Has everyone figured out that Musk is charlatan yet?

Elon Musk proudly announced the great achievement of his Boring Company.

The video compares one car driving in traffic to a specific destination, with a Tesla driving through a specially built tunnel with no traffic to the same destination. We are supposed to be impressed that the car on a solitary dedicated path won.

Yes, for those keeping score, in a mere two years we’ve gone from a futuristic vision of electric skates zooming around a variety of vehicles in a network of underground tunnels to—and I cannot stress this enough—a very small, paved tunnel that can fit one (1) car.

The video’s marketing conceit is that the car in the tunnel beats a car trying to go the same distance on roads. You’ll never believe this, but the car that has a dedicated right of way wins. Congratulations to The Boring Company for proving dedicated rights of way are important for speedy transportation, something transportation planners figured out roughly two centuries ago. I’m afraid for how many tunnels they’ll have to dig before they likewise acknowledge the validity of induced demand.

He has apparently scaled down his vision of a high speed “hyperloop” to just this, a car in a fixed, unidirectional tube. It’s kind of like mass transit, except they’ve dropped the “mass” part — everyone gets their own personal subway tunnel.

Man, he’s like a super-duper megagenius or something.


  1. specialffrog says

    But the hyper loops he sold to Brockway, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook really put them on the map!

  2. says

    His board need to put him in time-out, lest people start to think he’s just a self-aggrandising vencap arsehole magnet

  3. anthrosciguy says

    I’d love to see the video where they had 10 people race to the next destination, then the one where they had 100 people. We already know the time for the surface roads; it’s the same, or very slightly more, than for one person. The tunnel?

  4. microraptor says

    Why is he so obsessed with tunnels, anyway? I know he hates seeing or coming into contact with other people, but he really seems to go further than that.

    Is he secretly a mole-man who’s trying to return to his native environment?

  5. Rob Bos says

    Hyperloop has never been a serious project, only an on-paper daydream. They’ve got some design competitions and a test tube, but it’s never received actual investment.

    I don’t know, the tunnel thing could have promise. Current tunnel diggers are slow, it’s a tech that might be breakthrough.

    If I had Musk’s kind of money, throwing some at long-shot projects that might pay out but probably won’t wouldn’t, might be my favourite pastime. If it fails, well, you expected it to. If it succeeds, it might succeed big.

    Beats ennui and a third megayacht.

  6. jrkrideau says

    That car in a tunnel, it reminds me of something. Ah yes, Musk has reinvented the subway but in a less efficient form.

  7. nomdeplume says

    The “race” between underground and overground sounds like a child’s joke. They are presenting this as a serious comparison? And one tunnel? Fine, probably. But what would happen if the boring company started boring an ant’s nest of tunnels under major cities to add to the train tunnels and all the sewerage, water, electricity pipes? Does there come a point where the honeycombed ground can’t support the weight of buildings? What does all the drilling do to the water table? Where does all the waste from the drilling go? What happens in earthquake zones when the honeycombed ground shakes? It is another one of these grand projects which sound and look fine in the trial phase, but which have not had the implications of large scale development considered.

  8. pilgham says

    I’ve never understood why it isn’t called the Boering Company. He is from South Africa.

  9. unclefrogy says

    what ever it is that he smokes he might consider tapering off some.
    uncle frogy

  10. says

    I believe you’re confusing Musk’s “Loop” with his “Hyperloop”. He just has more than one bad idea going on at once.

  11. chrislawson says


    The thing with Musk is he needs to keep churning out a steady supply of “genius” projects to maintain his mystique and distract people from his financials.

