Elon Musk is shaping as much as be this era’s Henry Ford – for higher or worse

Elon Musk is shaping up to be this generation's Henry Ford – for better or worse


Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Ford founder Henry Ford Henry Guttmann Assortment/Hulton Archive/Getty Photos and Slaven Vlasic/Getty Photos for The New York Occasions
  • Elon Musk and Henry Ford share lots of similarities.
  • Each males have revolutionized the automotive business.
  • Additionally they each love stoking public controversy.

100 years after Henry Ford reshaped the automotive business with the meeting line, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is doing a lot the identical for electrical automobiles.

Musk is a once-in-a-generation determine whose legacy is turning into difficult in actual time – not in contrast to the Ford founder who revolutionized automobile manufacturing.

Musk and Ford have been in comparison with each other for a number of years now. Ford did not invent the automobile, however he discovered a technique to convey private transportation to the lots. Equally, Musk did not invent EVs, however made them fashionable.

Musk and Ford bookend the historical past of the American automotive business, stated Martin French, managing director at automotive consultancy Berylls.

“What Elon Musk did was completely shake up an business that by no means actually modified a lot after Henry Ford reinvented it 100 years in the past,” French stated. “With out Elon Musk and Tesla, the place would we be at the moment on EVs, on automotive manufacturing? During the last 15 years, Elon has been shaking issues up.”

The bombastic billionaire, whose empire consists of Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Firm, and X (previously Twitter), is usually credited with ushering in an electrical automobile revolution by lastly making battery-powered automobiles cool and accessible. Along with electrical automobile know-how, Tesla has led the way in which on automobile software program improvements and seems poised to dominate the fast-charging market with its Supercharger community.

Each males had been change brokers at crucial occasions

Each Musk and Ford harnessed their industrial may to manage automobile pricing and usher in a brand new era of car homeowners.

Even the present Ford CEO Jim Farley has known as out the similarities. Earlier this 12 months, he identified that Musk had taken a web page out of Henry Ford’s playbook together with his EV value conflict. His transfer is strikingly just like that of Ford’s in 1913, when the corporate first began utilizing the conveyor belt on its meeting line and commenced slashing costs of the Mannequin T to spice up gross sales.

Musk has additionally acknowledged the connection and expressed admiration for Ford, calling him a “next-level genius” in an interview with Joe Rogan earlier this 12 months.

The draw back to ‘genius’

Regardless of their success (or maybe due to it), Ford and Musk additionally share some weaknesses – ones that may include the extent of iconography each executives amassed of their careers.

Each males began their careers as nerds, kind of, with massive concepts and altruistic ambitions, however as their stardom rose, they started to share much less savory concepts.

It is an all too frequent conundrum that’s solely exacerbated by the halo of “yes-men” recognized to encompass folks of their standing, William Klepper, a administration professor who teaches an executive-leadership course at Columbia Enterprise College, informed Enterprise Insider.

“It is the basic situation the place the emperor has no garments however all people’s too afraid to inform him,” Klepper stated.

The brighter Ford’s star burned, the extra he felt emboldened to share his each thought with the world – not all of them fairly as universally adored because the meeting line or the $5-a-day meeting line wage.

Ford touted antisemitic and racist views within the media and purchased his personal newspaper to unfold his opinions additional. As Ford more and more turned his focus elsewhere, his firm started to fall behind. By the Nineteen Twenties, Ford was forging into hydroelectric energy and airplane manufacturing whereas Alfred P. Sloan and Common Motors nipped at his heels.

By 1929, GM was the world’s greatest automobile firm and Ford was left again on its heels till after World Struggle II, when Ford’s grandson took over the corporate.

Equally, as Musk has embraced celeb, he is grow to be more and more unwilling to settle for his personal fallibility. The billionaire usually courts public controversy and insists upon sharing his views below the guise of “free speech.”

Over the previous 12 months, some Tesla traders and supporters have began worrying that Musk will repeat Ford’s errors. Musk bought the huge social media web site Twitter, which he later renamed X, in 2022 and infrequently makes use of the platform to raise hate speech and conspiracy theories.

“With that brilliance there’s sometimes some issues,” French stated. “Musk is in peril of derailing his personal legacy in some folks’s thoughts.”

The ‘Tesla Bros’

For years, Musk was heralded as an enemy of “massive oil” and a warrior for the surroundings. Early Tesla adopters usually purchased into electrical automobile know-how for the environmental advantages and drove their Teslas round to sign their altruism and dedication to the planet.

Over time, nevertheless, the quintessential “Tesla Bro” has morphed into one thing extra far-right and conspiracy-brained, not in contrast to Musk himself. In the meantime, some early Tesla adopters have begun to distance themselves from the CEO, placing bumper stickers on their EVs denouncing Musk and even ditching their Teslas solely.

For a lot of Tesla’s historical past, Musk’s very public persona has been a supply of free promoting for the model, however in 2023 Musk’s connection to the corporate has taken a flip for the more serious.

The difficulty appeared to succeed in a boiling level in November when the billionaire appeared to spice up an antisemitic publish on X. The backlash from Tesla followers, traders, advertisers, and extra was swift.

“Getting a flood of messages from shoppers wanting out of Tesla and something to do with Elon Musk,” one Tesla investor, Ross Gerber, wrote on X. “Many saying they’re promoting their automobiles as effectively. What’s he doing to the Tesla model??!!?!?”

A number of different traders known as for the carmaker to discover a new CEO.

Nonetheless, like Henry Ford, whose identify and likeness are nonetheless plastered all throughout his hometown of Dearborn, Michigan, Musk has a method of bouncing again and regaining the assist of patrons and traders.

“Elon has grow to be an actual ‘love him or hate him’ determine,” French stated. “However standing again and looking out on the business from 30,000 toes, which is my job, I’ve to say what Tesla has completed is really outstanding.”


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