Ben Sullins is a long-time YouTuber. He is one of the earliest YouTubers that I began watching back in the day when I first became seriously interested in Tesla. His background is in data and number crunching. He was an early Tesla adopter and advocate who has been a defender of the company in the past, even when “outsiders” were critical.
In a recent video, Sullins leveled some harsh words towards the company. What? Is Ben Sullins joining the dark side? I can’t say, but it makes no difference since that's not the point here. We respect Sullins, the site considers him a friend, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Hence, the reason for this op-ed.
Editor's note: Before we move on, it's important to note that Sullins temporarily took down the "Tesla Fails" video. He produced a short video (below) stating that he had plans to edit out a section before putting the video back online. It appears the video is, once again, available here, but it may have been edited after parts of the article were already written.
What I can say is that some of what he said may have some valid basis: specifically, his comments about Tesla’s problems with quality and customer service. The trouble is that as outsiders it is very hard for us to say whether these issues are statistically significant or largely anecdotal. We don't have access to the full picture.
Perhaps we’ll soon be able to check with large Tesla fleet operators such as Revel or Hertz and get their report. Fleet operators such as these should be able to provide a fair and unbiased statistical evaluation about the vehicles and about how service is managed by Tesla. I imagine they have precedence upon which to base a fair evaluation and opinion.
One of Ben’s biggest concerns is that Tesla is losing its “Why.” In other words, its raison d’etre or core reason for being. Ben lays out that one major motivation for his early interest in the company was its emphasis on reducing pollution and greenhouse gasses.
He found the company’s push to accelerate sustainable transportation a compelling cause that he could get behind. However, he now fears that on top of the troubles mentioned above, “distractions” such as self-driving vehicle development and the humanoid robot are pulling the company away from its core mission.
Decarbonizing the world?
As for Tesla losing its “Why,” I have to respectfully disagree. I don't think Tesla is losing that, but rather is shifting its “HOW.” Decarbonizing the planet seems just as important to Elon Musk as ever, but I think Tesla's opinion on how to accomplish this has changed.
I perceive that Elon’s and Tesla management’s thoughts go something like this. Why bother to build and sell 20 million consumer cars when we can build and sell say four million fleet cars with five times the utility using self-driving? Those four million self-driving fleet vehicles will be able to do more to readily and rapidly reduce carbon emissions than the 20 million personally owned vehicles. Thus we see the push to get self-driving working as quickly as possible.
In his video, Ben pushed back against Tesla’s self-driving development efforts saying it will be many many years down the road before it works. As for me, I’m sticking with my prediction “Tesla & EV Predictions, 2022 and Beyond.”
Who will carry the torch?
At Telsa Autonomy Investor Day, Elon boldly exclaimed that Tesla cars would become an appreciating asset. He laid out the idea that your car could drive around all day making you money. Since then, people have questioned how many individual Tesla owners will want to lend out their Tesla’s to strangers to do who-knows-what in them. This is the wrong question. “Marty, you’re not thinking fourth dimensionally.”
Some years ago Zac & Jesse, hosts of the YouTube channel “Now You Know,” predicted that, in the future, Tesla would no longer sell cars to individuals. This sentiment has been echoed by others.
Tesla’s business deal with Hertz this past year gives us a glimpse of what could happen. If ... no, rather, when Tesla solves self-driving, it will not be so much you and I that will drive Tesla’s growth and the use of self-driving, but rather, large fleet operators with deep pockets, hungry to step in, promote and capture the robo-taxi business.
I suspect that there won’t necessarily be a Tesla policy against selling to private owners, but you and I will have to stand in line behind the big boys with our hands out, and we may have to be willing to pay whatever premium Tesla wants to ask.
Is Tesla management correct? Is an FSD plan to help decarbonize the planet going to work? I don't know. I think that is too difficult and unprecedented a question to be able to easily answer. Indeed it’s a question that is meat enough for an entire discussion and article in itself. But I'm guessing that this is what Tesla management is thinking. It has not lost sight of Tesla’s original mission.
What about the Tesla humanoid robot, is that a distraction from Tesla’s mission? Clearly, it does not seem self-evident how it could possibly relate to transitioning the world to sustainable energy. However, I think we know two things. Elon sees long-term, holistically, in the big picture. And it is clear that his inventions, which often – at least on the surface – seem to have one purpose, in truth, go beyond that surface with a far deeper purpose. So, before throwing any stones, I’m willing to suspend disbelief for now.
Plus, we know that Elon has long held a “Why” of making humans multi-planetary. While the robot may not seem to fit the mission of sustainable energy, it does align perfectly with Elon's multi-planetary “Why.” I suspect that this mission is compelling enough to engender him to make use of whatever reasonable resources he has available to “make it so.”
Just for fun, I'm incorporating a new "feature" into my articles:
"I'm pretty confident that the market will phase out Honda gas-powered vehicles on its own"
What do you think? Will Tesla achieve self-driving vehicles? Will Tesla stop selling vehicles to individual consumers? Will fleet demand make Tesla vehicles so expensive that most individual customers can’t afford them? Is Tesla acting too short-term and losing its original focus?