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Why Does Tesla Often Seem To Promise More Than It Can Deliver?

Why does Tesla (CEO Elon Musk in particular) often seem to promise more than it seems able to deliver? Why are the company’s deadlines so often not met?

These interesting questions were brought up, and expounded on, in a recent article published on Business Insider. While I can myself think of a number of reasons for the situation off the top of my head — ranging from simply being an effective sales strategy to Musk’s extreme optimism, etc — the question leads in some other directions as well. Some that are very intriguing.

Elon Musk TED Talk

Here’s more from that article (tip of the hat to “mspohr” on the Tesla Motors Club forum):

So why does Tesla do this: overpromise and underdeliver? Because, at this point in the company’s history, there’s nothing to be gained from underpromising and overdelivering. Don’t get me wrong, Tesla has wildly overdelivered on the product side. It’s cars are widely considered, by owners, observers, and the motoring media, to be incredible.

But on the business side, the story has generally been one of missed targets and delayed launches. The Model X, spectacular though it may be, was two years late. There’s certainly no guarantee that Tesla next vehicle, the mass-market Model 3, slated to arrive in 2017, will be different. In fact, a betting man might prepare himself for 2018 or 2019.

Ultimately, Tesla is a company constructed out of a vision: change the world. Replace fossil-fuel-powered transportation with clean vehicles. You might be skeptical about this, but trust me — this is what Musk believes. This is what drives him, far more than money. (He’s already spent a fortune once and would be happy to do it again.)

Job One at Tesla is to nurture and perpetuate that vision. Musk doesn’t want Tesla to grow up to be Ferrari — he wants it to displace the Toyotas and GMs of the world, or at least compel them to join him in transforming the way we get around. Tesla is a completely different story. You don’t change the world without expressing ambitious stretch goals. Ultimately, you don’t have much of a story without ambitious stretch goals. So Musk really has no choice but to overpromise, knowing that underdelivering is probable.

Many have previously remarked on Musk’s fanaticism, which ties in with this perspective. I’m inclined to agree with this view — the intent on the part of those involved seems to be ideological in nature.

I’m aware that some consider Musk to be rather more on the snake oil sales side of things, and that his stated beliefs are simply sales gimmicks, but I’m very skeptical of that. When you hear him talk about going to Mars, transforming the auto industry, etc, he does seem to genuinely believe what he says. Whether or not these goals are achievable is an open question, but the intent seems to be a visionary one rather than one based on simple business strategy.

Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.


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