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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 Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images and Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for The New York Times
  • Elon Musk and Henry Ford share a lot of similarities.
  • Both men have revolutionized the automotive industry.
  • They also both love stoking public controversy.

One hundred years after Henry Ford reshaped the automotive industry with the assembly line, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is doing much the same for electric cars.

Musk is a once-in-a-generation figure whose legacy is becoming complicated in real time – not unlike the Ford founder who revolutionized vehicle production.

Musk and Ford have been compared to one another for several years now. Ford didn’t invent the car, but he found a way to bring personal transportation to the masses. Similarly, Musk didn’t invent EVs, but made them popular.

Musk and Ford bookend the history of the American automotive industry, said Martin French, managing director at automotive consultancy Berylls.

“What Elon Musk did was totally shake up an industry that never really changed much after Henry Ford reinvented it 100 years ago,” French said. “Without Elon Musk and Tesla, where would we be today on EVs, on automotive manufacturing? Over the last 15 years, Elon has been shaking things up.”

The bombastic billionaire, whose empire includes Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, and X (formerly Twitter), is often credited with ushering in an electric vehicle revolution by finally making battery-powered cars cool and accessible. In addition to electric vehicle technology, Tesla has led the way on vehicle software innovations and appears poised to dominate the fast-charging market with its Supercharger network.

Both men were change agents at critical times

Both Musk and Ford harnessed their industrial might to control vehicle pricing and usher in a new generation of vehicle owners.

Even the current Ford CEO Jim Farley has called out the similarities. Earlier this year, he pointed out that Musk had taken a page out of Henry Ford’s playbook with his EV price war. His move is strikingly similar to that of Ford’s in 1913, when the company first started using the conveyor belt on its assembly line and began slashing prices of the Model T to boost sales.

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

The downside to ‘genius’

Despite their success (or perhaps because of it), Ford and Musk also share some weaknesses – ones that can come with the level of iconography both executives amassed in their careers.

Both men started their careers as nerds, more or less, with big ideas and altruistic ambitions, but as their stardom rose, they began to share less savory ideas.

It’s an all too common conundrum that is only exacerbated by the halo of “yes-men” known to surround people of their status, William Klepper, a management professor who teaches an executive-leadership course at Columbia Business School, told Business Insider.

“It’s the classic scenario where the emperor has no clothes but everybody’s too afraid to tell him,” Klepper said.

The brighter Ford’s star burned, the more he felt emboldened to share his every thought with the world – not all of them quite as universally adored as the assembly line or the $5-a-day assembly line salary.

Ford touted antisemitic and racist views in the media and bought his own newspaper to spread his opinions further. As Ford increasingly turned his focus elsewhere, his company began to fall behind. By the 1920s, Ford was forging into hydroelectric power and airplane manufacturing while Alfred P. Sloan and General Motors nipped at his heels.

By 1929, GM was the world’s biggest car company and Ford was left back on its heels until after World War II, when Ford’s grandson took over the company.

Similarly, as Musk has embraced celebrity, he’s become increasingly unwilling to accept his own fallibility. The billionaire often courts public controversy and insists upon sharing his views under the guise of “free speech.”

Over the past year, some Tesla investors and supporters have started worrying that Musk will repeat Ford’s mistakes. Musk purchased the massive social media website Twitter, which he later renamed X, in 2022 and often uses the platform to elevate hate speech and conspiracy theories.

“With that brilliance there’s typically some complications,” French said. “Musk is in danger of derailing his own legacy in some people’s mind.”

The ‘Tesla Bros’

For years, Musk was heralded as an enemy of “big oil” and a warrior for the environment. Early Tesla adopters often bought into electric vehicle technology for the environmental benefits and drove their Teslas around to signal their altruism and commitment to the planet.

Over time, however, the quintessential “Tesla Bro” has morphed into something more far-right and conspiracy-brained, not unlike Musk himself. Meanwhile, some early Tesla adopters have begun to distance themselves from the CEO, putting bumper stickers on their EVs denouncing Musk or even ditching their Teslas entirely.

For much of Tesla’s history, Musk’s very public persona has been a source of free advertising for the brand, but in 2023 Musk’s connection to the company has taken a turn for the worse.

The issue seemed to reach a boiling point in November when the billionaire appeared to boost an antisemitic post on X. The backlash from Tesla fans, investors, advertisers, and more was swift.

“Getting a flood of messages from clients wanting out of Tesla and anything to do with Elon Musk,” one Tesla investor, Ross Gerber, wrote on X. “Many saying they are selling their cars as well. What is he doing to the Tesla brand??!!?!?”

Several other investors called for the carmaker to find a new CEO.

Nonetheless, like Henry Ford, whose name and likeness are still plastered all across his hometown of Dearborn, Michigan, Musk has a way of bouncing back and regaining the support of buyers and investors.

“Elon has become a real ‘love him or hate him’ figure,” French said. “But standing back and looking at the industry from 30,000 feet, which is my job, I have to say what Tesla has done is truly remarkable.”

This article was originally published by a www.autoblog.com . Read the Original article here. .

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