There is such a thing as bad publicity

Having just spent 20+ hours in our little Honda Fit over the weekend, I can still say I’m content with it. It’s solid and reliable, economical, and has held up well over the past decade — I hope we can get another decade out of it. I’d like to switch to an electric or hybrid car someday, but no hurry, and I can say that I’m not in the market for a new car right now.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that, if I were, I would not be looking at Tesla. Too much ugly baggage.

Before it was reported Musk had an affair with Sergey Brin’s wife, which he’s denied; before his slipshod deal, then no-deal, to acquire Twitter Inc.; before the revelation he fathered twins with an executive at his brain-interface startup Neuralink; before SpaceX fired employees who called him “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment”; before his daughter changed her name and legal gender after his history of mocking pronouns; before an article said SpaceX paid an employee $250,000 to settle a claim he sexually harassed her, allegations he’s called untrue; Musk’s behavior was putting off prospective customers and perturbing some Tesla owners.

Not to mention that I am disinclined to contribute to the bottom line of a loathsome billionaire. Or that the whole outfit is rather fishy.

It’s kind of weird that a 7 year old company with relatively low revenue and no profits which ships only 1% of the cars of GM and Ford can be valued higher than GM and Ford – but that’s where we are today.

I guess Elon Musk has a lot of people fooled, but not me.


  1. ajbjasus says

    I’m still not convinced that if the total carbon footprint of an EV, and producing and distributing the electricity it need is calculated it’s any better for the planet, especially when many manufacturers have taken it as a green light to build gigantic electric SUV.

    I would bet small, economical well maintained, long life cars like yours are better, until everyone signs up to small economical EVs

  2. mvoetmann says

    The behaviour of Musk has little to do with whether I would buy a Tesla. I would buy one if it was the car that best suited my needs.

  3. says

    He had me fooled around my first or second year in college, in the early days of Tesla, and back when I still thought climate change could be addressed within our current political and economic system. I honestly wish I had ignored the advice I got and invested what I had to spare at the time, because it WOULD have yielded a lot of money by the time I sold my shares in disgust.

    And even a bit more money would make my life a lot easier right now.

  4. wzrd1 says

    @ajbjasus, the SUV models can lead to commercial vehicles for short haul transport.

    As for Musk, he is to business what Liberace was to music – OK, not great, but one hell of a showman.
    That’s OK when the product is a show, not so much for tangible products.

  5. indianajones says

    So I realise I am kinda missing the musk point of the post here. However:

    It’s old and burns fuel and oil and there are better options for the environment while there are also far worse ones too. But being a fossil fuel thing it is a net bad. As a machine with XYZ design parameters though there is no reason it can’t keep going for a good solid ‘nother 10 years. Any machine has that, it’s just a matter under those conditions of when it becomes uneconomical to run.

    That becomes a money thing usually ie cost of routine maintenance and inevitable run out of life breakages vs cost of replacement. If personal money is the only cost you take into account of course. There may be other costs you take into account too like comfort and features etc. I drive a 2004 car and am happy with it but I do most of the maintenance myself and put up with it’s inevitable what I call ‘personality quirks’. I get it if other people don’t.

    So find a mechanic that is competent and honest. Keep it routinely maintained and go to them for any, and they are inevitable, other faults that crop up. A new car will be more reliable, cheaper to run and fuel, have more safety stuff, and will cost more to service in general. But an old car that is maintained to a high standard will last and do the thing it is designed to do for a good 20 or more years in my experience.

  6. says

    sez ajbasus @1: “I’m still not convinced that if the total carbon footprint of an EV, and producing and distributing the electricity it need is calculated it’s any better for the planet, especially when many manufacturers have taken it as a green light to build gigantic electric SUV.”

    How “clean” an EV’s required power is, depends on how “clean” the power plants which supply power to the grid are. Do you think the power grid is going to become more, or less, “clean” over the next 10 years? Me, I’m pretty sure the power grid is going to become more clean in future. If I’m right, EVs will, in consequence, also become more “clean” in future. Gas-burning vehicles? Not so much.

