Is Elon Musk the Steve Jobs of automobiles, the Tesla Model S his “Mac?”

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There have been rumors and speculation for years about an Apple iCar. Steve Jobs was an automobile aficionado, and over the years a number of hints were dropped about Apple possibly moving into the car market in some way—Jobs even meeting in 2007 in California with Volkswagen AG CEO Martin Winterkorn, to discus an alliance to produce an Apple-branded or at least themed “iCar” automobile to be built by Volkswagen. With close integration of the iPod, iPhone, and other Apple products. A VW spokesman told news agencies at the time that “scores of ideas” were tossed around, and the CEOs planned to hold more meetings, but nothing evidently came of it.

Still, it’s been fun to speculate, especially for those of us who are crossover Apple and automobile fans. And, of course, increased automotive computerization, and especially the re-emergence of electric vehicles (which represented about one- third of the automobile market in the early 20th Century), has enhanced technical commonality between the two sectors, especially in areas like batteries and touchscreens.

Enter Elon Musk and his Tesla electric car project, which, after a few years marketing absurdly expensive re-powered Lotus Elise sports cars, has finally begun manufacture of a serious, cost-competitive electric automobile—the Tesla Model S—at the former General Motors/Toyota joint NUMMI factory in Fremont, California. And I’m serious when I say “serious.”

Automobile Magazine has named the Tesla Model S its 2013 Automobile Of The Year, and it was also chosen as 2013 Motor Trend magazine Car of the Year. Car and Driver magazine’s Csaba Csere summed up their evaluation succinctly observing that the Model S is “not just a good electric vehicle, it’s a good car.”

A fast car, too, beating a 540 horsepower V8 BMW M5 in a drag race to 100 miles per hour staged by Automobile’s Ezra Dyer, and managing 0-60 in 4.3 seconds. “Silly quick,” Dyer commented. Both magazines praised the Tesla Model S’s superb handling on both road and race course, its driving feel, attractive styling, standard of finish, comfort, practicality, and reasonable price for what you get.

Automobile’s David Zenlea notes that Tesla Motors CEO and founder Elon Musk, who made his  personal fortune with PayPal, refers to the Model S as his “Macintosh,” and observes that the new Tesla sedan has a distinctly Apple-esque aura about it, with even the smallest details having been lavished with attention in order to be as distinctive and elegant as possible.

Tesla’s network of stores (instead of franchised dealerships) is being set up by George Blankenship, who was responsible for the Apple Stores. Zenlea observes that in Mr. Musk, Tesla has a Steve Jobs-like figure—”a relentless leader who guides the company’s direction”—and quotes Blankenship commenting that, “They’re both brilliant, both thinking about things that other people won’t be thinking about for twenty years.”

I have to say that the glowing reviews from these magazines has me—a heretofore open-minded electric car skeptic—convinced. I have a frame of reference for these guys. I’ve been reading Car and Driver since 1963, and Automobile since the late David E. Davis Jr. launched its first issue in 1986. I do still delight to the music of a good V8 through dual exhausts, but if they say the Tesla S is that good, I’m inclined to believe them.

Now it would be nice to be able to afford one!

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  • Mike

    See, here’s my problem. All over the web I keep reading that Elon Musk is the next Steve Jobs, and I think that comparison is really underselling what Elon is doing.

    Let’s face it, Steve Jobs made toys. Granted, extremely successful toys, but toys (and movies I guess) nonetheless. Elon on the other hand is trying to simultaneously revolutionize the production and consumption of energy while also trying to enable humanity to become a space faring, multi-planetary race.

    If Elon is successful he will not be “the next Steve Jobs”, he will dwarf him. I hope that history will remember him in a much more elite group, because if he pulls even one of this ventures off, he will deserve it.