“The Penalty of Leadership: From Cadillac to Tesla” – That Very Rare Article That Is Able To Put Tesla Into Proper Context

Finding a journalist, or anyone, for that matter, who is able to put Tesla into proper context is a very rare thing. The great majority of the coverage of Tesla is a pissing match about whether Elon Musk walks on water or is full of shit. It’s tempting to call it a war of the bulls and bears, but it goes even further than that, as Tesla and Musk have become click bait of epic proportions. Even the most prestigious newspapers and magazines fall for the bait. Why? Because like any article about our dear president, any article about Tesla/Musk is guaranteed to pull eyeballs. Whether something relevant is said is beside the point, as in this highly polarized climate, hardly anyone is interested in the real meat of the matter, just the sizzle.

But there are exceptions, and although I don’t normally blog about articles at other websites, this piece by Alex Roy at thedrive.com about his recently purchased Model 3 is an exception. He gets at the meat of the issue: there hasn’t been a truly innovative and disruptive car like Tesla in a very, very long time. And he uses this famous ad by Cadillac from 1915 to put it in perspective. (Ad text in easy to read form below).

The Penalty of Leadership (1915):

“In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be mediocre, he will be left severely alone – if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a -wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountebank, long after the big would had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy – but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions – envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains – the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live—lives.”


Here’s Roy’s closing paragraphs immediately following the ad text:

Tesla could put out such a statement, but wouldn’t. Musk isn’t one for literary flourish, and times have changed, but every time Musk tweets, he’s saying the same thing Cadillac did 104 years ago. Screw you. Bring it. Keep talking about me, bitches. All of Musk’s bulls**t, exaggerations and pettiness don’t matter because once you get in a Tesla, there really is nothing else like it. Mine isn’t perfect, and I don’t care. I want what it does, and don’t care about what it doesn’t. I want to live the dream. I want to drive the future. If someone else offered it today, I’d buy that.

Until then, Musk will be forgiven almost anything he does, for better, or for worse. And like a honeybadger, he certainly don’t give s**t. Elon is the leader we deserve, and the one the industry needed. And boy, is Elon paying its penalty every day. Cadillac and everyone else should be so lucky as to pay it, but they forgot about the leadership part, and no volume of “storytelling” and consulting fees can get it back.


Roy’s previous article, on his decision to buy the Tesla, “How I learned To Stop Worrying And Buy A Tesla” is also a highly recommended read and excellent lead-in to this article. My son plays a role in that one.

My sentiments are highly congruent to Roy’s. If I could even vaguely put it to proper use, I’d own one too. As I wrote last December in my comparison of the rise of BMW to Tesla:

I have felt essentially zero excitement over a BMW (or Mercedes) for decades. Meanwhile, The only car I actually lust for is a Model 3. It is the new Ultimate Driving Machine. The only reason I haven’t pulled the trigger is because it simple doesn’t fit into our lives and driving patterns at this time. But I’ve come dangerously close a few times. Maybe a Model Y. In the meantime, there’s absolutely nothing else on the market that ignites my juices. Which explains why I’m driving a 14 year-old shitbox. For now…