Tesla envy. Why on Mars not?

Tesla envy. Why on Mars not?

A lot of people have been having fun with “Stellantis,” the made-up name for the combination of PSA and Fiat Chrysler. Sure, it sounds like a name for a pharmaceutical product. And it’s officially supposed to evoke the stars, like “stellar.”

But I suspect that the creators of this name were thinking about another bright light in the galaxy: Tesla. All but two of the 10 letters in Stellantis are also found in the name of Elon Musk’s hyperbolically hyped stock.

And why not? Historic car brands, it seems, do not increase the appeal of a stock in investors’ eyes.

It repels them — they all want in on Tesla and its imitators. And why not?

Tesla stock defies gravity as spectacularly as a SpaceX rocket, lifting hopes that other “geniuses” — anyone outside of the legacy auto industry — are poised to change the world, save humanity from itself and rain capital gains on all true believers.

On May 1, Musk tweeted that Tesla’s stock price was too high, and it dropped by 10 percent. As of last week it was double the April 30 price.

And that was before the company surprised investors with a fourth straight quarterly profit.

In a conference call, Musk explained his optimism about Tesla’s cars becoming fully self-driving. After he said in China recently that Level 5 automated driving could be fundamentally achieved this year, there was widespread backlash. It’s simply impossible, experts say, especially with the technology Tesla uses. For instance, it doesn’t use lidar.

Google’s Waymo uses lidar, but CEO John Krafcik says full self-driving — anywhere in the world at any time — may never exist. Why would someone develop a system that can drive in New York, Beirut and Hong Kong, since no car would be driven in all of those places?

Seems logical, but Musk is not all alone, like Major Tom.

James Kuffner, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development, told me last year that he thought Toyota could do it. Essentially, he argued that a company that puts 10 million vehicles on the Earth each year has the chance to see a lot of the planet from a data perspective. So why couldn’t it all be synthesized into a shared brain that could drive anywhere, anytime?

As for Tesla’s ability to do it, Musk said he uses the system every day and it can almost get him from home to the office without human intervention. He insisted that it’s “really, profoundly better than people realize.”

Musk’s lofty visions can be dizzying. Times like these I think of the old DJ Casey Kasem, who used to say: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

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