Tesla was a giant step backwards for electric cars

When I first bumped into a young Elon Musk, I did not want to meet with him, or talk with him. He was obviously just a kid with too much money. I would never have imagined that he would ... hilariously ... try to pass as an environmentalist. Why was that hilarious? He was driving a million-dollar racing car on the streets of Palo Alto! When he was in a hurry, he'd park it right in front of my desk: I was looking out of the ground floor window of my start-up, about 100 feet from his house. I was there all the time, so he knew someone would be watching this waste of resources. But ... if someone had set it on fire, I would have cheered. As it turned out, he crashed it himself.

By adding his fortune to a startup called Tesla, he basically did the same to the potential of the electric vehicle. Yes, I know that's an outrageous statement. But it's also obviously true.

People don't need private cars, except perhaps in the countryside. Mass transit, even in the suburbs, is a much more efficient use of land and fuel. The suburbs of LA were created with streetcars, not cars. Cars disrupted all this with countless highways, choked with traffic.

Enter the modest economy compact. It's a transitional vehicle, in a country where the infrastructure is such that people don't even feel human without a car. But it kills fewer pedestrians, its impact with other cars is less deadly, and it's much more efficient than a large car.

Everyone who genuinely needed a car (except workers carrying equipment and materials) only needed an economy car. The first modern electric cars (I mean those in this century) were economy cars.

This was the direction the remaining cars should take: safer, less obnoxious, less extravagant, closer to the community and surroundings, taking less space, etc.

That's still the goal: pedestrians first, then bicycles, workbikes, tiny vehicles, mass transit, and work vehicles.

Tesla threw that critically important agenda back ... decades ... even though the whole world needs to follow that original agenda with the climate emergency looming. Now that fancy mid-sized electric cars are popular, fancy giant electric cars are on the market. They are even heavier and more deadly than their fossil-fueled brethren, and in most places in the world, they even consume more fossil fuel, since electricity is often generated with methane. In Oregon, methane generates nearly half of our electricity, even though most people think we're a hydroelectric state.

With all these cars around, our streets are noticeably less safe. Fewer pedestrians feel comfortable in an auto-dominated environment, and so tend to get a car, a big one if they can. Marketing hype and profits have, once again, temporarily triumphed over common sense.

There are two sets of forces competing against each other now ... the danger of driving (with intoxication, phone and other distraction, heavier and more plentiful vehicles) ... versus the desire for our cities to be car-free, pedestrian-friendly, safe from traffic, and all-around more natural and comfortable. Let's make sure the cars don't win.

Greg Bryant, March 30, 2023

Below: the transportation dream ... which does not include private vehicles at all ... and certainly doesn't include fancy electric cars, giants electric trucks, and autonomous taxis.