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Elon Musk Being Named Time's 2021 'Person of the Year' Boosts His Influence Over the Auto Industry

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【Summary】​Tesla Inc Chief Executive and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has been named Time’s 2021 “Person of the Year”, a year in which his electric car company was crowned the world’s most valuable automaker. Tesla’s rapid rise has created a ripple effect in the auto industry, with rival automakers who once dismissed Tesla as just a niche electric car company with little threat to their sales have now committed to investing billions to develop new electric models to compete.

FutureCar Staff    Dec 13, 2021 1:00 PM PT
Elon Musk Being Named Time's 2021 'Person of the Year' Boosts His Influence Over the Auto Industry

Tesla Inc Chief Executive and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has been named Time's 2021 "Person of the Year", a year in which his electric car company was crowned the world's most valuable automaker.

Tesla's rapid rise has created a ripple effect in the auto industry, with rival automakers who once dismissed Tesla as just a niche electric car company with little threat to their sales have now committed to investing billions to develop new electric models to compete with the company that made EVs mainstream. 

"Musk and Tesla forced the change," said Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Cox Automotive to Time. "He proved that there was a market for EVs."

It's hard to imagine that Tesla's first mainstream electric vehicle came out only 9 years ago, not counting the limited production of Tesla's first vehicle, the Roadster, which launched in 2006 but was built on a Lotus Elise chassis.

The original Roadster however helped put Tesla on the map. In addition to being one of the first electric cars on the market, the Roadster offered a glimpse into how advanced electric vehicles might someday transform the auto industry.

Coincidentally, the original Roaster was the recipient of Time magazine's "Best Inventions 2006—Transportation Invention" award, well before Elon Musk became a household name.

The original Roaster had an all-electric range of 245 miles on a single charge and could make the sprint to 60 mph in just under four seconds, which was an incredible feat at the time.

But the Roadster was only the beginning for Tesla. Tesla became a public company in June 2010. Two year later, the Model S hit the market, which was the product of Musk's vision of a revolutionary vehicle that would help fulfill Tesla's mission of "transitioning the world to sustainable energy."  

The launch of the flagship Model S in 2012 was followed by the Model X SUV. In 2018, Tesla launched the Model 3 sedan, its first mass market EV. The Model 3 was followed by the Model Y crossover. All of the vehicles have set the bar high for rival automakers.

Tesla's advanced electric vehicles have prompted rival automakers to get on board with electrification or risk becoming irrelevant in the future, as internal combustion engine vehicles are slowly being phased out.

U.S. automaker General Motors, for example, is investing $35 billion by 2025 in electrification and autonomous driving technologies, which has been the mainstay of Tesla from the start. 

Tesla's rise to become the world's most valuable car company also helped fund new EV companies following in Tesla's lead, both in the U.S. and China. 

The flood of investor dollars into the EV segment has also boosted the fortunes of  U.S. companies Rivian and Lucid Motors, the latter of which is run by a former Tesla engineer Peter Rawlinson, a former Tesla employee who served as chief designer of the Model S. 

The fully-electric Lucid Air sedan was recently named the MotorTrend Car of the Year and Lucid launched its own high profile IPO in July. Lucid raised $4.4 billion in its debut on Wall Street and is hoping to cash in on the strong investor interest in electric vehicles as a result of Tesla's rapid rise.

Musk, of course, is fully aware of Tesla's growing influence on the rest of the industry, including the emerging fields of autonomous driving, connectivity and building vehicles that support OTA software updates.

"Our intent with Tesla was always that we would serve as an example to the car industry and hope that they also make electric cars, so that we can accelerate the transition to sustainable technology," Musk said to Time.

But before Musk disrupted the auto industry with Tesla he disrupted the banking industry with his online payment platform company X.com, which merged with Silicon Valley software company Confinity to become PayPal with Musk as co-founder. After Ebay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion in 2002, Musk netted a cool $180 million and was looking for other ways to make his mark on the world.

Then in the early 2000's, Musk met a Stanford-trained engineer named JB Straubel, who was trying to turn old Porsches into electric cars. Straubel believed recent advances in lithium-ion battery technology would enable much denser, power cells that could be made light enough to power a car. But Straubel had difficulty selling his vision to investors, but not to Musk.

Several months after their initial meeting, Musk pledged $6.5 million to Straubel's lithium-ion car startup named "Tesla", becoming its largest investor and eventually taking over the reins as CEO. 

He has since and built Tesla into the most valuable automaker on Earth making zero emissions, battery powered vehicles. 

Being named Time's Person of the Year officially recognizes Musk as the pioneer of the electric vehicle revolution. Now the rest of the auto industry, as well as dozens of new EV startups, are now following in Tesla's footsteps.


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