By on June 2, 2021

The level of influence Elon Musk has is truly staggering, though not entirely without precedent. Steve Jobs was similarly famous and his whimsical marketing style ended up being so effective that you would see doppelgangers embracing his tactic of selling people an experience, rather than focusing wholly on the product. Minus the black turtleneck, some might even argue Musk has aped his style — perhaps while noticing similar sales tactics embraced by Ron Popeil, David Ogilvy, or P.T. Barnum.

A good pitchman is one that can adapt tried-and-true methods from their forebears while having enough unique flare not to come across as derivative. But not everyone has the magic and we’re left with a sea of less enduring (and endearing) copycats. Notice how practically every electric vehicle manufacturer seems hellbent on becoming the next Tesla, rather than adopting a corporate personality of their own. 

Jobs’ public persona evolved from down-to-earth spokesman to technological cleric in the 1990s and his motto of ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ was swiftly put to the test when every other computer business tried and failed to become the next Apple. Musk appears to be on a similar trajectory — though he’s strived to maintain a sense that he’s a relatively normal person, despite his unbelievable wealth and many quirks.

Apple’s business model seems to be most effectively duplicated in other industries. In fact, your author has repeatedly heard people suggest that’s exactly what made Tesla a success, with good reason. But Elon Musk’s role cannot be understated; his personality is a big reason why the company has such an ardent fanbase. Bloomberg recently ran a piece that explaining just how influential he’s become by explaining how Tesla’s terminology has become the default for automakers the world over.

From Bloomberg:

Many of the words speak to the sheer scale of Musk’s ambitions, which are always far grander than people realize initially. A battery factory isn’t just a battery factory, it’s a Gigafactory. (Giga comes from the Greek word “gigas,” or giant.)

A fast charging station for Tesla’s electric cars isn’t just a charging station, it’s a Supercharger. (Tesla has more than 25,000, giving them the largest network in the world.)

The battery packs that Tesla sells to utilities that promise “massive energy storage?” Megapacks.

There are no signs of him stopping. At Tesla’s “Battery Day” in September 2020, Musk talked about reaching “Terawatt-hour” scale battery production. “Tera is the new Giga,” Musk said on stage.

Just about every automaker building EVs now has its own version of Battery Day and numerous firms have embraced Tesla-centric terms to describe their own facilities. Case in point, we found it supremely odd when Volkswagen announced it was building a new “gigafactory” during an annual event it calls “Power Day.”

But VW is just one of several companies that have embraced the American manufacturer’s phraseology. While the Bloomberg piece spends a bit too much time praising Musk, it also correctly identified the vastness of his influence. It noted that journalists and automakers are beginning to default calling all battery plants gigafactories, using Stellantis and Nissan as recent examples.

What we’re wondering is whether or not this is good for the long-term health of the industry. Automakers consistently chase each other around when one business is fortunate enough to strike upon a successful concept. But the Tesla copying has been going on for quite some time and Elon Musk has grown to become a larger-than-life figure. Only those truly invested in the automotive sector know who’s at the top of the ladder at General Motors or Volkswagen Group. But practically everyone can identify Elon Musk and is familiar with the companies he represents.

Does that place him alongside Steve Jobs or is he a more substantive figurehead? And what’s to become of all of these EV companies that are clearly fixated on Tesla’s success? How can they shine brightly enough to become truly successful when they seem to be intentionally living in another company’s shadow?

[Image: Tesla]

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40 Comments on “Stop Copying Me: Is Elon Musk the New Steve Jobs?...”


  • avatar
    slavuta

    Steve Jobs – NO
    Wernher von Braun – YES

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Dr. von Braun was far more brilliant. Lord Musk’s work to this point has not had the same impact as Braun’s, though if one day he’s involved with a manned Mars mission I may elevate him. No, Paypal and Tesla EVs have not meaningfully advanced humanity – eliminate both right now and not much has changed in the grand scheme. Allowing space travel to be more regular/cheaper through SpaceX will be quite an accomplishment, not the same as being the impetus of going into it for the first time and later the Moon.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        ” Tesla EVs have not meaningfully advanced humanity”

        absolutely not. This product could of been done cheaper and better in my view. They could computerize the platform and leave the buttons for the interface with the driver. May be they saved 10 lb of weight on the buttons but in a car with a heavy battery…
        Same approach in space. More computers. You don’t even need to train anymore, like for the Russian ship, where there are many manual tasks. Basically both of these products are old concepts with new way of control.
        Dude did not invent anything. Simply, modified few existing concepts. But like Wernher von Braun he did push American human travel program into the space, something NASA was doing worse and worse after initial successes.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          “This product could of been done cheaper and better in my view.”

          Yes, but in a different way. For example, they screwed up on the original body design for the 3. They’re finally fixing that with the mega-castings.

          There are innovations in Teslas. The halbach effect motors, the advancements provided by the battery lab, the superbottle etc. You could say a B-21 is a modification of the Wright Flyer, but it’s a bit inaccurate.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            Wait, did Tesla invented halbach motors? They certainly did not invent the effect itself. And a super bottle, I don’t know. My Protege had early version of it – the brake and clutch fluid served from one :-)

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I go back and forth…and I live in Huntsville…von Braun is practically royalty here.

