You’ve got to hand it to Elon Musk. If nothing else, he knows how to put on a show.
The reveal of the Tesla Semi – the company’s first venture in the trucking world – was just brilliant. It could actually shake up that industry more than the Model S did with the automotive world.
Yet if the Tesla Semi was a brilliant showpiece, then what followed was pure genius. As the extravaganza was coming to its logical conclusion, Musk played his second ace card of the evening. The Semi’s trailer doors swung open and the stage went dark, revealing two bright white headlights from inside the truck. Beastie Boys’ Sabotage kicked in over the sound system, and out rolled Tesla’s second-gen Roadster. Simple, but so very effective.
The crowd responded with euphoria, and Musk himself could not contain his delight, feeding off the audience and grinning at the symbolic birth of his new car before those assembled eyes.
And he should be pleased with himself; the Tesla boss might just have pulled off the oldest trick in the book: deflection.
In recent times, the Californian company has had it hard. While most OEMs face challenges, Tesla is struggling to overcome some enormous problems that threaten to drag the organization down.
Forget the Semi and Roadster for a moment; it’s the Model 3 that’s vital to Tesla’s immediate and mid-term future. And with this pivotal product, the company is in manufacturing hell.
Launched in July – also to great pomp and fanfare – the Model 3 was Tesla’s ‘EV for the masses’. By the end of this year, production should have been close to 20,000 units per month. But, in the last quarter, only 260 or so examples of this ‘fate-deciding car’ have rolled out from Tesla’s base. Manufacturing bottlenecks have bogged the company down, to the point that Model 3 production targets have had to be revised.
There have been other issues too. Quality glitches on those rare Model 3 runners, and even on the S.
And then there have been ‘those’ reports of unrest at the company’s production site in Fremont.
All in all, Tesla, which has never returned a yearly profit, has come to a critical juncture. So Musk is going big to fix the problems: spending around US$1bn a quarter, primarily to set up a Model 3 site, quick snap.
But even throwing huge amounts of money at the issue isn’t guaranteed to make these problems go away any time soon. So what Musk needed to do was to get Tesla back in bed with the press, own social media for a few days, appease investors, and most importantly give his company something to rally behind.
And that’s exactly what we got on November 16, as the latest additions to the Tesla family took center stage.
I could be wrong; I might be being overly cynical. And let me say here and now I’m a huge Tesla fan. I just love the way the company is tearing up the auto rulebook. And no doubt the development and subsequent launch of both new vehicles have been planned for some time. But I still sense that there was much more at stake during this particular unveiling than the reaction to these new products.
Here’s the thing: we don’t even know where the Semi and Roadster will be built, and I suspect few do even within Tesla.
But those concerns were not apparent that night, because like everybody else, I couldn’t help but smile as the Roadster emerged from the Semi. No wonder Musk’s grin was so infectious. He’d pulled off a winner, and he knew it. A showman he might be, but a brilliant leader he is first and foremost.