  7. euclide says

    To be honest, Tesla was the first automaker to make EV look sexy when the big ones were still in denial, and everybody said they would crash soon

    Now, the stock seems so be well overvalued, but hey, Wall Street is a casino, it doesn’t need to make sense

    As for EV in general, they have a lot of advantages over petroleum cars : they need very few maintenance (no hydraulic systems except for brakes, no real need for a complex gear box, no drive belt and no oil), are a lot more efficient and are not penalized either on city driving or high speed.

    The ideal solution is still public transportation, but hey, you live in the USA…

  8. bcw bcw says

    @1. There are quite a few analyses of the energy savings from electric cars available. The gain does vary depending on the source of the electricity used to charge them and the type of driving. However, EV cars do save a lot of energy. There are a couple of big components to this saving: despite losses in transmission, electric power plants are far more energy efficient than burning gasoline because they use a larger range of the thermodynamic cycle, meaning more of the heat goes to electricity. Turbines are way more efficient than pistons. Another big term is the savings is regenerative braking where energy is put back into the batteries on slowing down rather than going to heat in the brake pads. While batteries take energy to be made, so does the extraction and processing of oil to gasoline.

  9. rorschach says

    Setting aside the matter of a billionaire seemingly getting laid a lot, with all the complexities involved, and questions of character and coercion legitimately asked.
    These cars seem to have significant “childhood illnesses” still, from colliding with other cars, to locking the doors when people need to get out, to various software glitches. And I still don’t have an answer to the question of what happens if you are ever stuck in a traffic jam in the German or Swedish or Canadian winter for a few hours, when your battery runs out.

  10. bcw bcw says

    @1 another thing to keep in mind is that you save more fuel going from a ford expedition at 17mpg to a Camry at 32mpg than switching from your Prius to a bicycle. This is the reason it makes sense to make truck EV’s.

  11. says

    I’m pretty sure I linked to this episode of The War on Cars last month – “88. Tesla is a Fraud with Ed Niedermeyer”:

    Journalist Edward Niedermeyer has been reporting on the automobile industry — and its blind spots — since 2008. He co-hosts the Autonocast podcast, focusing on the future of transportation. And he is the author of “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors.” In his book, Niedermeyer chronicles the electric car maker’s rise and lays bare the disconnect between the popular perception of Tesla and the day-to-day realities of the company, its products, and its peripatetic, billionaire CEO Elon Musk. Musk, Niedermeyer argues, is a huckster with a particular genius for selling implausible products and making old ideas feel futuristic and new. But his overwhelming wealth, influence, and cult-like following is making him a danger to the rest of us.

    (I haven’t read the book yet.)

  12. Jazzlet says

    @ bcw bcw

    Are those up to date milages? I drive a twenty year old Volvo V70 and am still getting 38 mpg around town, more like 43mpg on longer journeys.

  13. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    For an electric vehicle that is quite similar in size to your Fit (which I agree was a great car and it’s a shame Honda gave up on it), see the Chevy Bolt. I had a chance to drive one for a day recently and I found it very pleasant and practical. The 250-mile range should cover 99% of your normal outings. I’ve been reading many accounts by EV owners of successful long trips, too. There are apparently ample charging stations along the major highways. Your run to Saint Loo would be very doable.

    Just one network of charging stations:

  14. says

    I’m in the California desert and already have a solar system on my roof. It’s not quite big enough to run the whole house in the summer, though. Plan is to expand the system, install a battery and a charger, and go for an electric. Pretty sweet being able to have a comfortable house and a nice car without paying a cent to Saudi Arabia or Southern California Edison.

  15. daulnay says

    I agree that Elon Musk is an awful person. There are very few business leaders that are not awful people, though, when you take a close look. I don’t think he’s appreciably worse than Henry Ford, to pick a not-random example. Although I would rather buy things from companies led by good people, sadly there are few of those. While Musk is an awful human being, the people running the traditional auto companies are also awful human beings. Our choice, sadly, is between different evils. Of those, Musk may be the lesser (hard as that is to imagine).

