Elon Musk biographer Ashlee Vance has for Bloomberg composed an interesting roundup of the travails currently facing the Tesla/SpaceX CEO as he attempts to rapidly ramp up electric-car production and send humans to Mars and merge Tesla with Solar City.
It’s titled “Elon Musk’s Wild Ride,” and it’s worth a look.
Vance has taken a deep dive into all things Musk and properly assessed one of the CEO’s major problems as getting Tesla’s act together in time to meet an ambitious target of 500,000 annual vehicle deliveries by 2018.
But he also argues that, “Tesla faces its most severe PR crisis since the Roadster days.” (The Roadster was Tesla first vehicle, and it arrived when the carmaker was threatened with bankruptcy during the financial crisis.)
Here’s Vance’s take:
[Tesla] has been the prime promoter of autopilot technology and receives a huge wave of negative press every time one of its cars is involved in an accident. Musk has responded to the accidents with loads of statistics that justify the technology rather than hearty helpings of empathy. This is off-putting to the many, many people who do not appreciate Silicon Valley’s algorithmic worldview.
So does Musk have an empathy gap?
In my interactions with him, I’d say no. He does favour a technologist’s approach to many things, and he likes nothing more to wander down intriguing speculative paths when given the opportunity by questioners who just want to to know if Tesla is going to be able to meet this or that benchmark.
But he also believes strongly that humanity needs scientific advancement to survive, hence his push to colonize Mars.
And he thinks that the death toll due to automobile accident on US roads alone — approximately 35,000 a year — is intolerable. That’s why he’s doubling down on Autopilot and defending it in technological terms.
Perhaps the empathy he expresses publicly is abstract (I don’t doubt that a father of six — one of his children died tragically as an infant — lacks the capacity to express empathy privately). But just because it’s a broad empathy, that doesn’t mean it isn’t as valid as the more up-close-and-personal type.
In any case, dealing with the challenges of building cars and blasting rocket into space has, I think, made Musk a bit more aware of the hurly burly of real life than the average Silicon Valley software upstart. His empathy might not be the usual kind, but it’s there.
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