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Tesla: The Donald Trump of the Auto Industry

by Roger Lanctot | Oct 28, 2015

U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Tesla Motors have a lot in common. Both have proven to be disruptors of their respective markets while simultaneously defying the laws of political and automotive industry gravity, respectively.

Time after time pundits have forecast the immediate demise of Trump following a perceived faux paus. The Trump campaign has experienced multiple moments when the experts – mainly on the left – expressed their expectation that a glib disparaging comment regarding immigrants, women, fellow candidates, former candidates, Fox news anchors or Seventh-Day Adventists would lead to the ultimate demise of his candidacy.

Until recently, Trump has completely defied the odds by maintaining his leadership in the polls and beating back the doubters. Rather than torching his campaign, Trump’s incendiary comments have fired up his supporters.

Could Trump finally be meeting his match now that fellow candidate Ben Carson has managed to leap into first place in the latest polls? We’ll see. But, by now, no one is counting out The Donald.

Donald Trump takes risks with his tongue in what is now understood to be a carefully crafted campaign of establishing his sincerity and commitment to the cause of running for President and leading the country.  Tesla, too, is no stranger to risk taking.

Tesla has defied the odds and the experts with technology. The company continues to expand its geographic reach and technological performance without the aid of a traditional dealer network and in spite of selling an expensive electric vehicle into a market now fueled by $2/gallon prices at the pump.

Eminence grise and former GM/Chrysler/BMW boss Bob Lutz is now weighing in (http://tinyurl.com/o5b4sv2 - “Is Tesla Doomed?” – Roadandtrack.com) with a commentary questioning Tesla’s financial and business model. (Lutz has recently made an avocation of talking down Silicon Valley car maker wannabes having also predicted in the past week the ultimate failure of Apple’s car-making efforts.)

Lutz’s comments come on the heels of a decline in Tesla’s stock price following Consumer Reports’ decision to remove Tesla from its recommended list of cars due to a re-evaluation of Tesla reliability stats. On top of the CR downgrade Tesla’s Model S has been the subject of seemingly embarrassing Youtube videos appearing to show Tesla vehicles using downloaded self-driving technology and appearing to stray across center lines or prematurely exit exit ramps before being rescued by their drivers.

Tesla’s stock price has already begun its post-CR downgrade recovery following reports that Model S reliability has, in fact, improved over time, not deteriorated. But perhaps more importantly, the significance of the wirelessly deployed software update that enables some limited self-driving capability is only now sinking in.

Having just gotten my first taste of a self-driving capable Model S P85D I can honestly say that Tesla has outdone itself. With the deployment of semi-self-driving technology, Tesla has shown its true colors as a ruthless and fearless disruptor.

It is not possible to overstate the hubris, chutzpah, gall, imagination, cojones it took to deploy this self-driving feature. After one drive it is clear to me as it would be clear to any passenger or driver that Tesla and Tesla alone is prepared to go where no car company in the world dare tread.

With the addition of software code to the existing on-board sensor package, Tesla has leap-frogged years ahead of the entire auto industry, which was already lagging Tesla’s vision of electrification. Now the auto industry is lagging Tesla’s vision of autonomy.

And given the fact that Tesla’s vehicles come equipped with wireless connections, the company is in position to gather the data necessary to refine its existing algorithms and machine vision in real time. Competing car makers may talk about disruption and long too to transform the automotive industry. Tesla remains the peerless disruptor in chief.

In the end, Tesla may outdo Trump in maintaining its leadership for the long haul, in spite of the skepticism of the Bob Lutz’s of the world. With the deployment of its self- driving software Tesla has removed all doubt as to the company’s willingness to risk its future to preserve and extend its legacy. Tesla has re-written the principals underlying the innovator’s dilemma - tossing a gauntlet before the industry that no competitor can retrieve.

This is the kind of innovative, customer-oriented gesture that turns mere car owners into rabid fans.  It makes owning and driving a car with an automatic transmission as invigorating as piloting a stick-equipped supercar.  It is nothing less than driving into the future.

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