capabilities —  is bold, forward-thinking … and potentially doomed for failure.

Never one to let the details get in the way of making a splash, Musk wrote that he sees future Tesla models operating autonomously to pick up owners “pretty much anywhere” and letting them “sleep, read or do anything else” while they’re en route to their destination.

While that sounds great, he failed to elaborate on how this would happen without the self-driving cars killing their passengers.

In fact, instead of explaining what Tesla was doing to fix its Autopilot mode (beyond just using it more until the software organically improves), Musk said he wants to double-down on autonomy. His idea? Letting every owner add his or her car to a self-driving “Tesla shared fleet” so it can “generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation,” a little like the driverless AirBnB of automotive transport.

In other words, every Tesla would theoretically not merely drive its owner around but ferry other passengers throughout the day, putting it in direct competition with Uber and other taxi services.

“This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla,” Musk wrote. “Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.”

Then again, if everyone owns a Tesla where are these passengers going to come from?

Musk's pronouncements are always bold, but the response from analysts was notably luke-warm this time around. The company, which is already having problems meeting production numbers, has lost money every year since 2004 and currently has a cumulative net loss of $2.3 billion. Its stock, which some expected would get a boost with Musk’s, has been falling ever since the master plan reveal.  

While some analysts sugar-coated criticism with phrases like “he might be spreading himself too thin,” Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs pulled no punches while speaking the LA Times.

“As is typical, Elon Musk has laid out a grandiose plan for the future with no time frames and few specifics, and no mention of how and when Tesla will be profitable,” she said.

Given Musk’s stance on sustainability, we genuinely hope Tesla succeeds and he can deliver. But last time we checked, there was a car crash at the end of Gatsby and it was downhill from there.

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