May you live in interesting times.
Regardless of the origins of that phrase, for those of us that cover the auto industry, it usually ends up being an apt description of our lives. Shortly before I began writing professionally about cars, another of the endless stream of startups that think they can become the next GM or Ford came into public awareness and things have never been quite the same. Regardless of the ultimate fate of Tesla, the company has had an impact and Ed Niedermeyer has spent the past several years researching and writing what is arguably the best take on the company to date.
Unlike a biography of Musk published a couple of years ago, Ludicrous is not a hagiography of the man, nor does it especially even focus on him except to the degree that he has impacted the path of the company. Certainly, without Musk’s early and ongoing involvement, Tesla would almost certainly never have delivered a product or survived to this day in its current form. Musk personally put in most of the dollars that made the Roadster a reality. He has also been the chief pitchman for the brand throughout most of its history.
Conversely, he has been in many ways the company’s biggest problem. A key factor in Tesla’s survival as a going concern has been its ability to raise new capital to fund operations. To date, Tesla’s business has never been self-sustaining. However, the cult of personality that Musk has built around himself has enabled Tesla to go back to the equity and debt markets over and over again, raising some $19 billion since 2010. But why should a company that for a time had a higher market value than General Motors or Ford, need to raise so much cash in order to achieve such a small market share?
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