As good at the 1.08 stat is, I can come up with a better one: 0.76 fatalities per 100 million miles driven. Is that the fatality rate for Germany, where nobody ever passes in the right lane, there is barely any distracted driving, and everybody who has a license is basically as good a driver as Michael Schumacher, or at least Ralf Schumacher? Is it Finland where the driving test is so strict there’s a 57 percent failure rate? Or is it Japan, where all the cars are clean and brand new? Here’s a statistic for you: 1.08 fatalities per 100 million miles driven. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, that’s the death rate on the American road as of 2014, the last year for which there is complete >
No, that fatality rate is for a very specific driver right here in America, and the name of that driver is Tesla Autopilot. Again, let’s not lie with statistics. The conditions under which Autopilot, Tesla’s semiautonomous driving feature, will operate are, by definition, some of the safest and most predictable situations possible. Heavy rain, icy roads, limited visibility, the Tail of the Dragon—all places where Autopilot will cheerfully hand the wheel back over to you, the Tesla owner, and wish you good luck. Implying that Tesla Autopilot is safer than the average driver is probably like suggesting that most convicted felons are Democrats; the raw >Of course, the whole reason everyone is talking about Autopilot and its success rate lately is because of the recent fatal car crash of Joshua Brown, who was driving a Model S while using Autopilot mode. Now, you can quibble about whether Autopilot was released too
early or irresponsibly, but I tend to fall in the camp that believes people should be responsible for their own actions. And you can also quibble on whether Autopilot is safer than, say, a 30-year-old female librarian with excellent vision and impeccable impulse control. But what you cannot argue is the fact that the safety record of Autopilot is at least in the same ballpark with that of human drivers on the highway. Stop and think about that for a moment. It’s possible to walk into a dealership and buy a car that drives itself on the freeway about as safely as you would if you were driving the thing. That car also doesn’t use gasoline. And it’s as fast in the quarter-mile as a Corvette Stingray. The future is here, as William Gibson once said; it’s just unevenly distributed.
In any even remotely sane universe, Americans would be as proud of the Tesla Model S as we used to be about the moon landing or about winning the Cold War.
In any even remotely sane universe, this achievement would be celebrated in the most hyperbolic fashion possible by every man, woman, and child on the planet. Americans would be as proud of the Tesla Model S as we used to be about the moon landing or about winning the Cold War. The entire auto industry would be working night and day to make a car that could beat Tesla at its own game. Kids on their bicycles would pretend to be a Tesla P90D in Ludicrous Mode. (Or is it Ludacris Mode, where one is encouraged to “act a fool?”)
Needless to say, the world of 2016 is a thoroughly insane universe, so none of the above is happening. Instead, there’s a cottage industry springing up of people who are trying to make a name, or a living, or both, disparaging Tesla and its products. Instead of celebrating the existence of a self-autonomous electric car, they are focused on whatever individual gain they can scrape for themselves off the bottom of Elon Musk’s shoe.
These individuals are assisted in their quest by a media that long ago decided that it was completely okay with killing the society on which it parasitically feeds. Every potential flaw in a Tesla, every customer complaint, and every perceived shortfall from perfection in the product, the company, or its people is endlessly chewed into pulp by the mandibles of these filthy dung beetles in an effort to find a morsel of notoriety on which they can subsist. These people can’t look away from their own navels long enough to contemplate the technological miracle of a self-driving electric car that runs elevens in the quarter. They’d rather focus on minor quality issues or customer-relations missteps.
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Note that the harshest critics of Tesla and its products are not affiliated with Nissan, General Motors, BMW, or Ford. Instead, they are gadflies who rarely have any industry experience whatsoever. Few of them could change a tire on a minivan without getting help from a mechanic. I’m not aware of any serious Tesla critic who has the ability to design, and engineer, and produce so much as a $19.95 remote-control electric car on his or her own.
Again, in any sane world nobody would pay any attention to the opinions of completely unqualified individuals on any given topic. There’s a reason I write for Road & Track and not Men’s Health, for example, and it has something to do with the fact that I’ve literally had more racing wins in my life than I’ve eaten salads. If I started pontificating about whether a particular protein supplement built more muscle mass and got you more ripped than another one, the readers would be entirely right to point out that I am not a doctor and that I have never been seen to bench press more than 255 pounds, not even once.
I’m not saying that you need to be the world’s best battery designer or electrical-circuit designer to raise criticisms of Tesla, but I am saying that it would be helpful to have a vague idea of how electric cars, or even just regular cars, work. The same goes for the people who moan and whine about the business side of Tesla. Are any of them experienced entrepreneurs or C-suite executives? Ninety-nine percent of them are not.
Can you imagine if the media had treated Henry Ford in the Model T era the way these idiots deal with Elon Musk? I can just imagine the headlines:
Horrible Racist Anti-Semite Wants People to Do the Same Job All Day for Just Five Bucks
Some Early Delivery Model Ts Are Breaking Owners’ Wrists
Model T Owner Runs Into Horse, Dies
Ford Fails to Deliver Improved Quarterly Profits Or Stock Price Increases; Puts Money Into River Rouge “Gigafactory” Scam Instead
Customers Are Triggered by Having No Color Choices on Crappy Little Car; Some Vow to Repaint It Themselves
The Tesla Model S, with or without Autopilot, is a genuine advance in human history.
None of those old industrialists could have survived the modern media or regulatory pressure cooker. We now live in an era where raising a billion dollars of other suckers’ money and developing a new “app” to take selfies or find imaginary creatures in a porta-potty is considered the apex of human civilization but investing your entire fortune in a quest to build a self-driving electric car is treated like dangerous, egomaniacal adventurism. It makes you wonder why Elon Musk couldn’t just be content sitting on his Paypal money and living the lifestyle of the famous one percent. It certainly would have been less hassle.
Thankfully for all of us, he did not. The Tesla Model S, with or without Autopilot, is a genuine advance in human history. It’s far from perfect: The fit and finish wouldn’t be out of place in an ’87 IROC-Z, apparently there’s rust, the suspension isn’t built to IMSA GTD standards, and I’m willing to bet a couple bucks, based on my own experience with various energy-storage technologies, that in the long run a lot of the battery packs won’t hold up quite as well as the owners would like. But it is a towering achievement brought to us by people who really do care about making the future happen in the real world instead of on a phone screen.
So do yourself a favor. Ignore the player haters who sling outrageous arrows at Tesla and its people from the safety of their parents’ basements or their dingy half-height “media incubator” cubicles. You don’t have to buy a Tesla. You don’t even have to like the cars. But it’s worth taking a minute to appreciate the enormity of what the company has accomplished. In a world where most people can’t assemble Ikea furniture without having to visit the urgent care, these people have created a true car of the future. And to the wannabes, the self-styled analysts, and the bureaucrats in Washington, I can only channel my inner Chris Crocker and tell you: Leave Tesla Alone!
Born in Brooklyn but banished to Ohio, Jack Baruth has won races on four different kinds of bicycles and in seven different kinds of cars. Everything he writes should probably come with a trigger warning. His column, Avoidable Contact, runs twice a week.
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