    By driving a gasoline car, you’re supporting the bastards who run the big oil companies, who’ve been lying to us about global warming, and who are still trying to delay the switch to renewable energy. While Musk is an awful human being, the cars he’s shilling are substantially better for our future than your carbon-spewing chariot.

    Confession. I bought a Tesla, because all the other electrics were unavailable or more expensive at the time. Though I come from Michigan and worked in an auto plant for a time, I’ve always considered cars as a functional tool, and bought cheap stodgy used imports. The Tesla is the first car I’ve actually liked, and enjoyed driving. The engineers made a lot of design decisions that were helpful and useful, making it a far better machine than Detroit’s offerings. (Of course, the autopilot feature is dangerous, and foolish to use; that’s one of Musk’s stupid, harmful ideas).

    Last weekend I drove from the SF Bay area to the LA area, and back. It took an hour longer than a gasoline car would have, but it was a lot less expensive. Tesla put a lot of capital into building a network of chargers, and those are what make the trip convenient and possible. The company deserves a lot of credit for that strategy – fast, confenient charging is the main obstacle to widespread use of electric vehicles.

    I hope everyone who’s putting off purchase of an electric vehicle will reconsider, including you PZ. We don’t have the 10 years to spare; it’s critical that we don’t trigger any of the climate tipping points that will shift us from human-controlled global warming to natural vicious-circle driven warming. As long as we stay under or near 1.5 degrees increase, that’s very unlikely. However, we’re due to cross that line in 10 years, and the problem becomes how much we go above it. Every little bit of carbon you throw into the atmosphere increases the danger.

    When we go above a 1.5 degree increase, then we may kick off that shift, and it would be catastrophic – a lot more catastrophic than what’s already happening. There’s the possibility that we’ll go back to Eocene levels of carbon in the atmosphere, or worse (since we are and have been adding carbon sequestered long before the Eocene). That’s a climate shift that will extinguish a lot of life on earth, possibly including homo sapiens. I think we really want to avoid that outcome, no?

    That’s the motivation for buying a Tesla, or other electric, as soon as possible. If you think the above scenario is absurd, please talk to a climatologist or read the IPCC reports.

  16. dstatton says

    Tesla also has a big quality control problem. They are unreliable. Buy from Ford, GM, Nissan, etc.

  17. Nemo says

    @rorschach #10:

    And I still don’t have an answer to the question of what happens if you are ever stuck in a traffic jam in the German or Swedish or Canadian winter for a few hours, when your battery runs out.

    This scenario was actually put to the test this last winter, with a massive multi-day traffic jam on I-95 in Virginia. And the result was… the electrics (powering just their heating system) outlasted the gasoline cars (idling to produce heat).

  18. Nemo says

    @daulnay #17:

    I hope everyone who’s putting off purchase of an electric vehicle will reconsider, including you PZ.

    I think that everyone who buys a new car should make that car an EV, if at all possible. But if you weren’t already planning on buying a new car, but rather just keeping the car you have, then you have to factor in the emissions entailed in producing that new car. That’s a figure that’s often exaggerated by the anti-EV crowd, but it does become relevant when the question is buy vs. keep. The Honda Fit is a good, efficient car, as ICE cars go. I don’t know the answer here, but I suspect that it favors keeping the Fit until it dies.

    Then buy an EV. (Also, consider buying used.)

  19. seachange says

    People are aware that electric is the way to go and that gasoline is expensive, so used ones cost more right now. There are people who buy one on waitlist, then re-sell for profit.

    Musk is a crappy person. I dunno if any of the other car manufacturers are led by anyone better? How is it possible to immediately replace awful people in all of the capitalist companies fucking the world and this country over right now, are there generally accepted plans for this? Is surviving global burning more or less important than this, since people are people and our oligarchic overlords are people, and somehow they don’t get guillotined?

    Some of the crappiness is him talking and playing successfully the language of ‘venture capitalist’ though.

    I grew up in Silicon Valley and have worked for some startups so this kind of wordage is immediately recognizable to me. I don’t have to wonder too hard at his company’s value. His company is going for ‘a’ future, at least one future, in which we at least try for surviving climate crisis. Other car companies are bacteria eating their way along the petri dish, and are being dragged there. If you think about the future then: if you invested early in some car companies, you probably were sitting pretty later. My guess is that this is the nature of this particular casino gamble.

