Tesla Motors Acquires RadioShack Brand

In a shock to both Wall St. and fans of its popular electric cars, Tesla Motors has acquired the RadioShack brand. Tesla CEO Elon Musk called the move a “nod to nostalgia” and said he liked the fact that the acquisition cost him only $20 million.

“I think a lot of people cried when RadioShack went under,” said the charismatic CEO who inspired the Marvel Comics character Tony Stark. “As a kid, I was at RadioShack all the time, purchasing parts for engineering projects,” said Musk. “I’m embarrassed to say that I was always a sucker for their battery pitch, buying double As left and right. I couldn’t help but think: Surely we can do better. I knew I had to build a better battery.”

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Musk criticized the charge capacity of the old batteries of his childhood as being weak. “Even after alkalines emerged, they were still junk and ended up in a landfill after only about 30 minutes of powering my cool RC helicopter,” he told reporters at Wednesday’s press conference at Tesla headquarters in Fremont, California.

Musk says he plans to leverage RadioShack’s reputation for selling anything and everything that runs on batteries. “I’m also going to add a buttload of drones to the catalog,” he said. “I think the stores will be perfect for selling our electric scooter, which will be released in 2027. Ooops.”

Some analysts are praising the move on the part of Tesla, citing how the company’s new Gigafactory outside of Reno will be able to provide better, cheaper batteries for American consumers. “Just think, you’re a household name and every damn thing you sell in the store requires a battery. He’s a friggin’ genius,” said Baird analyst Ben Call, adding, “I’m inviting Musk to my son’s birthday party, even though I know he probably won’t come.”

Tesla stock shot up 47 percent in early morning trading.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:3d1

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his auto-related articles on CarNewsCafe, check out his Apple-themed articles on Apple Daily Report, and read his AV-related articles at rAVe Publications. You can also view his photos on Flickr.

 

 

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Consumer Tech is the New Religion

I’m certainly not the first to declare it, but consumer technology is the new religion of the 21st century. With all due respect to your spiritual faith (or lack thereof), middle class consumers are quickly becoming technology zealots. Daily, we worship at the altar of social media and mobile devices.

Our prayers for the blessings of bigger displays, expanded storage, and thinner designs are picked up by wi-fi and Bluetooth as they’re synced with Heaven—up in the iCloud. We speak in tongues, hoping that our new car’s GPS system features voice recognition. If we lose our way, our guardian angels, Siri and Cortana, reveal the path to enlightenment.

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We ask for forgiveness for having neglected our children by spending too much time on Facebook or posting a nasty comment on Tumblr. We pray that we’ll be blessed with better lighting for our next Instagram photo of an especially good tuna sandwich, or maybe a stranger’s puppy.

Our churches are Apple’s iTunes, Google’s Play, and Amazon’s Prime media streaming and download services, including their holy app stores. To discourage dissenters from leaving the flock, our Bibles are often unreadable at a different church. Netflix and Pandora are two major exceptions, translating their scripture into every language under the sun.

There seem to be more religious wars within modern consumer tech than there are within religion itself. Richard Dawkins and Rick Warren have nothing on Larry Page and Tim Cook. What began as the “PC vs. Mac” platform war in the 1980s, punctuated by Betamax versus VHS, has evolved into Xbox versus Playstation, Android versus iOS, and Tesla Motors versus Toyota. Samsung, Sony, Google, Microsoft, and Apple take shots at each other on a regular basis. It’s Hatfield against McCoy—only this time they’re armed with touchscreen tablets and password-protected internet routers.

Sometimes these religious wars are monotheistic, like Apple’s closed ecosystem that offers both hardware and software from a single vendor. Other companies ask us to worship many gods, like the availability of Microsoft’s Windows and Google’s Android from a number of hardware manufacturers. Often, the battles are less proprietary and more philosophical, such as hydrogen-powered cars versus battery electric vehicles (kind of like Greek Mythology).

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Some in the academic community agree. In 2010, ABC News reported that Heidi Campbell, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, co-wrote a paper “exploring the religious myths and metaphors surrounding Apple.” “[The company] could offer a religious-like experience. It could basically perform the same role in people’s lives that being part of a religious community could,” she wrote.

The vitriol and defensiveness in many factions of these religious schisms can become shockingly brazen and abusive, as if someone took the Lord’s name in vain—or peed in your Cheerios. The utterance of “Apple sucks” or “electric cars are stupid” is bad enough; the response is typically worse. Members of the choir routinely compete for “Most likely to have not graduated middle school.”

But we’ve considered only the religions themselves, not the priests at the pulpit. PC versus Mac, was, of course, Bill Gates versus Steve Jobs. Electric cars versus the established Luddites of Detroit is obviously Elon Musk versus…well, the established Luddites of Detroit (this one is a true David and Goliath metaphor). In terms of building their congregations, it could even be argued that Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg are running competing megachurches.

“Steve Jobs, one of the most powerful people of our day, has offered a secular ‘gospel’ to our culture,” wrote evangelical Christian author Sean McDowell when Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO for health reasons in 2011. Even Christianity Today in January of 2011, in an article entitled “The Gospel of Steve Jobs,” wrote, “The Apple CEO was able to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope.”

“The Apple CEO was able to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope.”

The adoration bestowed upon the top executives of modern technology companies is like that of Southern Baptist parishioners during the rapture. We worship at the feet of charismatic pontiffs like Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg, and Richard Branson. They’re our silicon saviors, and the only thing that shakes our faith in them is a dead battery or too many casserole recipes in our newsfeed.

android-fanboy

When it comes to mobile gadgets and streaming media, some of us even worship two gods—like a household with one Catholic and one Jewish parent that recognizes both Christmas and Hanukkah. These odd and overly open-minded people may sport both an iPhone from Apple and a Nexus 7 tablet from Google. Maybe they have a Galaxy S5 smartphone and an iPad. Hasn’t anyone told them that this is, basically, against the rules?

In the end, the best digital dogma is the one that suits your lifestyle, budget, and personal beliefs. Or the one with the coolest logo. But it’s your money going into the offering plate; worship with the company or platform of your choice.

And what about the sinners? You know, the gluttonous people at the airport who hog two outlets to recharge their devices, or the rude fanboys who leave flippantly disparaging comments on your carefully articulated posts? Well, there’s a special place in hell for them. A place where there’s a complete lack of extended warranties and app updates, where the only stores are Circuit City and RadioShack, and where they’re given only a PalmPilot PDA and a CalicoVision game console.

