MUSK – WHY DOES HE HAVE A CULT-LIKE FOLLOWING?

about 5 months ago
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If this had happened in India or for that matter in any other country, it would have become a huge embarrassment, with even the Govt getting worried.

But because it was a Tesla truck and Elon Musk, it drew a few laughs and the social media went into a tizzy. The damage to the reputation was zilch.

So what happened was that a couple weeks ago, the much awaited futuristic pick-up truck from Tesla– Cybertruck was unveiled in Los Angeles by Elon Musk.

It is supposed to be as sturdy as a rocket, unbreakable, bulletproof. To demonstrate its strength, the trucks designer threw a steel ball at one of the glass windows. It was supposed to be unbreakable but it cracked. Brushing it as a one-off, to demonstrate his point further, he threw a ball at another window – that too cracked!

Musk, being the confident leader that he is, laughed along with the people, saying, ““We threw wrenches, we threw everything even literally the kitchen sink at the glass and it didn’t break. For some weird reason, it broke now. I don’t know why. We will fix it in post.”

Imagine if this had happened when Ratan Tata launched the Nano – if the car had broken into a fire like the way it did later- the company would have been written off globally. Or if Maruti Suzuki, at the launch of a new car had shown something like the way Musk did, it is doubtful that it would be able to sell later.

Musk though has no such problems. The all-electric Cybertruck, indeed looking more like a space machine and less like a truck, is priced at $39,900. Running for 250 miles on a single charge, if you add any of the perks like dual engines, this new electric vehicle gets much pricier. The other two models, a dual-motor one and a tri-motor version, are priced at $49,900 and $69,900, respectively.     

Post this disastrous launch, Telsa loyalists were unbreakable; within a week there were pre-orders to the tune of 2,50,000 trucks. One could brush this off saying that it does not take much to pre-order except a refundable deposit of $100. Tesla has already made more than $18 million which will be used for the production, which is slated to kick-off at the end of 2021, with the tri-motor version going into production in 2022. 

Tesla fans might have gone crazy but car critics and analysts are not amused – they remain skeptical about the trucks design, raising questions about the truck’s durability when used under work conditions given its unibody construction. Many feel that the Cybertruck is just a concept vehicle and not a viable pickup truck. There is also the question of whether the Cybertruck will ever be legal on the US streets. Many have predicted that the final version which will hit the market will be different from the one that Musk unveiled. And even the Model 3, Tesla was unable to sell at the promised price of $35,000; it’s selling tag was at $39,000.

So despite all these huge doubts and questions surrounding the Cybertruck, what is it about Tesla that gets people (his fans) into a frenzy? This itself rarely happens – an industrialist having a fan following which borders on obsession, a kind of reverence usually seen for pop stars than a tech mogul.

While the other head honchos come forth as ‘stodgier’ Musk is seen as more spirited, an internet savvy technocrat. More importantly, this obsession with Musk is more for his thinking, for his innovation and what his products stand for. This reverence for Musk comes because he shows the world a ‘possibility’ – products which challenge the average sense but can be made. It is very rare for a public figure to stick out his neck and do what they say. The fact that he makes things which he says he will make is what makes his fans obsessive.

Musk has shown that if you think something, it exists, it is tangible. That’s why even when his products sometimes fail, people recognize the effort and understand how difficult it is to do anything at all.  Like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos – they too had a fan following bordering on obsession because they innovated, opened the world to a new way of life.

Tesla, like Apple is an aspirational brand as it is out-of-reach for most. But those who can buy a Tesla, do so because they want to show-off that they believe in what Tesla stands for – sustainability and protection of the environment.  More importantly, despite the glass cracking at a launch, faith in what Tesla makes remains rock steady as it has always delivered a product quality which is par excellence; so they know that Musk will ensure that the product is what he has promised.

The fact is even if the Cybertruck or SpaceX fail, people will remember that this existed and Tesla made electric cars which are a reality today but at that time, was a mere concept.

Thus what matters to people is innovation – in India we have Flipkart, Paytm or Ola. But all these are ‘improvisations,’ not innovations; even for that matter, Jack Ma improvised on Amazon for China as Alibaba.

All around the world, enterprising start-ups and business giants are busy developing new ideas that could change the world. The Govt’s are providing the best framework and conditions for innovation to thrive. And where are we headed? Castism, religion based citizenship, curfews; we seem to have gone back in time instead of moving ahead. Wish our leaders look towards these inspirations and cities that cultivate a culture of innovation and enterprise …..wishful thinking?

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