Tesla was a giant step backwards for electric cars

When I first bumped into a young Elon Musk, I didn't want to meet with him, or talk with him. I'll explain why in a minute.

I saw him, and his fiancé, all the time. We were neighbors, and shared a landlord and favorite café. We had meetings at adjacent tables every other day during the dotcom boom. We heard each other's pitch so often we could have swapped places.

But he was obviously just a kid with too much money. I would never have imagined that he would ... hilariously ... call himself an environmentalist. Why was that hilarious? Because he drove a million-dollar racing car on the residential streets of Palo Alto. When he was in a hurry, he parked it right in front of my desk, because I was always there, and he knew it. I sat on the ground floor window of my start-up, a few houses from his house, facing the street. So, he tacitly supposed that his race car, his egregious waste of resources, was safe. But if someone had set it on fire, I would have cheered. As it turned out, he crashed it himself.

That same mentality led him to crash the potential of the electric vehicles, and the world is worse for it. Yes, I know that's an outrageous statement. But it's also obviously true. "Fast and fancy" is not the right niche for electric vehicles, despite its distracting market success -- at least if we want to save the planet.

Nobody should be allowed to drive any car that goes that fast, accelerates that much, distracts their passengers with bright displays, and disconnects them from the world by sinking them into plush seats ...

Actually, people don't need private cars at all, except in the countryside. Mass transit, even in the suburbs, is a much more efficient use of land and fuel. Even the housing districts of LA were originally created with streetcars, not cars. Cars disrupted mass transit on purpose, and so we have countless streets and highways, choked with traffic, dividing our world, killing, maiming, and frightening us.

Before Tesla, there was a trend for modest economy compacts. It's an environmental, transitional vehicle, in a country where the infrastructure is such that people don't even feel they can stay alive without a car. The compact kills fewer pedestrians, its impact with other cars is less deadly, and it's much more efficient than a large car.

Everyone who genuinely needs a car (except workers carrying equipment and materials) only needs an economy car. The first modern electric cars (I mean those in this century) were compact economy cars. They should be as small as possible. 

In a fossil-fueled environmental disaster, this was the direction that remaining cars should take: safer, less obnoxious, less extravagant, closer to the community and surroundings, taking less space, etc.

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

Tesla set that critically important agenda back ... decades ... Now, the whole world needs to follow the original agenda. Now is the time to simply de-car, since the climate emergency is making us reconsider everything. Tesla made fancy mid-sized electric cars popular, then everyone wanted one, clogging our streets with muscle-laden electric wank-panzers, following the worst trends of the gas-powered cars, and now fancy giant electric cars are on the market. Those are even heavier and more deadly than their horrible 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. (That's not only the fault of the EV industry: tech datacenters in eastern Oregon want to be considered "green", so they are eating up a growing share of the hydroelectric power in the state).

With all these giant, bubble-isolated, high-rolling, heavy cars, our streets are noticeably less safe. Fewer pedestrians feel comfortable in an auto-dominated environment, and so they 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, dashboard and other distractions, with 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 any private vehicles at all ... and certainly doesn't include fancy electric cars, giant electric trucks, and wasteful autonomous taxis.