For eternity.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his auto-related articles on CarNewsCafe, check out his Apple-themed articles on Apple Daily Report, and read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications. You can also view his photos on Flickr.

What is a Luddite?

It’s difficult for me to write about a controversial topic like electric vehicles, cord cutting, or renewable energy without using the term “Luddite.” Recently, my wife’s cousin commented on one of my blog posts regarding Blu-ray players: “I am a real Luddite…I have to read directions to play a DVD…so, what is a Blu-ray?”

I explained that she isn’t a Luddite, but merely ignorant of the topic (a neophyte, if you will—although this label implies she’s already embraced the new system). I realized that, if I’m going to be throwing this somewhat misunderstood historical term around like a drunk college kid hitting on people at a frat party, I might want to provide a bit of definition and clarity.

According to Wikipedia, “The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-replacing machinery from 1811 to 1817. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace the artisans with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. Although the origin of the name Luddite is uncertain, a popular theory is that the movement was named after Ned Ludd, a youth who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779, and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers.”

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We’re living in a period in which the introduction of disruptive technology is faster and more pervasive than at any time in the history of the world. We used to call it paradigm shift. Now we love the term “disruption.” Whatever the label du jour, it’s a way of describing the merciless onslaught of myriad digital technologies, social media networks, next-gen transportation models, and brilliant biotech breakthroughs.

And then there’s the old guard. The folks who profit from and control the outdated legacy tech used by millions or billions of people; the corporate status quo and their political allies. They don’t easily release their grasp on our lives—or our wallets. Plain and simple, Luddites are protectionists. They’re the mob heavy standing on the corner who sneers, “Beat it, kid. This is our block.”

I’m sure the entrenched, wealthy powers that controlled horses and buggies were freaked out by the first automobiles. It’s clearly evident that television intimidated the hell out of film makers and cinema owners in the 1950s (it explains the plethora of experimental aspect ratio introductions to differentiate cinema from TV’s 4:3 format). Heck, I wouldn’t doubt if whiskey companies were a bit alarmed by the invention of the hypodermic needle prior to the civil war—fast-acting morphine being the disruptor.

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Luddites are everywhere. Ebook authors Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler write about the desperate and short-sighted efforts of those in the legacy publishing industry. Automobile industry Luddites have grabbed headlines recently for their successful campaigns to halt test drives and sales of electric cars in Iowa and Michigan. Cable companies like Time Warner and Cox are acting like Luddites in their attempts to keep you from cutting the cord and using only streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. And, of course, the very Ludditist Koch Brothers and Big Oil will do their best to prevent folks from obtaining new tech like electric cars and power from sustainable sources like solar, wind, and nuclear energy. Despite superior (and affordable) alternatives, fracking continues unabated.

Bloggers and writers, both professional and amateur alike, need to focus on how easily their communications are understood, not necessarily impressing readers with big words. But in a time of severe disruption and technological advancement—and the displacement of entrenched old-school corporate and political players—terms like “Luddite” are more necessary than ever.

Stay vigilant, dear readers. Don’t let the Luddites destroy the new digital looms.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Iowa DOT Engages Regarding Tesla

As part of my ongoing beratement of the seemingly clueless bureaucrats and politicians in Iowa involved in the cancellation of part of the September test drives conducted by Tesla Motors, I recently emailed Paul Steier, the Director of Iowa’s Bureau of Investigation & Identity Protection, part of the state’s Department of Transportation.

Below is my email thread with the Iowa DOT (I apologize for the length of this post, but I wanted to include each volley out of respect to the Iowa DOT, Paul Steier, and Mark Lowe).


Dear Mr. Steier:

Because you’re mentioned in the following blog post, Tesla Bigot: IADA’s Bruce Anderson, I wanted to share it with you. Although I don’t mention you in other blog posts regarding the issue of the legitimacy and legality of Tesla test drives and sales in Iowa and Michigan, you may be interested.

This issue isn’t going to simply disappear. Consumers deserve options and Tesla deserves to sell in the state of Iowa (and offer test drives). Allowing foreign companies like Toyota, Kia, and Range Rover to conduct test drives and sales, but not a company like Tesla that employs 6,000 hard working Americans, is really short-sighted. Citing existing laws is endorsing stupidity. You folks are establishing a legacy for yourselves—and future generations won’t view it in a positive light.

Regards,

Curt Robbins


In response, I received the following email from Mark Lowe, Director of the Motor Vehicle Division at the Iowa Dept. of Transportation [I apologize for the lack of paragraph breaks]:

Dear Mr. Robbins,

Paul Steier, Director of our Bureau of Investigation & Identity Protection, shared with me your recent blog regarding cancellation of the Tesla sales event in Iowa.  Although you have every right to debate the merits of Iowa’s motor vehicle sales and dealership laws, I feel compelled to defend Mr. Steier against your suggestion that he lacks intelligence or ethics.  Mr. Steier is a highly intelligent, ethical person who provides valuable service to Iowa citizens every day by helping to model s and solar panelsprotect them against identity, vehicle, and other consumer frauds.  In this instance, Mr. Steier was interpreting Iowa law exactly as it was and is currently written — Chapter 322 explicitly prohibits engaging in the business of selling vehicles without a dealer’s license, and section 322.2(7) of the Iowa Code defines being “engaged in the business” as “doing any of the following acts for the purpose of the sale of motor vehicles at retail: acquiring, selling, exchanging, holding, offering, displaying, brokering, accepting on consignment, conducting a retail auction, or acting as an agent for the purpose of doing any of those acts.”  In this instance, Tesla was clearly engaged in the business of selling motor vehicles  — in addition to displaying vehicles by offering test drives for the purpose of inducing sales, Tesla representatives were encouraging and helping customers to complete actual sales transactions.  In addition, section 322.2(14) specifically prohibits a manufacturer from acting as a dealer in Iowa.  When contacted during the event, neither the Tesla representatives at the event nor Tesla’s counsel disagreed that Tesla was engaged in the business of selling motor vehicles without a required dealer’s license in contravention of Iowa law.  The provisions of Chapter 322 that prohibit engaging in the business of selling motor vehicles without a dealer’s license are mandatory and may not be waived by the Iowa Department of Transportation, and Mr. Steier is obligated to explain and enforce the law as it is currently written.  Thank you.

Mark Lowe
Director, Motor Vehicle Division
Iowa Dept. of Transportation


Unlike Iowa Senator Matt McCoy and Rep. Peter Cownie, Mr. Lowe has actively engaged me in constructive dialog regarding the cancellation of the September test drives conducted by Tesla Motors.