    He is doing pretty well with Tesla from an engineering perspective. And SpaceX has done some very impressive things. But he has to give bad news to his investors every quarter, so he needs to keep generating hype. And from that point of view, the Boring Company has been a successful distraction. He got people enthusing about Hyperloop when his only technical achievement has been to use a machine he bought from another company to drill a short narrow tunnel in the rock of his choosing at the place of his choosing, and then pointing out this was cheaper per-km than larger projects in the real world that had to be larger, wider, able to carry huge amounts of road or rail traffic, with extensive maintenance access, built in expensive areas (usually in the middle of large cities), avoiding existing subterranean infrastructure, protecting existing building stability, and dealing with whatever geology lay below the project site.

  12. dixonge says

    per the Boring web site (for those who care to understand) “Loop is a high-speed underground public transportation system in which passengers are transported via compatible Autonomous Electric Vehicles (AEVs) at up to 155 miles per hour. TBC currently uses Tesla Model Xs, modified with alignment wheels and, for certain projects, an extended chassis to accommodate up to 16 passengers. ”

    Also: “Hyperloop is an ultra high-speed underground public transportation system in which passengers are transported on autonomous electric pods traveling at 600+ miles per hour in a pressurized cabin. Similar to Loop, Hyperloop pods will transport up to 16 passengers.”

  13. gijoel says

    @1 lol

    I don’t think Musk understands ordinary people. He understands rich people, and nerds with too much money, but he is utterly baffled everyday practical needs. He couldn’t understand why a clunky metal tube made out of rocket parts would be completely impracticable in rescuing children trapped in a flooded cave. He couldn’t understand why he was being criticized for said rocket sub by one of the expert cave divers who assisted the cave dive. He also can’t seem to understand why people would share a subway/train carriage.

    As a side note in Brisbane there were a number of tunnel roads built in the last ten years. The first toll tunnel that opened struggled for years to reach break-even.

  14. chrislawson says


    Yes, but this is IMO a deliberate confusion by Musk. After all there is nothing spectacularly new about drilling tunnels and no shortage of existing construction companies. The idea is to achieve some minor technical wins to convince people of the viability of his more ambitious Hyperloop project and hope nobody notices the huge gap between them. I find it hard to imagine Musk is really interested in the low-budget tunnelling industry.

  15. Ichthyic says

    Does there come a point where the honeycombed ground can’t support the weight of buildings?

    I seem to recall something to that effect being discussed after the Northridge quake in LA in 1994.

  16. chrislawson says


    We understand the difference. We are also aware that Musk is fudging expectations. Just to choose one point of contention — if he can only transport 16 people at a time, then for Loop to work efficiently he needs to build a second tunnel to take traffic both ways with multiple pods on the go at the same time. Which means he should have doubled his costings when he bragged about how cheap his tunnel was to build. If he doesn’t build a second tunnel then Loop can only shuttle back and forth carrying 16 people each way which is incredibly inefficient for anything other than very short distances and tiny commuter demand…it would be less efficient than the escalator that takes people to the station, plus it wouldn’t be a “Loop” in any sense of the word.

  17. microraptor says

    chrislawson @12:

    That’s certainly true, but I think he’s also secretly a mole-man.

  18. cartomancer says

    Or you could just not put everything so far apart in the first place.

  19. wzrd1 says

    The tunnel idea is rather old, tested and occasionally, maintenance intensive.
    Wanting to do it on a grand scale, sheer lunacy. One fault that moves turns that tunnel into a motor vehicle version of CERN, with collisions not desired.

    Musk is a showman, not an engineer. Gets a “grand idea”, pitches it to some bright engineers, who tweak it and he markets it, idiotic or not.
    The closest thing I can call him is, the “used car salesman for the wealthy investor”.
    His gift is in hiring competent engineers and then asking them if an idea he had or heard of is potentially workable.
    Reality will meet the road soon enough, where investors want a return, then he’ll be SOL.

  20. Ishikiri says

    This is the thing about Musk that pisses me off the most: he sucks the oxygen out of public discussion about how to address the serious problems of housing and transportation with whiz-bang bullshit. Namely that we’re going to have to seriously commit to some things that people of influence (particularly in California) won’t like: densifying around public transit lines, getting rid of free parking, and charging for road access.

