When people consider the change that Tesla Motors’ electric cars have brought to the automotive industry, they sometimes compare founder Elon Musk to Henry Ford. But that comparison doesn’t seem adequate. Musk is building a network of solar-powered charging stations to be available coast to coast by 2017 while he simultaneously runs one of the country’s largest solar contractors and the most important space-travel company on the planet. It’s as though he’s the amalgam of Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Albert Einstein.
What he is, undeniably, is a visionary. His ambitions go far beyond merely creating the product itself. For example, his stated goal is not to build great cars at Tesla. His goal is to build the best cars ever made, powered by the most efficient energy source, and supplied by a network of charging stations, mechanics and stores across the continent.
SolarCity was devised to convert as many households as possible to solar electricity. At his space-exploration company, his goal is to colonize Mars. In August, he unveiled his latest enterprise: the Hyperloop, a high-speed, solar-powered electric train that would travel in a vacuum tube and carry passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.
Musk hasn’t accomplished any of his achievements alone, of course. Tens of thousands of people work for his companies. His colleagues helped design the beautiful cars and spaceships. Accountants keep the books and arrange the financing. Writers build marketing packages. Artists create the logos and imagery. Each new accomplishment represents a festival of human ingenuity.
When I first drove the Tesla Model S, Denton Holt, from Tesla Motors’ Colorado store, took me on my test drive. His business card says he’s one of Tesla’s “Senior Ownership Advisors.” He says that when he got out of college, he never thought he’d be selling cars. Now he expects to be selling cars for a long time.
“I want to be with Tesla until we realize our full potential,” he says. He expects Tesla to be one of the planet’s leading car manufacturers in a future where most cars are propelled by solar-generated electricity. Like his boss, Holt exudes a high level of confidence.
Vision can be intoxicating, especially when it’s backed up by achievement.
In the book I wrote three years ago, I visualized a world in which I could commute in an electric car charged with solar power generated on my own farm. I thought I was being pretty ambitious. Today that vision is a reality, and I obviously have to dream bigger.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS has always been primarily focused on creating a better future. Over the past decade, it has been the fastest-growing large magazine in North America. That’s because all of us — not just visionaries like Elon Musk — are increasingly more interested in creating a better future. We are all visionaries, to one degree or another, all picturing a better world.
When it comes to addressing environmental problems and assuring the future of humanity, you are not indifferent. You want improvement.
We are witnessing it every day.
For more of Bryan Welch’s ideas on technology and a healthy future, check out Environmental Problems Are No Match for Human Ingenuity, Part 1.
Top: Photo Courtesy Tesla Motors: Elon Musk, 42, embodies the term "visionary."
Bottom: Photo Courtesy SpaceX: SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft has twice resupplied the International Space Station, a first for privately funded space travel. It is the only spacecraft capable of returning large cargo to Earth.