Below is my response to Mr. Lowe:

Dear Mr. Lowe,

I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my email to Mr. Steier and my blog post regarding the cancellation of Tesla’s test drives in West Des Moines in September.

Apparently it is Iowa’s antiquated laws that are hurting consumers and unfairly penalizing Tesla Motors, not Mr. Steier’s actions. However, I respectfully argue the issue of whether Tesla was “selling” vehicles at the test drive event. If Iowa’s law is so backward and poorly phrased that it illogically defines “displaying” as sales, then I suppose you have me—and thousands of Iowa citizens who desire to learn more about Tesla’s vehicles—on a technicality.

Thus, I’ll cease picking on Mr. Steier and instead pester you and Governor Branstad. When will Iowa’s leadership do the right thing for its citizens, economy, and environment and change its archaic laws, allowing tax-paying voters to do something as simple as test drive a 21st century all-electric vehicle?

Regards,

Curt Robbins


In response, Mr. Lowe sent the following:

mark lowe iowa DOTI think there are several things to consider. One is that the purpose of displaying an auto is of course to encourage and facilitate its sale, but beyond that, and probably more importantly, the law has tried to protect consumers by helping them know who they are dealing with and where to seek recourse should something go wrong, either with the mechanics and operation of the vehicle itself or the clear title to the vehicle.  Vehicles, particularly in a rural state like Iowa with fewer public transportation options, are a major investment for most citizens and a key to personal and professional mobility — obtaining a vehicle that is not fit for operation of that cannot be registered can be a major disruption personal and professional disruption for most people [sic].  Much of what is in Chapter 322 is designed to protect citizens against someone blowing into town, unloading mechanically unfit vehicles and/or vehicles that cannot be titled clearly, and then vanishing into the night.  This is not to suggest that Tesla was doing that, but only to say that broadly defining sales, requiring persons selling vehicles to have a license and requiring them to declare their places of operation has helped protect consumers from unscrupulous sellers. (Consider, for a moment, the prospect that someone wholly unassociated with Tesla could obtain a hotel conference room, display a Tesla vehicle from the hotel room and offer test drives to perspective customers, and then induce down payments for orders never go be delivered on [sic]. These are the kinds of activity our dealer laws have long sought to protect people from.)

None of this is to say that laws long in place cannot be reviewed to determine whether they are keeping pace with current markets and means of doing business, but is only to say that there are important consumer protection issues that should not be overlooked in the review.

Best regards,

Mark Lowe
Director, Motor Vehicle Division
Iowa Dept. of Transportation


My response:

Dear Mr. Lowe:

I appreciate your quick response and attention to this issue. I agree wholeheartedly that consumer protection is of paramount concern. You and every one of the appointed or elected officials with any influence whatsoever over issues concerned consumers in the state of Iowa should take this issue seriously. I’m glad to see that you do.

I agree that Iowa—and every state in the U.S.—should have laws that, as you state, “protect citizens against someone blowing into town, unloading mechanically unfit vehicles and/or vehicles that cannot be titled clearly, and then vanishing into the night.” Bravo (none of my trademark cheeky cynicism implied). This is exactly what government and persons such as yourself and Peter Steier should be working to achieve and maintain.

However, your next statement reads, “This is not to suggest that Tesla was doing that, but only to say that broadly defining sales, requiring persons selling vehicles to have a license and requiring them to declare their places of operation has helped protect consumers from unscrupulous sellers.” I would agree. But do you, Mr. Steier, or anyone else at the DOT perceive Tesla Motors to be an “unscrupulous seller”? This award-winning and revered company has sold tens of thousands of its vehicles around the world. From what I’ve learned in my research, most of Tesla’s customers are not only satisfied, but many are evangelists or zealots.

However, I take issue with your statement that, during the test drives, “Tesla was clearly engaged in the business of selling [my emphasis] motor vehicles.” I noted your opening volley: “…your recent blog regarding cancellation of the Tesla sales event [my emphasis] in Iowa.” You label the test drives a “sales event.” But no vehicles were sold. Not only that, but Tesla didn’t attempt to sell vehicles. I recognize, understand, and respect your role and duty in protecting the consumers of Iowa, Mr. Lowe (such protection is part of what makes America one of the greatest nations on earth). Truly.

But to label Tesla’s West Des Moines test drives a “sales event” flies in the face of logic and reality. Simply because Iowa’s old school laws define such an event as “sales” doesn’t necessarily make it so. Why would one of the world’s most innovative and intelligent companies purposefully sell vehicles in violation of Iowa’s laws? Should we suppose that Tesla employs no corporate attorneys or never consults them prior to promotional activities in conservative states like Iowa?

Closing on a positive note: Thank you for your engagement on this issue. Bruce Anderson, president of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association, as well as Senator Matt McCoy and Rep. Peter Cownie, haven’t responded to my numerous attempts to engage them in a constructive dialog regarding the rationale behind the cancellation of the September Model S test drives. I understand Mr. Anderson’s refusal to respond: He’s the hired gun of Iowa’s auto dealers and clearly a special interest. I’m disappointed, however, that Senator McCoy and Rep. Cownie remain silent (although I understand that, as a citizen of Ohio, I am owed nothing by them). Mr. Anderson owes nothing to the people of Iowa. Senator McCoy and Rep. Cownie, however, are beholden to their constituents and the voters who elected them to office.

Regards,

Curt Robbins


Bravo. Really.

It seems Mr. Lowe is the only one with the integrity to actually engage me in a dialog to, hopefully, push Iowa’s laws into the 21st century and better serve its citizens. While the protection of Iowa’s consumers is critical, the penalization of those same consumers (who might desire to test drive or purchase an electric vehicle) is both harmful and highly ironic.

I applaud Mr. Lowe for taking the time from his day to engage with me and describe the rationale behind the decisions of Paul Steier and the Iowa DOT.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a constructive dialog that will eventually result in the revision of consumer protection laws in the state of Iowa and the advancement of the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Are you paying attention, Michigan?

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

EV Enemies: Michigan Luddites

I’ve written at length about Tesla Motors and its ongoing fight with several state governments and automobile dealer associations for the right to sell and simply test drive its vehicles. Unfortunately, a bill that would prohibit Tesla from selling its svelte all-electric cars in the state of Michigan has passed. It is currently sitting on Governor Rick Snyder’s desk, awaiting his signature to become law.

Tesla on October 16 published a blog post, A Raw Deal in Michigan, in response to this pending legislation. While model s and solar panelsattention needs to be focused on soliciting Gov. Snyder for his veto of the bill, preventing HB5606 from becoming law, it’s also critical for electric vehicle fans, environmentalists, and progressive thinking consumers to focus on the source of this legislation: The Michigan Automobile Dealers Association (MADA).