    It’s also very telling that that tunnel got built without the consent or even prior knowledge of the generally low-income residents of Hawthorne in the houses above it.

  21. alixmo says

    Sorry, I am absolutely off-topic here (I hope that is allowed??), but I just read a disturbing article in the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/26/abortion-ban-rightwing-christian-figures-civil-war-predictions

    Sorry, again, I just had to share this, feeling annoyed and quite helpless. I could not find a better spot to put it here, so please forgive me for intruding. Maybe I do not know enough about the topic and the US in general (I am German), but religious fundamentalism/extremism disturbes me – a lot. Especially when it turns against women’s and LGBTQ rights (as it practically always does).

    It would be great if people (PZ?) read the piece though. Thanks a lot.

  22. liberalhysteria says

    Musk is like a modern day Thomas Edison. He just markets and develops ideas that others have already come up with. All his original ideas are fairly dumb. How about how about instead of these pointless one-car subways we try High-Speed Rail like Japan has.

    By the way I’m not too impressed with Elon Musk’s rockets. If you want to see a real rocket you’ll watch archival footage of the greatest quarterback to ever grace the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning, who’s rocket arm netted 539 touchdowns during his 14 season long career with that amazing team.

  23. chrislawson says


    For the record, I’m not denying that he is a mole-man.

  24. cartomancer says

    Also “The Boring Company”… seriously?

    There are two possibilities here, neither of them edifying. Either he didn’t realise it was a crap pun, in which case he is utterly incompetent, or he did realise and that was what he was going for. In which case he’s still an idiot.

    I mean, why? What does putting an awful, seven year old standard pun in your company name add to the general effort? Is it supposed to make him seem witty? Clever? Possessed of a certain delightful mischievous levity apparently at odds with his dour persona as a serious businessman and inventor? It clearly does none of those things. It makes him seem flaky and cheap and possessed of the comedic powers of a less than precocious primary school boy who has just discovered that words can have multiple meanings which can be confused for comic effect.

  25. cartomancer says

    Come to think of it, has anyone demonstrated categorically that Elon Musk ISN’T just two seven year olds sat on each other’s shoulders pretending to be a grown-up? It would make the obsession with fast cars in underground tubes, rocket-powered submarines and living on Mars make an awful lot of sense. If his next big idea involves dinosaurs and invisibility then I think we can safely say that this is the likeliest explanation for the man.

  26. Ichthyic says

    Sorry, I am absolutely off-topic here (I hope that is allowed??), but I just read a disturbing article in the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/26/abortion-ban-rightwing-christian-figures-civil-war-predictions

    that’s why they call issues like abortion, “wedge issues”, and given that ultra right wingers have been pushing for secession repeatedly over the last 20 years… yeah, those wedge issues could indeed be the spark that leads to a civil war. though I don’t think they have anywhere near the numbers to actually start one. yet.

    also, I think there are links on the upper right of the site that link to the various discussion threads where you can post potentially OT stuff.

  27. Ichthyic says

    sorry, links are upper left, not upper right.

    Discuss: Racism in America
    Discuss: Art
    Discuss: Through a feminist lens
    Discuss: Political Madness All the Time
    Discuss: Music
    Discuss: World Politics
    Discuss: Interesting Stuff

  28. chigau (違う) says

    Ichthyic #28
    The Political Madness thread is the only one that is still alive.

  29. PaulBC says

    Teslas are real cars and people drive them around. I see them all over the place around here. Musk has also been instrumental in getting actual rockets launched into space. That doesn’t make him Thomas Edison, but he’s not Elizabeth Holmes either.

    Musk over-promises and under-delivers, and the Boring company just seems silly to me (it’s yet another “find ‘efficiencies’ by ignoring regulations play”) But he’s half charlatan and half entrepreneur/inventor. Turning the perception of electric cars from a treehugger statement to high performance luxury vehicle is an extremely useful accomplishment. Next, somebody turn them into “just a car” and we may have made some progress.

