From 1974 until 2007, I drove a Saab. My last one had 296k on the odometer when it was destroyed in a tennis-ball-sized hail storm. So I know about driving a car from a niche manufacturer—it’s an interesting trip. In 1974, Saab built arguably the most interesting car on the planet—roomy cabin, great driving position, a fold-down rear seat (which allowed me to avoid the dreaded pickup truck even during a major rehab project), good—if not great—mileage, four-wheel disc breaks, great suspension for bad weather and roads, and the big deal—front-wheel drive. In 1974, there were a tiny handful of cars with front-wheel drive and Saab’s was easily the best.
Saabs are still being made by a Chinese company. And of course, they are FAR from the most innovative on the planet. In fact, almost every car maker makes some version of the Saab 99. Most are cheaper. Many are better built—the Toyota Camry, for example. It is quite easy to see a quite similar future for Tesla. Yes, Elon Musk has provided the world an enormous gift when he showed the rest of us how to design and build the very cool electric car. But this is manufacturing and there are others who have been making cars a whole lot longer than Musk and are perfectly capable of reducing Tesla to an interesting historical detail.
Toyota could easily build a line of fine electric cars but so far, their big bet on hybrids has seemed to be paying off. They have also built a fuel-cell car so even their electric experiments have avoided the big battery packs. Volkswagen, on the other hand, bet big on “clean” diesels and have clearly lost that bet. They have a huge market in China which is mandating large fleets of EVs. The latest Geneva Auto Show saw Volkswagen’s thinking on what their EV fleet will look like—and it just sparkled with innovative thinking. It is very possible that we have already seen “peak Tesla”—the era when the company was redefining parts of the transportation infrastructure may already behind us. From now on, Tesla will be trying to survive in a market where their competitors got his message and will now compete on execution—cost, build excellence, customer support, etc.
But right now Musk hopes to keep building the best cars. And as he is finding out, manufacturing is a LOT harder than it looks. Personally, I think Musk belongs on Mount Rushmore for what he has already accomplished. But the truth be told, he is going to find the going a lot harder when folks like VW start selling an electric Microbus.
Tesla’s German Manufacturing Head Axed After ‘Clash’ With Elon Musk
Raphael Orlove, 28 APR 2017
“I definitely did not depart because I had lost interest in working,” Klaus Grohmann, the head of Tesla’s contentious but critical manufacturing arm in Germany, told Reuters. This is what happens when you butt heads with Elon Musk.
Up until this week, Grohmann was the head of Grohmann Automation, the designer of several of Tesla’s critical automated manufacturing systems. It was absorbed into Tesla before becoming a perpetual thorn in the California’s company’s side as its union demanded better wages, threatened to strike and, apparently, Mr. Grohmann got into it with Elon.
The problem is an easy one to understand, though probably not one that should get somebody fired. Reuters lays out the details in its exclusive as best it can:
Tesla planned to keep Grohmann on, and Grohmann wanted to stay, but the clash with Musk over how to treat existing clients resulted in his departure, the source said.
Grohmann disagreed with Musk’s demands to focus management attention on Tesla projects to the detriment of Grohmann Engineering’s legacy clients, which included Tesla’s direct German-based rivals Daimler and BMW, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Reached by phone, Klaus Grohmann declined to comment on the circumstances of his leaving, citing confidentiality clauses.
“I definitely did not depart because I had lost interest in working,” Grohmann said, without elaborating.
So the two sides of the issue are that Tesla wants Grohmann’s engineering work all to itself (Tesla did absorb the company, after all), while Grohmann wanted to continue working for a healthy variety of companies (Tesla is far from the mot stable member of the auto industry). Ultimately bossman Musk got his way, by the looks of things.
This all just reminds me that so, so many companies in the EV world have been formed by people who have been fired by Elon or quit after working with him. Faraday Future and Lucid are the biggest operations run by ex-Tesla people, but they’re working everywhere from startups like battery manufacturer Northvolt to holding jobs in Audi and Apple. But it’d be wrong to take away from all this that Elon is difficult to work with. Maybe he’s just, uh, demanding. more