For those of us who have followed Musk’s antics for some time, the latest twist in his bid for Twitter is entirely in character. The way he managed and marketed his businesses from Tesla’s early days reveals a dysfunction behind the automaker’s veneer of techno futurism and past stock market successes, Edward Niedermeyer wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times.
Photo Insert: A younger Elon Musk
Often announcing new features without consultation with his team, Musk forces his employees to bridge the enormous gap between technological reality and his dreams. This disconnect fosters a negligent and sometimes cruel workplace, to disastrous effect.
In 2016, Musk promised that newly-made Teslas would be able to drive themselves with nothing more than a future software update that Tesla owners could buy in advance for thousands of dollars. The cars still cannot drive themselves without humans and Tesla buyers never got the promised updates.
But every year since then, he has repeated different versions of this claim. His ability to repeatedly sell such science-fiction fantasies to a credulous public is the foundation for a vast empire and fortune.
Tesla’s manufacturing engineers were aghast when, also in 2016, Musk publicly committed to developing a fully automated factory that required no human workers.
Tesla built two assembly lines that attempted to automate tasks requiring levels of dexterity and flexibility that modern robotics is still far from attaining. He ultimately gave up and cobbled together a manual-labor-intensive production line in an open-air tent.
Yet, many still believe Musk’s cult of personality like glassy-eyed zealots of Donald Trump. Niedermeyer knows whereof he speaks, having authored “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors” and interviewed more than 100 former Tesla employees who survived Musk.
Musk took this as a new opportunity to build his legend, and he reported that he had slept in Tesla’s factories during this period, which he called “production hell.” What he left out of his self-aggrandizing was the reality for his employees.
His presence brought no real manufacturing expertise to bear, just the overbearing pressure of a boss whose public shaming was punctuated by declarations like “I can be on my own private island with naked supermodels, drinking mai tais — but I’m not.”