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Elon Musk Has an Ominous Warning For Tech Companies Making Electric Cars

Image of Elon Musk via Reuters, screengrab via Elon Musk/Twitter.

Image of Elon Musk via Reuters, screengrab via Elon Musk/Twitter.

Elon Musk had an advantage - he was the first one in line. What Musk has managed to do on a commercial scale, do big tech companies with the same kind of backing have a chance?

Elon Musk is the Tesla CEO and SpaceX boss, but other than being one of the richest people in the world and owning two companies, he’s also a bit of an eccentric genius. Musk sent a car to space, and Musk wants humans to colonize the moon. Musk believes in the rise of cryptocurrencies (even meme ones like Dogecoin) and occasionally tweets anime-girl memes. Musk doesn’t adhere to the same kind of principles most billionaires or ‘philanthropic ideals they hold - but Musk’s ideas have always stood out, for being revolutionary. Musk’s Tesla company has become synonymous with when we think about an electric car - with the brand becoming bigger than the product or concept, but the question remains, can other companies replicate the success Musk has?

Musk had an advantage - he was the first one in line. (If we don’t count South Korea’s professor who made a self-driving car a decade before Elon Musk even founded Tesla). What Musk has managed to do on a commercial scale, do big tech companies with the same kind of backing have a chance?

In December 2020, Apple Inc is moving forward with self-driving car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own breakthrough battery technology, sources confirmed. The iPhone maker’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have proceeded unevenly since 2014 when it first started to design its own vehicle from scratch. At one point, Apple drew back the effort to focus on software and reassessed its goals.

In April 2021, Xiaomi, the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, announced it will set up a new business aimed at making electric cars. The firm is expected to make its debut in the Chinese market, and in a regulatory filing shared with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the tech firm said it will invest USD 10 billion in the business over the next 10 years with an initial investment of USD 1.52 billion. The Xiaomi electric car business will be led by the firm’s CEO, Lei Jun.

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In April, LG too announced, it would focus on growth areas such as electric vehicle components, connected devices and smart homes, moving away from its loss-making mobile division.

Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei is January 2020, while making a big push towards the 5G industry, also reportedly mentioned planning to assist in building self-driving cars. “If Tesla can do it now, we can all do it," a report quoting rotating Huawei chairman Xu Zhijun said.

Sony, too in January 2020, threw a curveball at the tech and automotive industries by unveiling the Vision-S prototype, an EV concept.

But do they have a long way to go? Musk on Twitter responded to a user’s comment about tech companies making electric cars, saying making a prototype is easy, but production is hard.

Elon Musk has pioneered electric cars with Tesla, but it wasn’t always as hyped. In an old video of Musk from 2008, he is heard discussing electric vehicles in 2008, as Tesla was nearly out of cash - and explaining why they are the future.

“There’s an important point about Tesla," explains Musk in the video, “that whenever somebody buys a Tesla Roadster, (which then cost 100,000$) sports car, every penny that Tesla makes, goes into the development of a smaller lower-cost vehicle." He adds how there’s no dividend ever, and “My salary is minimum wage." He even jokes about how, “I’m a volunteer, basically."

But the real highlight of the video is his vision, back almost 13 years ago about EVS, “What’s the point of expensive cars for rich people? The point is, when you have new technology, it takes time to optimize that technology." He then uses a more common example to explain it, “If you think back to the early days of laptops or cell phones or anything new, it’s expensive in the early days. The first job you have with new technology is that you have to make it work. The critical point is you can’t get to the low-cost cars unless you start with the expensive ones."

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first published:May 03, 2021, 13:50 IST