Opinion: Is Elon Musk a master of misdirection?

Opinion: Is Elon Musk a master of misdirection?

Any good illusionist will tell you that the secret to illusion is misdirection. Persuade the audience to look left while the elephant in the room disappears through a trap door on the right.

That is exactly what Tesla boss Elon Musk tried to achieve when he revealed not just the expected Tesla Semi electric truck, but the very unexpected new Roadster.

On paper both are impressive, with Tesla claiming the truck can achieve a 0-100km/h time of just 6.5 seconds (because Musk thinks that’s important to the truck market), as well as having an aerodynamic efficiency cd rating of just 0.36.

That figure is 0.02 better than that of a Bugatti Chiron, Musk told the assembled media, forgetting to point out the vast size of the truck compared to the Bugatti or the massive drag from the trailer.

Still, the Teslavangelists went wild. Some members of the media went wild.

They went even more crazy when Musk revealed the Roadster, the second generation of the car that started it all for Tesla. With a new 200kWh battery pack, Musk claims it will hit 100km/h in 1.9 seconds. That’s faster than a Formula E electric race car. It’s almost as fast as a Formula 1 car.

The Roadster is claimed to produce a monumental 10 000Nm of torque through the rear wheels, again more than both the Formula E and F1 cars. They, of course, have massive rear tyres and millions of dollars’ worth of aerodynamics to provide the downforce to keep the cars on the road.

After the reveal, Musk inferred that the Roadster might be engineered to be a flying car too, tweeting: “Not saying the next gen Roadster special upgrade package will definitely enable it to fly short hops, but maybe ….”

The main thing is that neither the truck nor the Roadster has undergone any testing — all the figures are just claims based on calculations. We love the look of both and we do hope Musk manages to achieve his claims, but it all seems a bit far-fetched.

But perhaps that was his plan, making the whole reveal a perfect example of misdirection. The company is in serious trouble when it comes to meeting its promised production targets. It should be manufacturing 5,000 units of the Model 3 a week, but it is struggling to make 500. It should have established networks and sales organisations in new markets as Musk promised for 2018, but there is no sign of them.

Contacted again this week about Musk’s promise of Tesla Motors in SA in 2018 and the arrival of the Model 3 here, we were again met with silence.

Teslavangelists will gleefully stump up the $50 000 deposit required for the Roadster, although we are not so sure how many $5 000 deposits truck fleet operators will be handing over. But the key thing is that there will be a Founder Series of the Roadster, limited to 1 000 models. Each potential owner will have to fork out the full $250 000 upfront for one of these, boosting Tesla’s bank account by $250m.

That would be a big help in fixing the production issues. – Mark Smyth