Today’s blog post is my email letter to MADA’s president, Randy Wise, its Executive Vice President, Terry Burns, and Summer Kniss, the group’s Communications Director. If you’re concerned about climate change, true open market capitalism, or simply a fan of electric cars, I encourage you to contact Michigan Governor Snyder (his Twitter addy is @onetoughnerd) and urge him to act in a pro-consumer (pro-voter!), logical manner.

But don’t stop there: MADA and other state automobile associations (like the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association and its president Bruce Anderson) are working to block Tesla and impede fair competition and consumer rights across the country. Let them know that crony capitalism and playing the role of the Luddite is anti-consumer and anti-American—and will eventually put them out of business.

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Curt Robbins

[10/23 update: On 10/21, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law Michigan’s HB5606, which outlaws the direct sales model of Tesla and other electric car manufacturers.]


Dear Ms. Kniss, Mr. Burns, and Mr. Wise:

Governor Rick Snyder is garnering the attention of electric car proponents in the state of Michigan—and nationwide—who are attempting to persuade him to not sign HB5606 into law. While Gov. Snyder is the current focus, the genesis of this anti-consumer and unfair bill was your organization, the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association.

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Randy Wise, MADA president (2014)

Social media is allowing consumers to learn of such crony capitalism in real time and to counter strike with more force than even lobbying groups and your organization can muster. In the end, government serves the people—not corporations or non-profit associations like yours. Citizens (and voters) are learning about and craving all-electric personal transportation that delivers to them a cleaner environment and less expensive fuel and maintenance.

I understand, and even theoretically support, an organization like MADA that represents auto dealers to serve their best interests. However, it’s sad, unfair, and pathetic that your group must penalize consumers to accomplish its overly self-serving, anti-consumer goals.

Dealerships across America are intimidated by Tesla Motors. They may cite how they don’t like the direct-to-consumer sales model of this innovative company, but their true fear is Tesla’s vehicles themselves. They’re disruptive and, arguably, a paradigm shift. Your members sell products based on a 155-year-old technology (internal combustion). They’re loud, expensive to fuel, relatively slow, and contribute to climate change. Meanwhile, Tesla’s vehicles are the opposite. And your members don’t have anything to compete.

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to their personal transportation options. Efforts of groups like yours and the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association (headed by another legacy Luddite, Bruce Anderson)—while they may cause temporary setbacks for companies like Tesla and headaches for progressive-minded consumers—will not stop the electric car movement. Nor will they stop Tesla Motors.

You and your members are desperate. Instead of competing fairly with Tesla and similar 21st century companies, you and your affiliate dealerships want to call on political friends to outlaw them! Your members know that their products can’t compete with those from Tesla.

Maybe the service you should be providing to your members is recommending that their source manufacturers, like Ford, GM, and Toyota, hire forward-thinking engineers as CEOs instead of MBAs, accountants, and lawyers. Because without better vision and strategy, you—and your members—are destined for the dinosaur graveyard (along with those 12 MPG Hummers no longer for sale).

Regards,

Curt Robbins
Technical Writer / Author
https://middleclasstech.wordpress.com
Stow, Ohio


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Tesla Test Drives: Responding to Bob

My blog post entitled Tesla Bigot: IADA’s Bruce Anderson from October 4 is gaining a bit of traction and has actually garnished some feedback (always exciting for new bloggers like myself). Below is a comment received from this post and my response.model s and solar panels

I also sent a Tweet to Anderson (@IADA_Bruce), the president of the Iowa Auto Dealers Association, asking him for a public dialog allowing us to debate the validity of his successful effort to cancel Tesla’s test drives in early September. In addition, I copied Senator Matt McCoy (@mccoyforsenate) and Rep. Peter Cownie (@petercownie) in an attempt to involve these Iowa politicians in the dialog.

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Curt Robbins


bob
Submitted on 2014/10/06 at 5:59 pm

So according to this decisions all expo, conference & trade shows should now follow this decisions and not be allowed. Be careful what you wish for.

curtrobbins
Submitted on 2014/10/06 at 6:05 pm | In reply to bob.

Hi Bob,

I’m confused. Can you elaborate? I honestly don’t understand exactly what you’re getting at. I enjoy—and seek out—an intelligent and honest dialog regarding any consumer tech topic. But can you clarify your comment?

In terms of being careful about what I wish for: I wish simply that a disruptive, game-changing company like Tesla would be permitted to at least demonstrate its technology first-hand. It’s sad enough that this company can’t actually sell in the state of Iowa due to…I know, I’ve said it so many times before…antiquated laws from a bygone era. Those laws served 1950s-80s America really well. But no more. (Technical clarification: Anyone, in any state, can purchase Tesla’s vehicles from its website.)

tesla model s replacement for blogPlease note that I’m not suggesting Buick, Ford, or Hyundai be prohibited from conducting test drives. I believe healthy, fair competition is what has made America great. But to prohibit an American company as promising as Tesla from simply demonstrating its product to prospective customers is really Neanderthal thinking. I want the voters of Iowa—and any state in this great union—to be able to test drive, purchase, sell, and service vehicles involving a wide variety of technologies from a multitude of companies.

Politicians like to cite patriotism. Ok. How patriotic is to allow Toyota (Japanese), Kia (Korean), and Range Rover (Indian) to conduct test drives on American soil, while prohibiting Silicon Valley-based Tesla from not only selling cars, but even test driving them? Tesla employs 6,000 hard-working Americans, and is expanding rapidly. I’m not suggesting Tesla deserves any special treatment. However, for American politicians to state that they are pro-American companies and pro-economic growth and then oppose—at any level: municipal, state, or federal—an American company embracing these very principles is, well, both illogical and hypocritical. Not to mention short-sighted.

I wouldn’t vote for them. Would you?

Now, back to your point of me being careful what I wish for. I wish that every one of my fellow Americans could understand, test, and have the ability to purchase any reasonably safe personal transportation vehicle on the market. Especially if it comes from an American company. No sane politician would disagree with me so far.

I’ll do my best to help people understand electric car technology and their product options (that’s what I do for a living). But if consumers know what they want and can’t even get it, how well are any of us serving them?


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Tesla Bigot: IADA’s Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson, president of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association (IADA), recently forced the shutdown of a planned day of Model S test drives being offered by Tesla Motors in Des Moines. I’ve written before about Tesla and how auto dealerships—and their political allies—oppose the all-electric car manufacturer’s direct-to-consumer sales model.