        No, Musk still hasn’t managed to build a rocket that could do what the Saturn V did. But Musk has to make a profit. I think Dr. Von Braun would smile seeing those Falcon’s land and get reused and I think Musk has done more to advance rockets than anyone since Dr. von Braun.

        Still, I can see a Saturn V from my house if the weather is right so it is difficult to knock von Brauns work in this town lol.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I had a teacher in grad school (who may have since died) who worked for him in the 1960s I believe in Huntsville. He had some interesting things to say about him, and through the six degrees of separation I was taught Project Management by a man who personally knew Dr. von Braun, whom personally knew President Kennedy.

          I agree, he would be pleased.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          Russians started to build reusable stages. then they said, lets not waste money. We can build many Soyuiz ships for the money we will spend on polishing these. Especially that Soyuz launch costs them less as is vs Dragon with reusable. The only drawback is 1 less person.
          Never mind. Musk builds Falcon. Russia now will answer with Eagle. So many birds, almost NFL

  • avatar
    Rick T.

    I’d say he’s an idea man foremost. Teslas been interesting but he’ll more likely be remembered – for good reason – for his space work, IMHO.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    More like Henry Ford, I’d say.

    By the way, ‘giga’ and ‘tera’ are math prefixes, referring (in this case) to the amount of annual energy output of a factory’s battery production. It’s not just marketing. Supercomputers have measured calculation speed in “teraflops” for a long time.

    One reason to emulate Tesla is very practical – you can’t scale EV production without captive battery factories, for instance. Nobody *wants* to do that, but any serious contender *must* do it.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “Supercomputers have measured calculation speed in “teraflops” for a long time.”

      Not any more! It’s Peta and Exa these days. A colleague at a company I collaborate with ran an AI benchmark on the previous generation of what we’re working with now against an NVidia RTX3080 and it scored hundreds of times faster than the GPU – with the help of custom hardware we’re developing. That’s how fast some of this stuff is now. The new machine on my wishlist is in the exascale range.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Which is used to calculate…?

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          I think the benchmark he was using was an image recognition benchmark. I can’t remember the actual numbers or the particular benchmark he used. In comparison, the stuff the AV companies are using are toys. Actually, come to think of it, the gaming system-based stuff they use actually are toys.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            The serious question I have @MCS is where did you manage to actually buy a 3080? Inquiring gamer minds with 2080 Supers and profits from meme stocks want to know. My bots aren’t even good enough to get a 3080. I am begenning to think NVIDIA is like Ferrari…the top tier stuff is invite only.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Some products that are new or trendsetting often turn into generic terms.
    I recall “Jeep” being used for any small offroader or “skidoo” being used to refer to any snowmobile or “zerox” for a copier. I’m sure there are others that I’ve forgotten.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Steve Jobs:
    Macintosh
    Translucent iMac
    iPod
    iPhone
    iPad

    Elon Musk:
    Tesla car
    Various failed mass transit schemes
    Rocket company that’s polluting the night skies with little benefit to anyone but him

    The short answer to your headline question:
    No.

  • avatar
    4runner

    No.

    Steve Jobs and his reality distortion field was based Job’s absolute belief in what he was doing. While both may be spewing BS, Jobs believed his, Musk does not. (In 2019, Musk promised a fleet of robotaxis by 2020. Hard to think he actually believed that.)

    Musk has an absolute need for attention – good or bad. Whether it be hosting SNL, hyping crypto currencies, smoking pot on the air, insinuating a diver that rescued trapped children in a cave was a “pedo,” tweeting about his divorce, wanting to die on mars, bragging about his work schedule, etc. (Musk said Steve Jobs was “kind of a jerk” because, when meeting Steve Jobs, claims Jobs didn’t know who he was.)

    Jobs only wanted attention when it served his purposes. Time magazine stories had to serve a business interest. Other than that, he was intensely private. He hated attention, being asked for autographs, etc.

    Musk is probably smarter than Jobs in that Musk is more of a scientist. Jobs could probably measure people better, though.

    Jobs was so demanding and uncompromising, he would struggle with accepting the reality of the situation. Elon is probably more realistic.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    He’s somewhere between a con artist and murdering hitman. Yeah I said it, bring on the Elon/Tesla Mafia.

  • avatar

    About half the United States uses an iPhone every day. The other half uses an Android phone, and its technology was a blatant copy of Apple’s. So effectively if you are among the 95% of the US Population that uses a smartphone, Steve Jobs is its ancestor.

    I’d say it’s awfully tough to beat that.

    However, I don’t how sensible it is to rank the two men. There is no question that both will be remembered for a very long time to come, and there is no question that both are/were immensely influential. Just in completely different ways.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Blackberry and Nokia came before the IPhone. One can argue about who copied who.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        There were iPhone type phones, smartphones with on-screen dialing and apps on the screen before iPhone. I was working with prototypes as early as 1997. I actually still have the prototype. That project was cancelled, but I was so interested in the concept some friends introduced me to the Android people. I almost joined on to design some of the low level drivers. Android was started in 2003. The iPhone group at Apple didn’t come together until 2004. The iPhone wasn’t unveiled until 2007.

