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Elon Musk won 2021 by stirring up the auto industry

December 15, 2021, 6:21 PM UTC

For Tesla CEO Elon Musk, there’s an accolade that’s far bigger than this week’s “person of the year” awards from Time and The Financial Times.

In 2021, he can be credited with finally pushing the legacy auto industry to get serious about producing electric cars and with inspiring upstart electric car makers to try to steal some of Tesla’s thunder. 

Musk made all manner of headlines this year—becoming the world’s richest person on paper, propelling SpaceX to the forefront of the aeronautical sector, hosting Saturday Night Live, tweeting about his digestive tract—but it’s the nuts-and-bolts work behind Tesla’s remarkable rise that warrants the most attention.

Long dogged by skepticism that he could build an automaker from scratch—let alone an electric-vehicle brand selling at luxury prices—Musk and Tesla proved in 2021 that they have the goods to thrive at scale in the industry. 

Tesla is on track to deliver more than 800,000 vehicles this year, beating its internal year-over-year growth rate goal of 50%. The company also posted billion-dollar profits in the second and third quarters, shrugging off an underwhelming first quarter. (Tesla’s stock is only up around 30% for the year, slightly higher than the Nasdaq Composite, though that’s partly due to Musk selling off nearly 12 million shares in the fourth quarter.)

The success of Tesla can’t alone explain the auto industry’s emphasis on EV investments this year. But its influence is undeniable, as rivals aim to cut into Tesla’s 80% market share of all-electric vehicles sold in the U.S. last year. 

“Musk and Tesla forced the change,” Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Cox Automotive, told Time. “He proved that there was a market for EVs.”

Consider the developments of the past two months alone:

  • Toyota, one of the industry’s most reluctant EV adopters, announced Tuesday that it plans to make 3.5 million electric vehicles by 2030, nearly doubling a target announced earlier this year.
  • Volkswagen declared last week that more than half of its spending in the next five years will be dedicated to electric vehicles and similar efforts, with EVs expected to account for 25% of global sales, up from about 5% today.
  • Nissan disclosed plans to invest about $18 billion over the next five years, with a goal of making half of its vehicles electric by 2030.
  • Wall Street went wild for EV upstarts Rivian, which launched the year’s biggest IPO, and Lucid, whose stock price has tripled this year.

Each announcement followed landmark promises to electrify earlier this year from General Motors, Ford, and Volvo, among others. 

Time will tell whether Musk’s other endeavors—space exploration, cryptocurrency advocacy, railing against the U.S. tax code—take greater prominence in the history books. But for 2021, Musk’s top accomplishment is kicking the rest of the auto industry into gear, speeding up the warming world’s move into a greener future.

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Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

A Log4J free-for-all. Researchers estimate that hackers have launched more than 1 million attacks on companies worldwide in the past several days, trying to take advantage of a major software flaw impacting countless businesses, government organizations, and individuals, The Financial Times reported Tuesday. Cybersecurity experts said hackers are using the vulnerability, commonly known as Log4j, to mine cryptocurrency, take control of network servers, and overwhelm websites with traffic, among other nefarious actions. No large-scale organizations have disclosed hacks stemming from Log4j to date, though cybersecurity officials warned it could take days, weeks, or months before the fallout becomes visible. The leaders of top cybersecurity companies also confirmed that they’re seeing attacks launched by Chinese state-backed hackers. 

A pink slip for Google’s unvaxxed? Google employees who refuse to follow the company’s COVID vaccine mandate could be placed on paid leave in mid-January and fired in the summer of 2022, according to an internal memo sent to staff members, CNBC reported Tuesday. The document states that employees who work in Google’s offices must comply with the vaccine requirement by Jan. 18, at which time they will be placed on a 30-day paid administrative leave if they remain unvaccinated. If they still refuse to comply, unvaccinated employees will go on unpaid personal leave for up to six months, with termination to follow. Google executives have been strong advocates for vaccination, even as hundreds of employees push back against the requirement.

Closed captioning is brought to you by… Twitter unveiled an auto-caption feature Tuesday on videos posted to its platform, part of the company’s response to criticism that it hasn’t moved fast enough to accommodate users with hearing impairments, The Verge reported. The captions will automatically appear in new videos posted on Twitter’s web, iOS, and Android platforms in most languages. However, the captions will not show up on videos that were posted before Tuesday.

A rough month for AWS. Amazon Web Services suffered a brief outage Wednesday morning that impacted DoorDash, Twitch, Hulu, and other popular web platforms, its second such hiccup this month, Bloomberg reported. The outage, which Amazon officials said they traced to a West Coast location and resolved in about 30 minutes, was much less severe than the one that ravaged Netflix, Disney+, and many other high-profile customers for several hours on Dec. 7.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

PowerPoint strikes again. Chinese telecom giant Huawei often denies allegations by Western critics that the company is too cozy with the repressive Chinese government. Now, new documents published by The Washington Post put additional weight behind that condemnation. More than 100 PowerPoint slides apparently generated by Huawei officials show the company marketing technologies that could help government authorities conduct extensive, intrusive surveillance—particularly in China’s Xinjiang region, where Communist officials are imprisoning hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims.

From the article

The divergence between Huawei’s public disavowals that it doesn’t know how its technology is used by customers, and the detailed accounts of surveillance operations on slides carrying the company’s watermark, taps into long-standing concerns about lack of transparency at the world’s largest vendor of telecommunications gear.

Huawei has long been dogged by criticism that it is opaque and closer to the Chinese government than it claims. A number of Western governments have blocked Huawei gear from their new 5G telecom networks out of concern that the company may assist Beijing with intelligence-gathering, which Huawei denies.

The new details on Huawei’s surveillance products come amid growing concerns in China, and around the world, about the consequences of pervasive facial recognition and other biometric tracking.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

High-performance computing has become crucial to competitive advantage—in every industry, by Kevin Zhang

Lightening-fast new 5G wireless may be the cause of your next flight delay, by Todd Shields, Alan Levin, and Bloomberg

Shares of China’s largest chipmaker sink to lowest close in nearly a year as Biden team considers tougher sanctions, by Jenny Leonard, Ian King, and Bloomberg

‘Social’ trading platform Zingeroo lands $8.5 million investment, by Jessica Mathews

Tesla sued by more women alleging sexual harassment at plant, by Dana Hull and Bloomberg

Exclusive: Selena Gomez is investing in $15 billion grocery delivery startup Gopuff, by Felicia Hou

BEFORE YOU GO

A message to Disney and YouTubeTV. As I settled in Tuesday evening to watch yet another episode of ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, the sports fan’s ultimate version of TV comfort food, a disturbing message popped on the screen. YouTubeTV, of which I’m a satisfied customer, could lose 18 Disney-owned channels if the two sides don’t reach a contract extension by the end of Friday. That means no more ESPN, no more ESPN2, no more ESPN8: The Ocho. Yes, I know these negotiations come down to the wire, but get it together, y’all. If I can’t watch the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl on Saturday morning, there will be hell to pay.

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