But what car dealers, dealership trade groups, and self-serving Luddites like Anderson really oppose isn’t a particular sales model or how Tesla works with its customers. Rather, they fear fair competition. Compared to Tesla’s next-gen vehicles, their products suck. And they know it.

IADA Bruce Anderson - RESIZEAs reported in the Des Moines Register on September 25, “The Iowa Department of Transportation asked Tesla to stop its West Des Moines test drives after being alerted to the event by the [IADA].” One local resident, who had scheduled a test drive on the final day that was cancelled, lamented, “I hope they get [the laws] changed, because it’s just ridiculous.” Of course, are any of us really surprised that Iowa’s car dealers—in the form of Anderson—went crying to mommy because of a little competition?

And the logic behind the shutdown? In Iowa, “state law requires auto dealers to be licensed, and by offering test drives, Tesla was acting as a dealer,” wrote the Register. And who drew this conclusion? Paul Steier, Director of the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection. More proof of the lack of intelligence and spirit of fair play in both government and old boy networks like car dealer associations.

To add insult to injury, Iowa lawmakers have little interest in changing the archaic laws currently prohibiting Tesla from conducting something as simple as a test drive of one of its efficient, zero emission cars. The blatant kowtowing of Iowa politicians to big business flies in the face of the desires of Iowa consumers.

Iowa Senator Matt McCoy, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is, ironically, a fan of Tesla’s cars, having test driven a Model S (in another state, natch) and publicly stated that he plans to purchase the less-expensive Model 3 after its release in 2017. However, McCoy is about as clueless and lacking in foresight as Anderson. “I have mixed feelings about it because I really like the car and I really like what the car stands for,” he said. “But in Iowa, we tend to respect our system and the way it was set up, and I don’t see any appetite to change that.”

Apparently McCoy’s “mixed feelings” are caused by his affinity for the Model S paired with his desire for corporate campaign contributions. By the Senator’s logic, his state would never have evolved beyond horse and buggy, because the Iowa Buggy Dealers Association would have called on its political friends and bureaucratic allies to block sales of the Model T—rationalized by antiquated laws passed before automobiles even came into existence.

Even West Des Moines State Rep. Peter Cownie, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, is in on the game. “You can’t have two sets of rules. That would create an unfair playing field for the small business owners and small car dealers,” he said. By Cownie’s logic, don’t the outdated laws preventing Tesla from offering simple test drives unfairly limit it from doing business and marketing itself in the state of Iowa? Tesla is, after all, a “small business” compared to Ford, Toyota, and GM (each of which, individually, produces more vehicles per day than Tesla has since its inception in 2003).

More important, aren’t these politicians, who were elected to serve their constituents, unfairly limiting the car buying options of those who voted them into office (many of whom have proven they wish to test drive and purchase all-electric cars, like those offered by Tesla)?

According to Anderson (a former attorney), auto dealership licensing “is a matter of consumer protection.” “You can’t just set up in a hotel parking lot and sell cars,” he said. Anderson denies targeting Tesla, saying “it’s not a Tesla issue. This is a regulated industry.” Meaning that it’s not only Anderson and dealerships that are the problem, but also state and federal politicians and bureaucrats. Do Anderson and the dealerships he represents really consider denying residents of their state the opportunity to test drive—let alone purchase—an all-electric vehicle to be “protecting” them?

model s and solar panelsCar dealers nationwide have been freaking out over Tesla’s entry into the crowded auto market. And for good reason. Tesla makes and sells sexy cars that are nearly silent, fast as a Porsche, and do zero damage to the local environment. But what really begins to sway consumers: Tesla’s all-electric vehicles are far cheaper to operate and maintain than their gas-guzzling siblings from Detroit and Tokyo. In comparison, the products from every other automaker—with the exception of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf—are more expensive to operate, damaging to human health, and contribute to climate change. (You can’t commit a Hollywood-style suicide in a Tesla with an open window in a closed garage.)

Because Tesla’s models are currently too expensive for the average joe, call the recent dealership shenanigans a pre-emptive strike. But pre-emptive or not, dealerships, their political allies, and shortsighted dopes like Anderson and his cronies are pulling out all the stops in their desperate efforts to stop Tesla in its tracks. Fortunately, Iowans can purchase Tesla vehicles online—like the rest of the country (helpful for residents of Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia, where sales of Tesla vehicles are either banned or restricted).

If you think auto dealers are panicking now, wait until Tesla introduces its much-anticipated Model 3 in about three years. Slated to start at roughly $35K, the “everyman’s Tesla” will bring the fight between old-school car dealers and Tesla’s superior alternative to a head. Both dealership owners and auto manufacturers will be frantically spinning their 1988 Rolodexes to reach out to any politician owing them a favor.

But fear not, tree huggers and lovers of future-tech. Tesla will probably get the last laugh. Legacy Luddites like Anderson, Steier, Cownie, and McCoy are a dying breed. Their protectionist attitudes and policies, sustained at the expense of their fellow state citizens, will soon lie in the dinosaur boneyard, just like those 12 mile-per-gallon Hummers that are no longer for sale.

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Curt Robbins

[Also see my response to blog post commenter “bob” and my original Time for Tesla post. If you agree with any of the above, send Bruce Anderson a Tweet at @IADA_Bruce and let him know your feelings.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Electric Car Adoption: Not Why You Think

In the past, I’ve written about both the lack of innovation in the auto industry and Tesla Motors. Researching Tesla revealed many things. The physical, technical, and practical advantages of electric versus internal combustion cars are plentiful and amazing.

Yes, I’m convinced that the transition to fully electric cars is indeed inevitable. But it won’t happen for the reasons most people think—and it has nothing to do with helping the environment, running out of oil, or making the world a better place. While those are valid arguments that are well-and-good for the media and proponents of such voltage-based transport tech, they will have little to do with the inevitable success of all-electric personal transportation in the United States.

nissan leaf for linkedinMuscle cars are among the least efficient, loudest, and most smog-producing vehicles on the road. Despite this, they remain the most popular and revered of all cars ever made. I’d kill for a 1963 C2 Corvette or a 1967 Camaro. I watch Supernatural with my daughters just so I can hear the hunky 1967 Chevy Impala’s modified engine through my home theater’s subwoofer.

I can understand muscle car fans wincing at the prospect of driving across town in a nearly silent all-electric vehicle. On the surface, it doesn’t sound tough or cool—which runs counter to the 20th century-spawned notion that cars help define our personalities and, ironically, individuality (think James Dean, Steve McQueen, and Vin Diesel).

