There are two major groups of disruptors: the Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and others who impose themselves on the markets they create. Fewer are those who arrive in force in a mature field where the entry costs are high and the players have been firmly established for decades. Elon Musk has achieved the feat of becoming a benchmark in two of them, automotive and aerospace.
This unprecedented tour de force, the native of Pretoria owes it to his work, his analytical skills, his ability to mobilize and overthrow mountains. But also to a solid vision. Because Elon Musk has a characteristic: he has a plan in mind, does not hide it and carries it out whatever the cost. Even if, at the start, it surprises, confuses and arouses, at best circumspection, at worst mockery.
On August 2, 2006, in a simple message published on the Internet, the one who is at the head of the small manufacturer Tesla (which has never produced a single mass-produced vehicle) announces his Master Plan 1. Broadly speaking, the strategy consists of to build large quantities of affordable electric cars to replace over-polluting gasoline-powered vehicles. First step, attack the high-end market to seduce the wealthiest drivers and build up a war chest. The big car manufacturers snicker. They will quickly become disillusioned.
In 2008, the Californian manufacturer released its first Roadster intended for drivers with very high purchasing power. And it works ! The technology works, word of mouth and Musk’s communication skills do the rest. The saga continues with the progressive release of new models produced more and more massively, at an increasingly low price. According to plan.
As the health crisis begins to be felt, in March 2020, Tesla announces with great fanfare the production of its millionth vehicle. Since July 2020, the group can boast of being the car manufacturer with the highest market capitalization in the world (209 billion dollars against 201 for Toyota).
Space X, stronger than one State
Establishing itself as a must in the automotive sector in less than twenty years is an unprecedented feat in the history of the industry. This is not enough for Elon Musk who wants to go even further by going from paved roads to space. Until now, the conquest of space was the preserve of large states. This does not prevent the industrialist from getting involved in the race thanks to his company Space X, inaugurated in 2002.
Tesla’s market cap is larger than Toyota’s
Once again, the experts look with disdain on this strange bird with extraordinary ambition. The beginnings seem to prove them right since, between 2006 and 2009, three out of five launches of the Falcon 1 light launcher ended in failure. NASA, however, places its trust in Space X and signs a 1.6 billion dollar contract with the group. Mission, propel twelve launchers to deliver cargo to the International Space Station; a challenge taken up hands down. Even stronger, since 2011, NASA, which no longer has a shuttle to ferry its astronauts to the international space station, has called on the private sector: Space X is naturally essential and fulfills its roadmap. At the same time, the group is innovating with the first reusable launchers (which make it possible to reduce costs in complete safety) or with, in 2018, the putting into orbit of the first heavy launcher, the Falcon Heavy.
On land and in the air, Elon Musk was, let’s face it, right against everyone. He, before the venerable American, Japanese or German manufacturers, grasped the importance of the electric vehicle. Being fifteen years ahead allows his Tesla to be the ultimate in terms of innovation, so much so that, sure of his strength, he made his patents public in 2014. The EU recovery plan aims to make the Old Continent the leader in the manufacture of electric batteries? The Giga Factory Tesla located in Nevada is currently the undisputed and indisputable number one on this pillar of the industry of the future. Are traditional manufacturers considering rethinking their production chains? The Tesla factories, in particular the Californian site of Freemont have already done so and Elon Musk is preparing to carve out croupiers for Europeans with his Berlin site which should open in July 2021. That’s good, the electric vehicle is no longer a simple niche since, in 2020, it represents 20% of sales in Germany, 15% in France and Great Britain. Globally, the figure is only 4% but it should approach 30% by 2030.
Elon Musk imposes his vision on the major car manufacturers and NASA. And to think that there is little nobody believed in his projects!
Same story on the aerospace side. When Elon Musk reveals his ambitions, we speak of a fad or a crisis of egocentrism. In reality, the entrepreneur had anticipated one thing: NASA no longer has the means (end of the cold war and ultra-liberalism oblige) to manage everything itself and will need subcontractors. Hence the importance of getting ahead before others think about it. As a result, Space X is now in a situation of virtual monopoly on the lucrative market for rocket launchers.
The best is yet to come ?
Thanks to Space X and Tesla, whose shares have been soaring for a year, Elon Musk became the richest man in the world in January 2021, thus paying himself the luxury of dethroning Jeff Bezos. However, the soon to be fifty-year-old, known for his hyperactivity, does not intend to stop there. An assumed libertarian, he is ready to impose his vision on the world by being in a good position to take control of Twitter. Outside the web, he has been launching more ambitious projects for several years now: phase 2 of his Master Plan (production of electric trucks and electric vehicles on demand), AI, augmented man… But also colonization of Mars, the planet on which this great science fiction fan wishes to end his life. If it sounds crazy and confusing, who else but him could carry out such projects?