The level of influence Elon Musk has is truly staggering, though not entirely without precedent. Steve Jobs was similarly famous and his whimsical marketing style ended up being so effective that you would see doppelgangers embracing his tactic of selling people an experience, rather than focusing wholly on the product. Minus the black turtleneck, some might even argue Musk has aped his style — perhaps while noticing similar sales tactics embraced by Ron Popeil, David Ogilvy, or P.T. Barnum.
A good pitchman is one that can adapt tried-and-true methods from their forebears while having enough unique flare not to come across as derivative. But not everyone has the magic and we’re left with a sea of less enduring (and endearing) copycats. Notice how practically every electric vehicle manufacturer seems hellbent on becoming the next Tesla, rather than adopting a corporate personality of their own.
Jobs’ public persona evolved from down-to-earth spokesman to technological cleric in the 1990s and his motto of ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ was swiftly put to the test when every other computer business tried and failed to become the next Apple. Musk appears to be on a similar trajectory — though he’s strived to maintain a sense that he’s a relatively normal person, despite his unbelievable wealth and many quirks.
Apple’s business model seems to be most effectively duplicated in other industries. In fact, your author has repeatedly heard people suggest that’s exactly what made Tesla a success, with good reason. But Elon Musk’s role cannot be understated; his personality is a big reason why the company has such an ardent fanbase. Bloomberg recently ran a piece that explaining just how influential he’s become by explaining how Tesla’s terminology has become the default for automakers the world over.
Many of the words speak to the sheer scale of Musk’s ambitions, which are always far grander than people realize initially. A battery factory isn’t just a battery factory, it’s a Gigafactory. (Giga comes from the Greek word “gigas,” or giant.)
A fast charging station for Tesla’s electric cars isn’t just a charging station, it’s a Supercharger. (Tesla has more than 25,000, giving them the largest network in the world.)
The battery packs that Tesla sells to utilities that promise “massive energy storage?” Megapacks.
There are no signs of him stopping. At Tesla’s “Battery Day” in September 2020, Musk talked about reaching “Terawatt-hour” scale battery production. “Tera is the new Giga,” Musk said on stage.
Just about every automaker building EVs now has its own version of Battery Day and numerous firms have embraced Tesla-centric terms to describe their own facilities. Case in point, we found it supremely odd when Volkswagen announced it was building a new “gigafactory” during an annual event it calls “Power Day.”
But VW is just one of several companies that have embraced the American manufacturer’s phraseology. While the Bloomberg piece spends a bit too much time praising Musk, it also correctly identified the vastness of his influence. It noted that journalists and automakers are beginning to default calling all battery plants gigafactories, using Stellantis and Nissan as recent examples.
What we’re wondering is whether or not this is good for the long-term health of the industry. Automakers consistently chase each other around when one business is fortunate enough to strike upon a successful concept. But the Tesla copying has been going on for quite some time and Elon Musk has grown to become a larger-than-life figure. Only those truly invested in the automotive sector know who’s at the top of the ladder at General Motors or Volkswagen Group. But practically everyone can identify Elon Musk and is familiar with the companies he represents.
Does that place him alongside Steve Jobs or is he a more substantive figurehead? And what’s to become of all of these EV companies that are clearly fixated on Tesla’s success? How can they shine brightly enough to become truly successful when they seem to be intentionally living in another company’s shadow?