Let Me Count the Reasons

Advocates of electric vehicles, often tree-hugging environmentalists, new age hippies, and science geeks, give us countless reasons why electric cars will replace their fossil fuel-guzzling predecessors (not the least of which is the inevitable disappearance of oil). Melting ice caps, serious long-term health ramifications, and the prosperity of our children and our children’s children are all used to make us feel guilty about driving our noisy, sluggish, gas-guzzling sedans and SUVs.

But let’s not fool ourselves. Consumers will decide if electric cars replace internal combustion models, not governments, advocacy groups, or even the media. Because for consumers, it’s all about cost. We might be concerned about rising carbon dioxide levels and climate change, but if an exhaust-emitting internal combustion car is less expensive than a clean all-electric model, consumers—especially middle class consumers—will almost always opt for the cheaper model. At least if we want to take a vacation now and again or send our kids to college.

When Tesla Motors releases its much-anticipated Model 3 in 2017 or 2018—assuming they can actually sell it for $35,000—Americas will do some basic math and realize that they can have a car with decent range (200-250 miles per charge), significantly more storage, zero internally produced noise, Porsche performance (the current Model S sedan is literally faster than a Porsche 911), and the satisfaction of knowing they aren’t creating greenhouse gasses in their own back yard. For about the cost of a nicely optioned Ford Taurus or Nissan Altima, folks will realize they can have so much more.

Huge Savings on Consumables

But that’s the hedonistic car lover’s side of the equation. It’s after they do the consumables math, i.e., add up the costs of fuel and maintenance, that Americans will flock to electric cars in droves. This is primarily because, by selling a $35,000 high-performance all-electric car, Tesla (and any other manufacturer) doesn’t simply match the price of a gasoline-powered vehicle in the short term. It beats it in the long term—by a wide margin. Unlike fossil fuel-powered vehicles, the more you drive an electric car, the cheaper it is to own.

No oil changes, only a few bucks to charge the batteries (instead of the $50-120 required to fill the tanks of conventional piston-pumping vehicles), and no more standing in 10 degree F weather to fill their tanks at gas stations will convince consumers that electric cars aren’t only cheaper, but that they’re also more convenient. And convenience is what Americans are all about. There’s a McDonald’s on every corner and even Pizza Hut has a drive-thru window for a reason.

tesla model s replacement for blogA Tesla Model S owner in Wisconsin reported that he “barely even noticed” any increase in his electric bill when analyzing it to calculate how much it was costing him on a monthly basis to recharge his sleek all-electric sedan. I realize that’s a somewhat ambiguous statement, but the next time you “barely notice” the monthly accumulated gasoline bills for your car, let me know. Significantly less expensive fuel, combined with almost non-existent maintenance costs, dramatically change the overall cost of ownership of an all-electric car like the Nissan Leaf or any of Tesla’s models.

As one Model S owner commented, you simply charge it at night and replace the tires.

Car Dealerships Suck

Despite America’s love of cars, for the average consumer, a visit to a car dealership is like a trip to the dentist or an IRS audit. We don’t like it, and for good reason. It’s a smarmy, hawksterish zone where contention runs high and trust runs low. It’s populated by clueless salespeople, gaudy signage, and loud, obnoxious commercials. Most car dealers are a cheesy exercise in financial obfuscation, cheap and predatory sales tactics, and—all too often—a gross lack of professionalism and honesty. Yes, Lexus, BMW, and others luxury brands have done a lot to counter the mostly skanky state of the dealership industry, especially those representing the big middle class brands like Chevy, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Chrysler, and Hyundai. But conventional car dealerships still suck.

During the next few years, two things will happen in the auto industry. First, a company like Tesla will produce an affordable, attractive, and performance-oriented all-electric vehicle with an acceptable range. Obviously, others will follow. Second, Americans will begin to perceive that they can save money by owning an all-electric vehicle.

Dramatically reduced fuel and maintenance costs will motivate consumers to jump on the electric bandwagon—sports car-like performance and gee-whiz technology will simply be the icing on the cake. Once consumers are buying electric cars as fast as they’ve been purchasing iPhones and iPads for the past few years, all auto manufacturers will embrace the approach. Electric sales will soon after outpace those of old school piston bangers with tail pipes.

In the end, it will be the savings and convenience that will convince Americans to get in bed with electric vehicles, not rescuing the environment or even the amazing performance. And if we get to avoid a trip to the dentist in the form of negotiating with sleazy dealership dorks who we despise—and don’t trust—all the better.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Innovation: Not a Purple Pencil

Companies today are obsessed with innovation. As they should be. Call it a “paradigm shift,” “disruption,” or simply a “new age.” It’s all the same. If publish or perish is the mantra of academics, then smart companies should be preaching “disrupt or die.”

Marketing efforts prevail, however. Middle class consumers are continually told that the companies from which they purchase goods and services are innovative. But innovation isn’t a #2 pencil on which a company slaps a coat of purple instead of yellow paint. Innovation is a mechanical pencil you can re-use forever, simply purchasing new lead (especially when we’re running out of trees).

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Innovation isn’t a slightly better something, it’s a new something. True innovation from companies is customer-centric. It isn’t the Chevy Volt, with a battery pack cozying up to an internal combustion engine. It’s a fully electric Tesla Model S or a Nissan Leaf, with zero engine noise, more storage space, and connectivity to your smartphone. Disruption isn’t Comcast or Time Warner Cable offering on-demand video streaming or more digital channels. It’s Netflix and Vudu turning the industry upside down and encouraging cord cutting. Improving things for consumers isn’t Hewlett-Packard or Dell cranking out laptops with faster chips and higher resolution screens. It’s Apple, Samsung, and Google producing leading-edge mobile devices and wearables—and making them interactive with our homes and vehicles.

Innovation comes from companies like Netflix, Tesla Motors, Apple, and USAA. It was USAA, the financial services company serving primarily military customers, that introduced taking a photo of a cheque to deposit it. Why was it the little guy, USAA, that developed this consumer-friendly and extremely practical “technology”? Where were Bank of America and Citibank, with their voluminous resources? Probably on the golf course or lobbying in D.C., not forming research labs to produce such consumer-friendly and competition-smashing tech.

In a recent blog post, I discussed the lack of innovation in the auto industry. The proof? Nearly all cars seem the same. Most people I know can ride to lunch with a friend and, after returning, not be able to tell you the brand of car in which they were transported. Yet we can identify an iPad from across the street. While standardization is important, especially for safety, this reflects laziness among the executive ranks of so many companies. For the auto industry specifically, it seems they’d rather play copy cat than focus on real innovation. Innovation isn’t marketing BS. It’s customers and owners telling their co-workers and neighbors “You gotta get one of these!” When was the last time someone told you that regarding their car, lawn mower, or laptop computer?