        There was another phone that beat both to market, but I can’t remember what it was. The design was what we were calling at the time a PDA phone since we were essentially combining the two things. There were a lot of people with the same idea in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. In fact, that’s how we built the prototypes. Just added cellular phone circuitry onto PDAs. Not a unique idea.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Android also was based on a BlackBerry-like model, and the Android team got caught completely off guard by the iPhone model. To their credit, they second they got wind of it, they recognized that it was the way forward and did a rapid and effective 180.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          But remember, Android was ready to release but upon seeing the iPhone went back to the drawing board.

          The iOS vs Android debate is one of the most vicious on the internet, but at the end of the day they have both made each other better. iOS is much better feature wise today because it has followed Android. People forget just how locked down the early versions were (of course it was originally an iPod you could use as a phone…not a true smartphone)

          Android on the other hand is not the fragmented unstable mess the early versions were because iOS pushed them from a usability and stability standpoint.

          The Palm Treo was probably the first mass available smartphone that fit the modern definition, but I think Sony had one that predated it though it was not widely available.

          Apple is rarely first with a technology, but they are often the first to just make it work.

          There were MP3 players long before the iPod. go use one…then use a clickwheel iPod and tell me that you don’t see why they sold a bajillion of them. Same goes for early smartphones. I was a Palm apostle than mourns WebOS every time i fire up my LG TV (it runs a version to this day)…but the first time I used an iPhone even I knew where it was heading. I think Android got to that level at about version 5 so long as you buy decent hardware.

          It is little things…like putting the touch controls of your wireless headphones on a stalk instead of where your fingers land to adjust them in your ear like every other wireless headphone on the market. I love the AirPod Pros…they just got them right and I use them with Android. That is what Apple does.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Steve Jobs was an as$hole and not to be emulated in many ways, but he didn’t lie about what his products would or wouldn’t do. He would never have put up with anything like Elon Musk’s “Full Self-Driving” consumer fraud.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Jobs was was a capitalist dictator that shrewdly navigated the dawn of the personal computer and the internet….in a business climate where more entrenched companies (HP, Compaq, Microsoft, Motorola, IBM) merely treaded water or compromised. Musk is doing similar things in the EV market.

    At their cores they both have trendy, unique products that not only function better than the competition but are cool.

    But the most striking similarity to me is their complete infatuation with their products…and the complete and total personal devotion to its success.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “capitalist dictator”

      Well, that’s a new one.

      “But the most striking similarity to me is their complete infatuation with their products…and the complete and total personal devotion to its success.”

      I agree, their effectiveness at creating product cults was/is both impressive and terrifying. Not sure on Musk, but I think Jobs could have successfully started a Branch Davidian like actual cult had he wanted too.

  • avatar

    We need more Jobs – said President Bidden in recent interview.

    Cannot agree with him more to come.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    If he hoarded newspapers, a few neighbors would pity him.

    He hoards dollars, so he is beloved.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The key difference between Jobs and Musk is that the former was absolutely ***obsessed*** with making his products great, and that began literally from the inside out. Some examples:

    1) Jobs demanded that the motherboard arrangement in the original Mac be aesthetically pleasing, despite the fact that no one would likely even see the inside of it (you actually needed a special tool to open one up).

    2) He demanded the Mac’s manufacturing facility be painted a certain way.

    3) Product designs were obsessively refined.

    4) Jobs absolutely followed through on the product promises he made – often pushing his staff ruthlessly to execute on those promises.

    Meanwhile, we have Tesla, which offers similarly innovative stuff that suffers from – to be polite – a less-than-obsessive focus on product quality. I suppose some of that’s inevitable – a car costs a lot more to make than a computer or an Iphone. And then there’s Musk’s long list of vapor product promises.

    I’ve long argued that once mainstream automakers begin to bring out EVs, Tesla’s ability to basically BS its’ way to success is going to fade out.

    So, bottom line? Jobs was a double threat – someone who executed as well as he innovated. Musk can clearly innovate, and I give him credit for executing as well as he has, but the quality of execution is sometimes lacking.

    Still, we’re better off with Musk than without him.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I wouldn’t mind meeting Musk the Space X CEO. I don’t ever want to meet Musk the Tesla CEO.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Hes the real life Lyle Lanley

    MONORAIL
    MONORAIL
    MONORAIL

  • avatar
    jmo

    Two parallels between Jobs and Musk as they both made three billion dollar fortunes. Jobs started Apple and made a fortune. He sold that off in a huff and joined Pixar. He eventually sold that to Disney and in so doing bacame Disney’s largest individual shareholder. That’s fortune #2. Then he rejoined an almost bankrupt Apple and turned it into the most valuable company in the world. Fortune #3.

    Musk was PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX. That’s even a little more impressive as that’s 3 entirely different businesses.

    To make one billion dollar fortune is impressive. To make three puts you in another league entirely.

  • avatar

    Don’t confuse between the two technical icons. Elon is more like a practical engineer. Steve is a genius in design, recruitment, and marketing.

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