1 May 2013

Chinese Drivers, Osama bin Laden, and Tesla Motors

‘The argument of free enterprise doesn’t apply,’ my M.B.A. friend declared via email, ‘because free enterprise shouldn’t allow for government funding of private companies.’ I took a moment to consider his position. It’s a little more complex than that.

There was once a time when the typical finance manager had little automotive commentary beyond parroting the 0-60mph time of his leased Carrera 4 Targa, and when America could pinpoint its enemies with relative ease. But, alas, with the emergence of Tesla Motors and the War on Terror, both notions are all but antiquated.

Upon logging onto the Department of Defense website, I found some 21 ‘notable’ contracts (valued at $6.5 million or greater) issued in the past month. On that Friday afternoon alone, BAE Systems had been awarded $34.2 million for advanced computer units to identify friend/foe on F-16 fighter jets; Rockwell Collins, Inc. received $85.1 million for new Army helicopter tactical navigation systems; and Altec Industries won $177.5 million towards commercial trailers for the Navy, Marine Corps, and federal civilian agencies. Every penny of the $297 million is fine by me – the last thing I want is an Air Force cadet locking heat-seeking missiles on to my 6:10pm direct flight from Chicago to LaGuardia (though if it were Newark, I may reconsider…) It also occurred to me that most of these contracts were written, in some manner or fashion, for bolstering the War on Terror.

Meanwhile, the world’s largest country is becoming automobile-based. The impact of Chinese motorists is so massive that, by 2035, the ratio of cars-per-person worldwide will surge from 4:100 to 31:100 – a reality we must begin to acknowledge. Environmentally speaking it’s, quite literally, a disaster waiting to happen.

So when the DoE cut Tesla a check for $465 million to develop electric vehicles, I failed to see the problem in fighting a ‘War on Not Being Able to Breath’ alongside a ‘War on Terror’. The latter may be more imminent but, ultimately, the former is more destructive. What makes Tesla so different from Lockheed-Martin?

In case you disagree, consider that our dependence on foreign oil – a product that finances those same terrorist cells we’re so desperately attempting to eliminate – will only become more exorbitantly expensive as the East soon demands their fair share. Not to mention that said check was a loan, one which, as anyone who has driven a Model S can attest to, will be paid back long before al-Qaeda is dismantled or we’re bathed in acid rain.

Failing all of those justifications, there still remains one irrefutable fact: Over the last three years, Tesla has grown from 646 employees to more than 2,000. Is loaning out $465 million for 1,400 jobs the most cost effective method? No, but neither was spending $1.28 trillion to kill a single terrorist hiding out in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Each a mere drop in their respective buckets, and money well spent on both accounts.

This is an article by American writer Max Prince, who is currently living in the UK and studying for his masters degree in auto journalism at Coventry University.  You can find the original article on Max's website here and all of Max's articles for Speedmonkey here