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The Fremont, California manufacturing facility now occupied by Tesla Motors was previously a GM/Toyota partnership. This is wonderfully symbolic of the changes we’re about to witness in the auto industry. If you think disruption is just Pandora and Snapchat, think again. Let competitors partner on bland products that motivate consumers to say meh and dread the experience of a visit to their local car dealership or Best Buy. Meanwhile, companies like Tesla Motors, Netflix, Apple, and Google will build the new world atop the boneyard of the old dinosaurs. It’s the phoenix from the ashes, and it’s happening right in front of us.

Don’t partner with your competitors—defeat them. Innovate, disrupt, and blow the other guys away. Yes, there are valid opportunities for “coopetition.” Industry consortiums and standards groups are sometimes essential to progress in the marketplace and the interoperability of products and services from different companies. But allowing the accountants to navigate the ship, relying on economies of scale and rationalized partnerships with your enemies is short-term, borderline desperate thinking.

In today’s world, true innovation is disruptive, sustainable, and genuinely enticing to consumers. The only reason most of us aren’t parking a Tesla Model S in our garage is because of the relatively high cost (a topic about which co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has been very honest). But what about 2017, when Tesla introduces it’s roughly $35,000 Model 3? What about when Nissan gets the Leaf to crank out more than 200 miles from a single charge? What? You don’t want a car that produces virtually no sound, features more storage, produces no harmful exhaust, is super-sporty and fast, and costs a fraction of what’s required for gas-powered vehicles to fuel and maintain? Please forgive my cavalier attitude, but I’d say you’re freaking nuts.

If the company for which you work desires to survive and thrive in the 21st century, it must embrace this spirit of ultra-competitive and reality-based innovation. If it doesn’t, the new guys are going to be purchasing your office building or manufacturing facility to produce what middle class consumers really want—and your company will be relegated to nothing more than an obscure Wikipedia entry.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Time for Tesla

The autumn announcement of new car models, in addition to my typical obsession with consumer technology, has recently produced a constant mental Venn diagram—with new cars in the left circle and consumer tech in the right. And in the middle, overlapping section of the diagram? Tesla Motors.

In a recent blog post, I kvetched about the lack of technical innovation in the auto industry. In reflection, I was referring only to the technical enhancements to personal transportation, such as Bluetooth, backup cameras, adaptive cruise control, and head-up displays. But what about the core drivetrain? When you consider the pace of improvement and innovation in industries like consumer electronics, entertainment, and computers, it’s amazing that all of our cars (even if you drive a Chevy Volt or a Toyota Prius) are simply leveraging an improved version of a 155-year-old technology: Internal combustion.

Let’s At Least Agree on This

Regardless of whether you’re Republican or Democrat or your stance on climate change, no one can argue that auto exhaust is good for the planet. If given the choice, I’d vote to exclude it from my community. And so would Elon Musk, the co-founder and CEO of electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors. In fact, Musk’s vision is for one of his other successful companies, residential solar power provider SolarCity, to provide clean, sustainable energy for our homes and for Tesla to offer a viable, affordable solution to consuming that clean energy for transportation.

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Musk has faced roadblock after roadblock for his small offering of high-tech, sporty, and fully electric vehicles. Recently, car dealers and lawmakers across the country challenged him based on the fact that Tesla sells direct to consumers—not through dealerships. Old laws from a bygone era designed, ironically, to prevent monopolies are currently being leveraged to prohibit Tesla from selling its cars in all areas of the United States. Lazy car dealerships acclimated to purchasing local monopolies for their particular brand are apparently so intimidated by Tesla and its attractive electric tech that they have been taking legal action and calling on their country club cronies to help protect them from open market economies. Unfortunately, it seems that most car dealership owners are more talented at screaming “Discounts, discounts, discounts!” on the local FM radio station than taking on a fair fight. Apparently their wallets are bigger than their balls.

Combined with fuel costs hovering between $3.00 and $4.00 per gallon—and each of those gallons delivering an average of only 25 miles per gallon (according to 2013 data from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute)—the old way is feeling about as advanced as the paper and pencil that might have resided in the pocket of Henry Ford at the 1908 introduction of the Model T. When you compare these items with a modern smartphone, like an internet-connected iPhone 6 or the Samsung Galaxy S5, you get an idea of how far technology as a whole has evolved in American society. Holy crap. Henry Ford couldn’t have even imagined Angry Birds or Orange is the New Black.

Genesis

If the Model T was the foundation of the fossil fuel-propelled auto industry, then it is surely one of Tesla’s models or the Nissan Leaf that is the genesis of a new age of significantly more advanced and earth-friendly vehicles. Because of Musk’s own passion for cars—specifically those of the high-performance variety—we’ve learned that electric cars don’t have to be boring. As practical and decidedly high-tech as the Toyota Prius is, “sexy,” “sleek,” and “fast” are terms that typically don’t enter one’s mind when thinking of this vehicle from our friends in Japan. Let’s face it: If you have any lust for sportiness or curb appeal whatsoever, the Prius has always felt like a sacrifice, as if a middle-aged dot com hippy is, by driving down the road in one, symbolically stating, “I’m doing my part for the environment.”

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Musk has personally bootstrapped Tesla during the course of its relatively short existence, investing more than $75 million of his personal wealth. He spent his last $40 million (from the sale of his brainchild PayPal to eBay) to save the company from bankruptcy in 2007. Tesla now seems to be out of the woods in terms of its financial solvency. Investments from industry titans like Mercedes and Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in addition to a successful 2010 IPO, have helped keep Tesla alive and growing (the company reported profits for the first time in early 2013).

Putting us at 2014. Tesla is three years away from selling a $35,000 everyman’s version of its vaunted $80,000 Model S that will be called the Model 3. The Model S is the follow-on to Tesla’s first vehicle, the exotically sporty and expensive Roadster (hyped at its introduction by celeb customers like George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Arnold Schwarzenegger). Tesla has also broken ground on a battery plant outside Reno, dubbed the Gigafactory, a partnership between the company and Panasonic that will help make the Model 3 affordable for consumers and profitable for Tesla.