    Now me I am an investor. I do not invest in recreational ethanol or nicotine out of respect to my parents. Killing people in this way is rather excessively profitable sadly. I do not invest in military supply, resulting in more lost opportunity. ‘Cause y’know killing people while doing it luxuriously expensively while pretending there is no money at all for our nation’s butter, is also profitable. Investing in EGS what I do is only so-so, but more people who see the future are investing in it so it’s THE popular girl in town right now. People who make investment opportunities in this kind of thing know that they don’t have to make such big returns “since coolness”.

    Tesla is part of that, and so I am indirectly investing in his company alas. If you aim to be green in a capitalistic way it’s really very hard not to! This is what you are seeing. All y’all can snob away at this all you like, but since we are still not socialist, putting money where it has a chance of keeping more people, plants, animals and the whole fucking planet alive than the people that his or any cars kill seems …sensible.

  20. says

    My parents had two Saturns that made it to around 300,000 miles. RIP Saturn. GMC killed that brand too soon. Very basic cars. 5 speed stick shift. Hand cranked windows. No power locks. Nothing stupid to break. I come from a family that appreciates simplicity. A car is simply a tool to get you from one place to another. It doesn’t need to be fancy.

  21. magistramarla says

    We’ve been working on getting solar panels on our roof since February. We happen to live on a very sunny corner (a bit rare in the Monterey Bay area), so it was a perfect choice for us. We signed the contract in Feb, but the company doing the work has been working with the city and with PG&E to get them to sign off on the permits ever since. PG&E has to inspect and sign off on the work.
    On July 20, the electricians came and started the prep work, but the PG&E inspector didn’t bother to show up, so they had to clean up and leave until they could reschedule an inspection. The head of the crew told us that this happens to them often. It seems to me that PG&E is dragging the process out and trying to make it as difficult as possible on the consumer, while they collect more profit from us in their ever-increasing bills.
    We’re rescheduled for Aug. 9 now, but I’m not counting on it.
    We already own a 2020 hybrid/plug-in Prius. We charge it on a regular household outlet, and we get 25-30 miles on a charge before the gasoline engine kicks in. Since everything is close-by where we live, we aren’t buying gas for it very often – mostly for those rare trips to San Francisco for doctor appointments.
    We also still own a 2008 Prius Hybrid, which I use to drive the half mile trip to my PT appointments. I don’t dare drive the new car, since I often have leg spasms. I only drive in our neighborhood, so we also rarely have to buy gas for my car.
    We have a fairly small carbon footprint now, and it will be even smaller once our solar system is up and running.

  22. onefatbroad says

    We bought our 2005 Prius in 2005 because I was worried about peak oil, as well as climate change. We live in the sticks and the nearest real town – with doctors and dentists and such is an 80 mile round trip – we have 150K miles and it is going strong. We have had a few repairs (rodent damage – we live in the sticks) and had to replace the big battery once (ouch), but still, best, most reliable car we ever owned.
    We plan to replace it with an electric, but are stalling until there are more charging stations (in the sticks). If the Prius dies, though, we will bite the bullet and go electric.

  23. unclefrogy says

    I do not know if the Tesla is a better value or not as far Ev’s are concerned .
    I know I do not trust or like Musk very much.
    He does seem to be not that far out of the ordinary as far as that class goes. The higher up you go in class the further you get from middle or working class values. The thing about him is he is very public. Everything is out in the open compared to others in the CEO class, he uses that all the time it is part of his business, He is a show boat and demands the limelight all the time.
    I would doubt the bottom line profitability of his corporation’s too much hype, glitz and creative accounting though the stock would have been a good investment how ever. I also “missed” the Apple opportunity because I thought the company was mostly hype.
    The push for the future is admirable and who but someone with a damaged personality could or would put themselves in his position and do the things he can do?

