Auto Industry Expert Bob Lutz on Tesla & Autonomous Cars

Always interesting to hear Bob Lutz' take on current state of automobile industry. Can't disagree with his rational view on Tesla despite the feel of animosity. 

What’s your take on Elon Musk and Tesla?

I don’t know why it is that otherwise intelligent people can’t see what’s going on there. They lose money on every car, they have a constant cash drain, and yet everybody talks as if this is the most miraculous automobile company of all time.

What do you think will happen with Tesla down the line? Bought by a traditional auto company?

Maybe, but who needs it? [Musk] has no technology that’s not available to anybody else. It’s lithium-ion cobalt batteries. Every carmaker on the planet has electric vehicles in the works with a 200-300-mile range.

Raising capital is not going to help, because fundamentally the business equation on electric cars is wrong. They cost more to build than what the public is willing to pay. That’s the bottom line.

What about the design?

The one advantage [Musk] has is that the Model S is a gorgeous car. It’s one of the best-looking full-size sedans ever. The Model X? It looks like a loaf of bread. There’s no arguing the Model 3 is nice-looking but it doesn’t break any new ground aesthetically.

Don’t get me wrong, what Musk has achieved, whether it is profitable or not, is incredible. He’s created an automobile company based solely on electric vehicles, and they have pretty good, not yet completely reliable, autonomous capability.

For the guy who pushed the Volt, you seem pretty down on electric cars.

They are unarguably a ton of fun to drive. The Tesla Model S? The one with ‘ridiculous mode’? Zero to 60 in like 2.2 seconds? That’s got to be like a shot off an aircraft carrier.

But the mainstream still prefers gasoline. It’s more convenient. You don’t have the recharge time. It has unlimited range — you can refuel any time, any place.

The electric vehicle market is maybe 1%. It could go up to 4 or 5%. Surveys show maybe 4 or 5% of Americans feel so deeply about climate change and the environment that they’re willing to make a personal sacrifice to make their contribution. Most of them are called Prius owners.

You’re bullish on autonomous cars.

As much as one side of me deplores it because I love to drive, when you look at the skills of the average driver, and the reaction times, and the incidence of alcohol and drug use as a factor in accidents, and the amount of national productive time that’s wasted in traffic jams, it is time to find a different solution.

So what's a driving enthusiast to do?

They will have to go to private racetracks. They’re springing up like golf courses. Those will be nice because they’ll be unfettered by regulations, since they’re not on public highways, and they will be the equivalent of riding stables and dude ranches now.