Musk has pointed out how market forces alone—especially given the heavy-handed lobbying and deep old-school pockets of the petroleum industry and car dealers—haven’t been enough to decrease the price of car batteries fast enough, enabling affordable electric vehicles. The Gigafactory, using leading-edge manufacturing processes, is purported by Musk to be the reason his company will be able to offer a fully electric car that competes on price with gas guzzlers from Detroit, Tokyo, and Seoul.

A Bit Toned Down

Musk is one of those once-in-a-generation entrepreneurs who truly stops you in your tracks when you consider everything he’s accomplished—and when you comprehend what he might do in the next decade or two (he’s only 43, after all). Unlike some of the more ego-driven and bombastic executives in Silicon Valley—like Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Microsoft’s (former) Steve Ballmer, and T-Mobile’s John Legere—Musk is a relatively humble founder and CEO. Not to be confused with his confidence, which is blowing-smoke-up-your-butt powerful.

However, given his accomplishments during the past few years, and his likely successes in the coming decades, it turns out he hasn’t been blowing smoke at all. Although The New York Times and Britain’s Top Gear TV show might have lost faith in his efforts, or even rigged some of their testing of his vehicles (claims made by Musk), the prospect of a Model 3 electric car for the masses before the end of the decade is all but certain.

So let’s cheer underdog Tesla Motors and its tenacious CEO Elon Musk for having the courage to challenge established players—be they car dealers or the big guys from Detroit. Porsche performance in a zero-emission car with leading edge technology, less expensive fuel than from fossils, and the quality and comfort of premium brands is an option that American consumers deserve. And clearly want.

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Curt Robbins

[See also the related blog posts Tesla Bigot: IADA’s Bruce Anderson, Tesla Test Drives: Responding to Bob, and Auto Industry: Slow on Tech Innovation.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Auto Industry: Slow on Tech Innovation

It’s the time of year in America when our kids are back in school and the auto industry has released next year’s models, so let’s talk about consumer tech in cars. It’s nice that even some entry-level automobiles feature cool tech like Bluetooth, backup cameras (mandatory in all cars sold in the United States by 2018), and in-built wireless technologies like 4G. But why do I always get the feeling that the auto industry is continually dragging its heels, always playing catch up with mobile devices and all the wireless tech with which we’re surrounded on a daily basis?

With consumers habituated to fast upgrade cycles for items like smartphones and personal computers, why is the auto industry so bloody slow when it comes to jumping on the same bandwagon? Just like the consumer electronics industry, car companies release new models every year, so they certainly have the opportunity.

tesla model s replacement for blogI can almost understand a conspiracy theorist who might insist that auto manufacturers are colluding in their seeming refusal to embrace new tech and interoperability between our mobile devices and their products. Yes, there was Microsoft Sync in Ford’s automobiles (RIP) and Apple has introduced CarPlay, which began rolling out in a few 2014 models (and works only with Apple’s products; this isn’t an industry standard). But this still feels more like a push from tech titans like Apple and Microsoft than true innovation from the auto industry itself. Simply connecting to our existing mobile devices is part of the equation, but where’s the “gee whiz” stuff?

Where is the Angry Birds or Snapchat of automobiles?

Yes, I do like “new” technologies like LED taillights, adaptive cruise control, and computer-controlled suspension systems. But we’re talking innovation here. While uber-cool, these are tech that have been around for a long time. In fact, it’s a sign of how slow the automobile industry is not only to innovate, but simply to roll out existing technologies based on past innovations. While LED lights are finally beginning to trickle down to even entry-level cars, nice tricks like laser-based adaptive cruise control and sci-fi-inspired head-up displays are still the territory of luxury vehicles.

We expect a culture of affordable innovation from companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung. It’s the foundation of their existence. But the fact that they have to push their tech on the auto industry is sad. Yes, really cool technology is expensive and auto manufacturers don’t want to reduce their already sometimes razor-thin profit margins. I get it. But we also know that truly innovative tech becomes considerably less expensive as more consumers jump on the bandwagon. Any manufacturer that decides to roll out a given technology (LED taillights, for example) across it’s entire catalog will experience such per-unit price discounts that the cost of this tech should not be its primary concern. What should be? Beating the competition by satisfying the tech lust of middle class consumers. But if recession-strapped Americans gobbling up $600 iPads at unheard of rates isn’t enough to convince auto execs of this, what is?

Where are the advanced sound systems that use basic acoustic science to drown out road noise and vastly improve our listening experience? Where is the uttered “down window” that prevents me from taking my hands off the wheel? Just the fact that so many cars manufactured today lack auto-on headlamps is enough to make you cry. Unfortunately, auto industry executives just don’t seem to get it. At least not when it comes to innovations that satisfy consumer demand and recognize dominant social trends.

It’s nice to know that if you were frozen in a cryogenic chamber 35 years ago and awoke today, you could capably drive a 2014 or 2015 model car. Yes, we need standardization. But when I jump in a friend’s sedan and we cruise down the road and I can’t even tell who manufactured the vehicle without looking at its badging, I think we have a problem.

nissan leaf for linkedinWith the distinct exception of Toyota’s Prius hybrid, Nissan’s all-electric LEAF, and anything from Tesla, cars seem to totally lack differentiation. Sometimes it feels like they’re all manufactured by one huge World Car Corp. and they simply offer a wide range of shapes, sizes, luxury levels, and prices. This is especially painful given the price of automobiles. Really, Buick and Kia, the best you can do is Bluetooth, LED lights, and a crappy, difficult-to-navigate touch screen on the dashboard?

Voice navigation and head-up displays are probably the most promising uses of new-tech we’ve seen in a while. Both improve driver attention where it matters: At the road. And both are way-cool and enticing features. But while many of us actually have Bluetooth or backup cameras in our vehicles, how many can control the music or air conditioning in our cars with our voice?

Exactly.

This is probably one of my lousiest blog posts in terms of educating readers or making a good point (like me, chances are you’re simply angrier now). I’m basically just whining. But at $20,000 to $60,000, the value proposition for tech in cars is among the lowest of any consumer purchase. Considering how much we spend on personal transportation, I think we’re all entitled to a bit of whining—whether you drive a Toyota Yaris or a BMW M5.

I sincerely love that Google, Ford, and Volvo are doing some incredible things with advanced perimeter sensing, collision avoidance, and automated parking in their quest for better safety and, eventually, fully autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars make for great headlines in the media. But while we salivate over this future tech, the cars actually sitting in our driveways aren’t that much different from models from ten or even fifteen years ago—and none of us would use a cell phone or computer from 15 years ago, would we?

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Curt Robbins

[See also Time for Tesla and Electric Car Adoption: Not Why You Think.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.