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Electric Vehicles

Why I’ve Finally Lost Faith in Tesla

Superchargers made sense. What is Elon Musk doing?

A Tesla impaled by the Tesla logo.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

When I finally succumbed and opened Threads, Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithm sized up my demographics and fed me two kinds of posts it thought would juice my engagement. First were the people shouting, incorrectly, that IPA is a bad style of beer and framing themselves as too hip to sip something so basic. Second: Posts from the loud, dedicated cadre of Threads users who are actively rooting against Tesla.

I understand the spite. When I bought my Model 3 five years ago, Elon Musk had begun his public heel turn. Some of the signs of what was to come were already there. However, Model 3 was the best reasonably affordable EV on the market, and the Supercharger network made it possible for us (California residents as we are) to own only an electric vehicle. You couldn’t say that for the electric Hyundai Kona.

In the time since then, Musk’s erratic or adolescent behavior has caused a rising tide of people, especially among the very online and the political left, to openly hope for and celebrate Tesla’s failures. I have not been among them. Musk’s brand was the best bet for getting Americans to quit internal combustion, a goal that’s more important to me than the man’s personal failings. Nor did I believe declarations that the company was doomed. No matter what crazy thing Elon Musk devoted his money or his attention to, it seemed like Tesla’s dominance in both the EV market and the stock market could paint over the crazy.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Last month, we covered the big problems with Tesla’s EV lineup. The only new vehicle released since 2020 was the Cybertruck, which is suffering through slow sales and a sudden unintended acceleration crisis. The sub-$30,000 model that would open up Tesla to the masses was sort of canceled, then sort of uncanceled, and now sits in limbo. Whatever that car’s fate, it’s clear that Musk is obsessed with self-driving software and his “robotaxi” at the expense of EVs actually driven by their human occupants.

But if a self-inflicted wound proves fatal, it might be the one Musk created this week by laying off essentially the entire team in charge of Tesla’s Supercharger network. That includes Rebecca Tinucci, his senior director of EV charging, who led the effort starting in 2022 to convince the other automakers to adopt Tesla’s formerly proprietary plug standard as their own.

Tinucci’s achievement was one of the company’s few undisputed success stories during the past several years of chaos. One by one, the other automakers ditched plug standards that were supported by third-party charging companies like EVgo and Electrify America to adopt the Tesla plug, which was christened the North American Charging Standard. Ford and Rivian EVs have begun this year to use a big part of Tesla’s robust Supercharger network. I cannot tell you how many excited, targeted Instagram ads I’ve gotten from Rivian celebrating the new access.

This was a huge deal for American EV adoption. Tesla’s fast-chargers are widespread, simple to use, and far more reliable than the oft-busted charging stations other EVs previously had to rely on. And it was a huge deal for Tesla, which created out of nowhere a huge new customer base ready to pay for its electricity.

And now, at what should be a moment of triumph at winning the charging wars, Musk has pivoted away. He wrote on his social network formerly named Twitter: “Tesla still plans to grow the Supercharger network, just at a slower pace for new locations and more focus on 100% uptime and expansion of existing locations.”

Frankly, this sounds like an attempt to hand-wave away a spectacular self-own. As The Vergereported: “Station installations were up 26% year over year, while the number of connectors was up 27%. It was a rare area of growth for the company, which has seen its sales and profits fall since last year as demand for EVs cools down.” In trying to become lean and innovative, all Musk managed to do was kneecap a part of Tesla that’s actually working.

The company has to keep making money while Musk busies himself with trying to solve AI and autonomous driving. What with its inattention to its EV lineup and shooting itself in the foot over Supercharging, suddenly the winning options are few. Tesla’s other business is in home energy, where it installs solar panels and sells its Powerwall home batteries. This is a lucrative market as energy storage becomes increasingly important to the grid and home of the future — unless Musk decides that, like selling cars, it’s too boring.

Given its huge lead in EV sales and EV charging, Tesla is forever just a few good decisions away from trending upward again. It’s just getting more difficult each day to imagine the company doing so.

Andrew Moseman profile image

Andrew Moseman

Andrew Moseman has covered science, technology, and transportation for publications such as The Atlantic, Inverse, Insider, Outside, and MIT Technology Review. He was previously digital director of Popular Mechanics and now serves as online communications editor at Caltech. He is based in Los Angeles.

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