    I don’t have to love Elon Musk to appreciate that he has done a few things that I would not have expected anyone to be able to do.

  30. alixmo says

    @Ichthyic, @chigau,

    Thanks, I did not know that. Next time I will post OT stuff there.

  31. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    dear me, I guess I’m boring too. I see a lot of value in a fast, point-to-point highway that excludes random intruders at random points along it. The source of traffic congestion is these random coagulation of vehicles coming in from every direction at unpredictable times. This is a way of essentially driving onto a trolley track and merging seamlessly into the timetable of transit.
    All congestion is isolated at the single point of entry, which can be mitigated by the frequency of entry of the vehicles into the tunnel.

    I see this as a simplified way of driving to a commuter rail, hopping on the train (after parking your car) to get into the city, then hopping onto the urban subway/trolley system to get to your office building, where parking the car is not required as it becomes the commuter rail itself, and once in the city it is used to get to the office building, which will have the parking facilities.

    Thank you for reading my concept, I don’t work for Tesla nor Boring, nor Musk at all

  32. numerobis says

    Charlatan, but also runs a company that builds hundred of thousands of cars a year which he took over when it was building a handful of cars; and a company he founded that got launch prices down dramatically to the point that launching thousands of satellites is feasible.

    Interesting definition of charlatanism.

    He’s a complete asshole. But he does manage to get a team together to build real things.

  33. blf says

    I used to have a very tiny amount of tolerance for Musk until I learned his Mars stunts have not been sterilized. Basically, he’s “planning” to contaminate Mars with whatever bacteria & other microorganisms hitch a ride and survive — and we know this can happen (e.g., the (admittedly disputed) reports of Streptococcus mitis on the Moon). And his repeated claims one of the rescue divers on the Thailand cave soccer team was pedophile — the diver had dared to criticism Musk’s technobabble “solution” to rescuing the team — is, so-to-speak, icing on the cake.

    I now have no tolerance for this interplanetary authoritarian vandal at all. (Which, in one sense, is a shame, as I’ve broadly agreed with his approach to electric cars.)

    (The mildly deranged penguin has always found the S. mitis incidient amusing, considering the MOON — the Massive Orbital Cheese Vault — is stuffed full of cheese.)

  34. consciousness razor says


    Turning the perception of electric cars from a treehugger statement to high performance luxury vehicle is an extremely useful accomplishment. Next, somebody turn them into “just a car” and we may have made some progress.

    But — huge surprise — he’s a billionaire who wants luxuries. You could try to look for some kind of trickle-down effect, if that would make you feel better, but it’s pretty clear that isn’t the point.
    This “race” video is a fine example. We’ve got to worry about things like inequality and climate change, but the promise of a tunnel like this is that it could shave a few seconds off a commute for a handful of people who can afford it. It’s not cheaper, doesn’t conserve resources, and won’t scale up like public transportation systems can. It’s just that some rich kids could quickly get to some of their favorite destinations by avoiding the rabble. Reaching a top speed of 127 MPH in a single car is the selling point here — not much of a selling point, although it’s not much of a video — and that’s obviously not something he’s selling to the masses.
    The next step? There isn’t one. It’s got nothing to do with “progress” in the sense of progressivism.

  35. logicalcat says

    For the Musk apologists, yes, we know he has done some real things. Thats not the issue. He commits investor fraud as much as he does innovate. I think one other comment said it best; he’s half inventor, half charlatan.

    What annoys me most is that the public sees him as an authority on scientific matters. Ive already have seen plenty of Muskites now claim that colonizing Mars is the only solution to climate change. Musk is an idiot, lets not pretend he isn’t just because Teslas are nice.

