Say what you will about Elon—especially in light of recent behaviors—but the man is no dummy. Before his epic fall to the SEC, Musk was performing a strategy with Tesla that shows there is a method to the visionary’s madness. Establishing an infrastructure to support not only his, but every EV automobile in the country, was an estimable move for the electric-car company. A move that we would all be wise to emulate.
Strategizing like a genius
I often watch the career roller coaster of icons like Bezos, Gates, and Musk with a fascination that borders on jealousy. I wouldn’t want the fame and responsibilities that comes with their success, but I do fantasize about having the insight and hubris that these men have.
For example, there are several ways the moonshot maverick Musk amazes me, not the least of which is his move to pepper the American landscape with supercharge EV stations. This is notable because too often progress overlooks infrastructure (as evidenced by the recent swell of failed startups). Infrastructure is the black sheep of the startup mindset; typically too unsexy for most entrepreneurs to even glance at. Which, come to think of it, is why this level of investment was probably done in isolation by Musk and co. After all, pumping stations are grimy, stinky, and generally not inviting—especially in some of the more remote locations.
This is likely the reason Tesla didn’t partner with Exxon or BP (in a similar fashion to how Apple partnered with existing programmers and publishers with their iTunes revolution). Had he lowered his expectations, however, and piggybacked off of existing gas stations for his charging kiosks, that would not only have offered him better placement, but more frequent placement as well.
Currently, 150 miles is really too far between for any driver who has to make more than one stop between trips to fuel up. Okay, so it’s better than 300 miles, for sure, but the time of cross-country road trips are lost in the Kodachrome days of yore. Today’s commuter likes a slightly more comfortable placement between stations.
First round’s on me
Putting that cultural concern aside, the fact that Tesla owners essentially receive free fuel (or maybe they used to?) is more in line with the hot-head entrepreneur we as a culture have grown to admire. And it’s that thinking that puts Tesla on the map repeatedly and disrupts a decidedly petroleum-driven culture to purchase an electric vehicle.
Building a framework for society to be able to use a company’s products or services is not only smart, it’s sustainable. We can see evidence of this in Westinghouse’s investment in the early days of electricity. In order to get electricity into the homes of every American, he sold hundreds of different products that required electricity. To encourage consumption of these products like toasters and electric irons—which no one needed at the time—he provided electricity for pennies a day. Today, we can not even imagine a home without electricity. It was the inventor’s investment and foresight which made that dream a reality.
Like Westinghouse’s electricity, Musk’s charging stations will be proven valuable when the infrastructure he’s invested in is used by other industries and even by competitors. At that point, the genius is made evident and history books will show Musk as singularly pivotal in bringing electric vehicles to this country. But that might not be as easy as putting in more stations. Musk has to lower the barrier to entry for non-Tesla vehicles to access the chargers. If and when that happens, there will be no stopping the EV revolution.