Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - In Defence Of Elon Musk -

our days af­ter Elon Musk recorded an episode of a co­me­dian’s pod­cast dur­ing which he was filmed tak­ing a puff on a joint, two men stood on the floor of the Tesla fac­tory in Fre­mont, Cal­i­for­nia, ex­am­in­ing a piece of alu­minium. It was as yet un­painted and trape­zoidal and would soon be­come the hood of a Tesla Model 3, the car com­pany’s most re­cent re­lease and the source (like most of Tesla’s pre­vi­ous re­leases) of great ex­cite­ment, de­ri­sion, hype, and mis­un­der­stand­ing. The men wore gloves and safety gog­gles, and they took turns run­ning their hands around the edges of the alu­minium, again and again, slowly, like a lock picker feel­ing for a click. You couldn’t hear what they were say­ing to each other over the fac­tory din, but one was try­ing to show some­thing to the other, and fi­nally they both nod­ded. They fin­ished their brief con­fer­ence, pointed to a stack of iden­ti­cal stamped bon­nets next to them, and hur­ried back to their sta­tions on the line.

In the weeks be­fore, Musk had tweeted that he was think­ing of maybe tak­ing Tesla pri­vate, prompt­ing an SEC in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ru­mours that he was on drugs, and a 31 per cent drop in the stock price. He gave a tear­ful in­ter­view to The New York Times about be­ing over­worked, and weath­ered a so­cial me­dia storm in­sti­gated by a friend of his girl­friend’s, who sug­gested that he was un­hinged. And yet here was his 464 000-square-me­tre car fac­tory, in which mas­sive dies stamped bon­net af­ter bon­net af­ter bon­net. Ro­bot arms welded doors on to bod­ies in sec­onds – some of the ro­bots were as tall as the palm trees out­side, but they moved so swiftly and busily that they looked like squir­rels scam­per­ing around build­ing a nest.

Guys pow­ered through foil-wrapped tacos from the on-site taco truck, fin­ish­ing their breaks, be­fore jump­ing back on the fork­lifts. Hy­draulic Schuler lifts raised half-built Model S sedans way up high, so close to the rafters you winced, on their way to the next sta­tion on the line. A wo­man pressed floor pan­els into Model Xs neat and tight, faster than your eyes could fol­low her hands.

It was, in other words, a mun­dane Tues­day morn­ing at 11:15 there on Fre­mont Boule­vard, in the fac­tory that used to churn out cars for GM and Toy­ota un­til that stopped and Tesla bought it, re­hired many of its pre­vi­ous work­ers, ap­plied tankards of crisp white and red paint ev­ery­where, and be­gan mak­ing elec­tric cars. I asked one of the em­ploy­ees about all the Musk stuff go­ing on. She smiled and shrugged. It was an off-topic ques­tion, a me­dia ques­tion. It was not a ques­tion about the busi­ness of this place. Have there been pro­duc­tion is­sues? Yes, there have. That’s one thing Elon Musk didn’t in­vent. It hap­pens, es­pe­cially when you’re

in­vent­ing some­thing. So what are they do­ing about it? They are trou­bleshoot­ing. A ro­bot hits a snag, a bot­tle­neck hap­pens – they trou­bleshoot, un­til the trou­ble stops.

There is a sales of­fice at the fac­tory where you can buy a car. Out front is a small lot stocked with cars. I had driven the Model 3, but not the new Per­for­mance model, with the dual elec­tric mo­tors. I took one out, up and down the boule­vard, on a stretch of the 880 free­way, to the drive-through at In-n-out. I ac­cel­er­ated so quickly I made my stom­ach fly, like when a roller coaster drops straight down. It was fan­tas­tic.

The car was built in­side the fac­tory. That may seem an un­re­mark­able state­ment. Ob­vi­ous. It might do noth­ing to sa­ti­ate Tesla’s in­vestors, who aren’t wrong to be con­cerned about the tweet­ing and the joint puff­ing. Or that he seems par­tic­u­larly er­ratic lately. Musk him­self prob­a­bly prompted the lat­est round of Tesla naysay­ing by promis­ing spe­cific pro­duc­tion goals. But that’s what the guy does, and it’s not about pump­ing up the stock price for this quar­ter. Musk, de­sirous of ev­ery­thing at the same time, says: We’re go­ing to do this im­pos­si­ble thing. And then some­times he does it – he and the thou­sands of peo­ple work­ing for him, us­ing the en­gi­neer­ing ac­com­plish­ments and the in­ven­tions of gen­er­a­tions of thinkers who came be­fore them. And when they do it, when Musk’s prom­ises come true, like Dean Mo­ri­arty he burns like a fab­u­lous yel­low Ro­man can­dle ex­plod­ing across the stars and in the mid­dle you see the blue cen­tre light pop and every­body goes ‘Awww,’ while the rest of us just sham­ble on af­ter him.

And when he doesn’t do it – when the em­ploy­ees of Tesla or Spacex set out to do some task he said they could do, but they make only 4 000 cars a week in­stead of 5 000, or the mas­sive rocket doesn’t quite land on the tiny barge in the mid­dle of the sea – Elon Musk can say the one thing no one else can:

I tried. – Ryan D’agostino

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