  36. megryan says


    Here are some facts to make you reconsider the use of Charlatan to describe Musk:

    1: He claimed to have a solar roof tile system in 2016, but the tile he held up at the press conference was non-functional. This vaporware was used to justify a bailout of Solarcity, a company run by his cousins in which he had a large financial interest. To this day, the “solar roof” has only been installed on select company insiders’ homes, and the former SolarCity company has been quietly dismantled within Tesla motors.

    2: He claimed that his cars would have the ability to conduct battery swaps in 2013. This turned out to be false, and only a pretense to obtain additional subsidies.

    3: Last August he committed the largest fake-buyout fraud in US market history. The SEC decided to fine him several million dollars and make him promise never to do it again, because that’s how justice works for billionaires. He broke his settlement agreement and tweeted out fraudulent guidance earlier this year and the SEC made him super duper double promise not to do it again. There are likely large numbers of retail investors that have lost millions of investment dollars on these lies.

    4: Musk promised that his cars would be able to make a drive from L.A. to New York without the input of the driver in 2016. This has never happened. He claims that he will have one million robotaxis on the street next year, and raised $2 billion dollars last month based on this promise, but most specialists in the industry dispute the idea that he can do this without a LIDAR system, which current Tesla cars do not have. Additionally, the current “autopilot” system the cars is extremely dangerous and has been known to decapitate drivers by driving them under truck trailers.

    5: Tesla revealed an electric semi-truck in late 2017, and has taken many $50000 reservations from green washing companies for it. They have ceased work on it, and effectively shelved the project.

    6: While claiming to do everything to support the mission to move to renewable transport, Elon Musk commutes almost daily in a G650 Jet. Here’s a fun video of how much he’s committed to actually reducing greenhouse emissions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-HCMbTDWVo.

    Elon Musk is a Charlatan, a carnival barking, phony, sociopathic capitalist who has managed to swindle billions of dollars of investor money to enrich himself on promises of a clean future. I honestly hope he has a jail cell waiting for him after his company’s collapse, but don’t have faith that the American justice system will actually see it through.

  37. Ichthyic says

    Turning the perception of electric cars from a treehugger statement to high performance luxury vehicle is an extremely useful accomplishment. Next, somebody turn them into “just a car” and we may have made some progress.

    but nobody needed Musk to accomplish this. nobody.

    this was ALREADY being done in states like California back in the 1990s. It didn’t fail because it wasn’t available tech, it failed because oil companies bribed congress to stop providing subsidies to auto-manufacturers to support the very concept of electric cars.

    we don’t need Musk. we need to cut off oil company influence. Musk is actually nothing but a DISTRACTION to that goal.

  38. John Morales says

    CR @36:


    Turning the perception of electric cars from a treehugger statement to high performance luxury vehicle is an extremely useful accomplishment. Next, somebody turn them into “just a car” and we may have made some progress.

    But — huge surprise — he’s a billionaire who wants luxuries. You could try to look for some kind of trickle-down effect, if that would make you feel better, but it’s pretty clear that isn’t the point.

    ‘But’ logically translates to ‘and’, being a conjunction, which means you concede the point PaulBC made from your very first word.

  39. numerobis says

    Ichthyic: you’re right we don’t need any particular individual. We just need some individuals to break the oil oligarchy. Turns out in our current universe, Musk has led that charge.

    Sure, in another universe where Musk didn’t take over Tesla and lead it to where it’s gotten, it would have been someone else. Probably Chinese, since there’s a lot of electric cars in China (they have no oil production, and they have bad air pollution).

  40. blf says

    Turning the perception of electric cars from a treehugger statement to high performance luxury vehicle is an extremely useful accomplishment. Next, somebody turn them into “just a car” and we may have made some progress.

    Yeah, this is what I will credit Musk with — he has made electric cars less than a joke, and done so by broadly what I wanted to see (a vehicle which has appeal) — and it’s not impossible he could do the “just a car” thing… but his own antics, and the overall apparent failure to follow-up on the leads / hints he has provided — is why I’ve soured on him… and his products (albeit I still haven’t comprehensively ruled-out buying a Telsa).

