A couple weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal reported about comments Elon Musk made during an online event. “I think there might be too many MBAs running companies,” he said. “There’s the MBA-ization of America, which I think is maybe not that great. There should be more focus on the product or service itself, less time on board meetings, less time on financials.”
Business schools quickly fired back, explaining that MBA programs are preparing their students to focus on innovation, and they’re more interested in entrepreneurship than ever. However, they sort of missed the point. Elon Musk was talking about the overall state of business in the US, regardless of what degree heads of companies have.
No matter how innovative a company is, they do have to at least spend some effort taking care of the business part of the business. Doing anything takes money, and making sure operations are efficient makes it so that a business can do more things with the money they have so they can bring in more money.
On the other hand, it’s all about balance. Focus too much on the bottom line and too little on doing great things, and a business can fail because people get bored with the brand. Finding a balance between doing exciting and innovative things and keeping the lights on has always been a struggle for automakers.
Fandom is a Different Thing, Though
Automotive fans have never been into the business side at all, historically.
When I was a teen and took my old car to the hot rod, Euro, ricer, and cruiser meetups, I never once heard anyone talk about the company’s stock. The ricer guys with the slammed Hondas never talked about how Honda was doing as a business.
The muscle and pony car guys I spent hours and hours with in their garages never said, “Did you see Ford’s production numbers this quarter! Wowza!” We were too busy welding up custom exhausts, changing out for better springs, and wiring up stereos to care about any of that stuff.
It definitely wasn’t an age thing. I knew some really old retired couples who worked on custom cars every weekend. When we spent time at their houses, nobody ever mentioned sales numbers of a car unless it was a discussion of the car’s rarity. Stocks? Nope. Profits last quarter? None of that.
I did sometimes hear fans mention the absolute devil of the automotive enthusiast world: the dreaded Bean Counters.
Bean Counters are the kind of people who button the top button, even when they’re not wearing a tie (a rarity). Their glasses are at least half an inch thick. Their pocket protectors have pocket protector protectors. Like Steve Urkel, these automotive industry supervillains pull their pants up to their armpits. They probably drive a 1.0L 3-cylinder clown car to work, and walk the last few blocks just to save a few pennies.
If there’s any cool or fun car that ever got discontinued, they are to blame. The company was making the car, and the fans loved it, but the accountants couldn’t understand why the company should spend money making a low-volume sports car when they could make more money selling econoboxes and grandma cars.
In the 1990s and early 2000’s, automakers were discontinuing the fun cars and replacing everything with boring front-wheel drive cars. Chevrolet even discontinued the Camaro for a bit and replaced it with nothing. Every time a fun car died, we blamed the accountants and nerds.
The business side of the company wasn’t something to be excited about at all. If discussed at all, it was only to be mad that automakers don’t do fun stuff anymore.
Still True Today Outside of Tesla
In case you think I just hung out with too many old fogies growing up, let’s spend a couple minutes on Twitter looking at different auto brands.
I searched for “Ford” on Twitter. Ignoring posts that weren’t about the company or its cars (a Canadian politician, among many others, have Ford for a last name), here were the top 10 posts:
- A classic Ford Bronco for sale, in pristine condition (Bring A Trailer)
- A restored police Mustang (Bring a Trailer)
- A woman who hates all blue Ford Focuses because an ex boyfriend drove one
- A woman who wants to buy a Ford Expedition to have room for future kids
- Someone mocking the Ford Focus Electric because it has a short range
- Some people talking about an old rock song
- A half-time show sponsored by Ford
- Someone who wants a 2021 Ford Cobra
- A Ford V10 racing engine
- A ’48 Ford from a movie
I searched for Chevrolet on Twitter, and this is what I found there:
- A Chevy NASCAR car
- A classic Chevy pickup
- A classic Chevy Camaro
- A 2001 Camaro
- A discussion about ’70s and ’80s NASCAR racing
- A Chevy modified into a lowrider
- An old cartoon that mentions Chevrolet
- A picture of a NASCAR car
- An upcoming NASCAR race
- A classic Impala SS
Now, let’s search for Tesla, and skip any Elon Musk posts to be fair and focus on the fan discussions:
- A post about in-car gaming
- A picture of raindrops on a pano roof
- Tesla expands into Poland
- A Tesla factory under construction
- A woman excited about the low environmental footprint
- A post about Tesla’s computer screen layout
- Tesla Q4 sales
- Cybertruck reservation numbers, and a fan website built to track them.
- Government approval for the construction of a Tesla factory
- How to set up a USB drive for your Tesla
Nobody was excited about Ford or Chevy’s businesses in the top 10 posts, but about half of the top Tesla posts were about the business.
Instead of hating the bean counters, half of Tesla’s fans are fans of the bean counters.
Why Is This?
The obvious answer is that many Tesla fans aren’t old-school car people, and many aren’t car people at all. Sure, they like Tesla’s cars, but they are bigger fans of the business and its mission.
Don’t get me wrong; There’s nothing wrong with that. Concern for the future of humanity is a noble thing. Tesla is pushing the rest of the industry toward electrification, and is dragging some of them kicking and screaming. It’s totally OK to be a fan even if you don’t like cars that much.
There’s another subset of Tesla fandom that is tech people. They’re into computers, and a Tesla is like a computer on wheels. The tech people are big fans of games, Autopilot, Summon, and every other techie thing the cars can do. Once again, nothing wrong with that.
There is a downside, though. Tesla fandom can seem a little inaccessible and even cult-like to old-school car fanatics. When a car fan gets into EVs, they are thinking of performance, propulsion technology, and a variety of other things that they were already into. “Let’s join this Tesla group,” they say. Or, “Let’s follow Elon Musk and learn more about the car that beat my friend’s muscle car.”
It was a little weird to me at first. Stonks. Stonks. Stonks. Cowbell. End of quarter numbers. Farts.
It’s something an old car fanatic can get used to, but try to be considerate and patient when you encounter an old-school car fanatic lurking at the edge of the fandom. They really don’t care about your stonks or the latest gigafactory under construction. And that, too, is OK.