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The good and the bad of Elon Musk and Tesla

SALISBURY — Tim Higgins, author of “Power Play,” about Elon Musk and the Tesla electric car company, said the colorful and controversial Musk does not operate in the same way as conventional chief executives.

Higgins, a Wall Street Journal reporter, discussed his book with another Journal reporter and columnist, Dan Neil, in a live YouTube presentation through  the Scoville Memorial Library on Monday, Aug. 9.

Higgins said the last major new automaker in the U.S. was Chrysler, in 1925, and that only Ford and Tesla have not gone bankrupt.

What Musk and Tesla have been able to demonstrate, after many fits and starts, is that the electric car is not a niche vehicle like a Ferrari or a Porsche.

Higgins said the Tesla Model 3 (at a list price of around $30,000) is “an electric car for the masses.”

Higgins said that the Model 3 “was not a perfect birth.” “In 2019, a lot of people thought Tesla was done.” 

What those people did not realize was that Tesla was building a Model 3 factory in China  — and unlike most companies doing business in China, Tesla was not required to have a local partner.

Neil noted that Musk has attracted considerable controversy. “Is he a saint or a sinner?”

“Depends on the day,” replied Higgins. 

Neil asked about the criticism that Tesla is only viable because of generous government subsidies.

“Profit is profit,” Higgins said. “It gave people confidence.”

Neil observed that Musk  “was there to take advantage” of the favorable regulatory environment. “There was nothing to stop GM from doing the same.”

Higgins agreed.

Neil said he found it “unbelievable that someone so smart could be so dumb in other ways,” referring to Musk’s controversial high profile.

Higgins said “He lives in a public way, unlike other CEOs.

“In some ways it’s a benefit — when he generates excitement it’s good for Tesla.

“The flip side is he has a hard time separating private and public. When the stakes are so high, it can be unnerving.”

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