  41. numerobis says

    megryan: I think of a charlatan as being someone who has nothing to sell but snake oil. Tesla cars actually operate as cars. Tesla battery packs actually charge and discharge. SpaceX rockets actually rocket.

    He promises far more than he can deliver, but he delivers far more than the market delivered before he entered it. (And swappable battery packs? The solution ended up being faster charging instead.)

    And he’s a self-obsessed asshole.

  42. says

    Producing luxury electric cars as status symbols so that the rich would finance the R&D and small/medium scale production efforts necessary to achieve the first generation of truly useful battery electrics was a great idea. Continuing to sell status-symbol electrics to offset costs of trying to bring to market more reasonable and mass produceable battery electrics was a logical outgrowth of that, nothing more.

    I’m still waiting for his second great idea.

  43. ajbjasus says

    Uk yellow pages used to have an entry “Boring – see Civil Engineers”

  44. =8)-DX says

    This is just a “rich-people-hole”.
    Fuck the boring company.
    Fuck Elon Musk.

  45. says

    Mr. Musk is working very hard to become Batman. He just wants to make certain other people pay for the development costs. He saw Val Kilmer ride in a tube from Wayne Tower to the Batcave, so he needs a tube. He has his flamethrower, and add fins to the Tesla and he has his batmobile. Fear the Bat-Rocket!

  46. says

    @#31 PaulBC
    I think Musk is an Elizabeth Holmes who’s gotten somewhat lucky a couple of times. With both Tesla and SpaceX he got into a business and technology he did not have a firm grasp of and made promises he assumed people smarter than himself could fulfill if he threw enough money at them. Holmes did the same with Theranos, but unfortunately for her the things she promised turned out to mostly impossible, and she turned to fraud. With Musk’s promises for Tesla and SpaceX, he’s been able to produce tangible enough results to continue receiving the subsidies, bailouts, and investment to keep moving forward, although it’s still not clear that either venture is economically viable. Any fraudulent behavior he’s exhibited along the is waved away by pointing at cars on the road and successful rocket launches.

    Unfortunately, his relative success has given him the label of “visionary” and made his crackpot ideas for hyperloops, rocket travel anywhere on earth in an hour, and colonizing mars, attention and money being thrown at them they don’t deserve. And they’re not even new ideas. They’re ideas that have been thought of many times before, and rejected by by anyone who does a cursory examination of their practicality.

    As for tunneling, Musk sees something, like the cost of digging so and so tunnel cost 10 billion dollars and took 10 years to dig, and in his gut knows those number are outrageous, and that he can do it for one tenth the time and cost. And if he could do that, it would be great, but all he’s been able to do is buy existing equipment, dig a totally impractical tunnel using current methods at current speeds, and then pretend he’s been able to dig a tunnel and one tenth the cost. He’s gone full Theranos.

  47. chrislawson says

    José Pacheco@48–

    I’m not a Musk fanboy, but the comparison to Elizabeth Holmes is way off. First of all, Theranos’s “promise” was basically impossible given current and foreseeable technology. There was nothing impossible about electric cars or space rockets; almost all of Musk’s technology promises have been met. It’s the financials where he’s dodgy. Even more importantly, Holmes covered up Theranos’s failures by pretending to give actual results — thereby putting patients at risk. Musk for all his flaws has never done anything even remotely as bad. For Musk the equivalent would be secretly installing an internal combustion engine for demos of the Tesla X and then selling cars that don’t even run.

    (You can see I hope that one of the key factors that help Holmes maintain the fraud was that nobody knows the true result of a blood test outside the lab. All the doctors and patients see is the report. If Tesla sold cars that couldn’t move or rockets that didn’t launch, the customers would know straight away that they had been defrauded.)