Four years ago at a small stage in the center of Detroit, a gently nervous Elon Musk shared a vision.
In a room packed to the exits, he claimed that Tesla could make money, build a dealer network and exchange a culture around electric cars.
"By 2020, we would have 500,000" sold cars, Musk told me at our annual Automotive News World Congress. "But I think we'll probably go past that … In 2025 we'll get enough to get a few million cars a year. We just want to keep driving our volume as high as possible."
Musk came as an electric master, a soothing voice in a sea of twins.
"We cut a path through a jungle to show what can be done with electric cars," he said.
It was the last time Musk would address Detroit with such kindness, openness and pure humility. It was pre-model X, pre-model Y, pre-musk that we know him. It was January 201
Four years later, the fascination continues, but the jungle becomes wild.
Last week, the company beat salespeople across the country and thought personnel were trying to find firmer footsteps. Musk says that Tesla saves money as it hits the production of model 3 sedan and is preparing to launch model Y crossover.
He has flip-flopped on his retail strategy, failed to be in the black, except his sales forecasts and conflicts with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
But Musk is still the industry's fascination – a man who does not release an official sales figure by region, uses his experience in "production luck" as an honor mark, has triggered countless personnel errors, has no public relations machine, and still remains envious of every car show this side of Mars.
Which car company would kill for the Musk brand has built on zero paid advertising and a Twitter account. Tesla has the devotees that every brand wants. How do they do that?
Luxury chiefs scratch their heads; Volume manufacturers are wondering the same.
An auto exec told me that "there are many things to learn from Tesla that are so different than how Detroit works."
As for the rest of the industry, the EV road will not be smooth. Many luxury and mainstream EVs are on the way, but there is no guarantee that customers will follow anything close to the speed of Tesla buyers.
Four years ago that conversation at a Detroit stage, Tesla remains as captivating and as confusing as ever.
Implosion seems to fool around every corner. But its impact cannot be denied.
Jason Stein is the publisher of Automotive News . You can email him at [email protected] Keith Crains column returns.