  24. birgerjohansson says

    As new catalysts are discovered and as GM creates organisms capable of processing [more and more stages in the process of converting] biomass into value-added chemicals in biorefineries, second-generation biofuels like butanol and biodiesel will get cheaper.
    At the point where these fuels can compete with petroleum fuels economically they will become “slot-in” replacements for petroleum fuels.
    -Note that this will require the biorefineries to produce value-added substances beyond mere fuel, just as petroleum refineries generate a lot of valuable chemicals apart from petroleum-based fuels.
    Another major factor in the energy system is how soon there will be a breakthrough in making long-lived perovskite-based photovoltaic cells.
    Today’s perovskite cells are much cheaper to make than the silica-based ones. Sadly, they degrade quickly.
    The solution to this dilemma is much closer than, för instance, making high-temperature superconductors or fusion power.

  25. says

    @24 range extenders do exist. They burn gasoline to recharge your battery. Essentially they turn your electric car into a hybrid. Really they’re just compact portable generators. Handy is you go out into the sticks. Mark my words though. Gasoline is on it’s way out.

    Right now there are companies that are developing 1KW generators that can fit in a backpack. 1KW is roughly equivalent to 1.25 HP. It’s not much but it will charge your car in an hour or two. Just toss it in the back seat and have a picnic. Electric drivetrains are EXTREMELY efficient. 80%+ efficient. With LiPos you’re looking at 90% charge to discharge rates. So if you charge 100Wh you get 90WH back. Then the drive train is about 95%-98% efficient. Gasoline on the other hand, well, the most efficient Otto Cycle engines are about 30%. Diesel pushes it to about 35%. Gas turbines running on kerosene, around 38%.

    The trick is where is that energy coming from. Solar, wind, and hydro are pretty much free energy. Coal is about 40%. Oil and natural gas can hit around 50%. Nuclear is more complicated but still less than the alternatives.

    Conclusion: Solar and wind are the future of energy. Electric is the future of transportation. Petro-chemical should be maintained as a backup but not used every day.

  26. rockwhisperer says

    Mea culpa, Husband and I just switched to using Starlink for wifi at a home in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Other satellite services don’t have the upload speed for him to do his professional work (he’s a firmware engineer), the only cell carrier is Verizon (4G), and the data service he needs for work costs the earth (and leaves nothing left for entertainment). When we chose to build at this location a decade ago, we had no idea that the major services would be so slow to provide decent service. Not that we ever expected cable or DSL, but Hughes and others dropped the ball, and Verizon discovered its data cash cow.

    The Starlink service works very well, speeds support Husband’s work as well as streaming video services for entertainment, and yet, our home has been tainted by Elon Musk.

  27. microraptor says

    I’d love to be able to switch to an electric vehicle, but I live in an apartment. There are no charging stations in the complex’s parking lot, nor do I have the ability to install one.

  28. John Morales says

    I think the commentariat has the gist, here.

    It’s more about the product than about its genesis, and also Musk is probably no more a rapacious capitalist than other purveyors of cars. Richer in person, sure.

  29. says

    CorporalKlinger @ #28, thank you for the link. What I most appreciate about Niedermeyer’s analysis is that he doesn’t limit himself to talking about this one person and company but looks at the larger social/cultural/psychological/political aspects of the issue and the alternative socially just and beneficial pathways of technological development that are foreclosed when this one is able to dominate.

  30. silvrhalide says

    @31 I feel your pain, I have the same problem. No recharging stations and there is no way I am going to run a cable for 6 blocks or to wherever I found a parking spot. I got a gas-electric hybrid (the kind where the braking recharges the battery) and it’s been great. Routinely averages 50 mpg for a large sedan. As much as I would love to get a full EV, there is literally no point until recharging stations get a lot better and become more plentiful. Right now the closest recharge station is 3 miles away and there are only 3 ports, so competition for those 3 are fierce.

  31. numerobis says

    silvrhalide: I don’t know what it is with the romance of stringing a cable from your home to your car. I see it brought up as a straw man all the time.

    The actual solution: you go to a public charger on the street or in a parking lot and plug in there. As long as there are sufficient chargers in your area (either near home or near work or somewhere you’ll be for several hours) it’s a non-issue.

    Some places don’t have supportive policies that make those chargers get installed, so if you live in one of those, you’re out of luck.