Fires, faulty drive units, financial losses and stock price deflation marked Tesla Motors news in a week that seemed as bad as the last couple of years were good.
Fortunately for CEO Elon Musk and his support staff he’s mastered the art of celebri-preneur showmanship that he’s built enough standing with the media to endure a really bad week. The multi-billionaire who’s dazzled with innovation at Paypal, SpaceX and SolarCity will be permitted his stumbles because of his track record and his self-assurance. Henrik Fisker, whose taxpayer-backed luxury electric auto company didn’t get nearly the same favor, must be jealous.
Tesla’s once-Teflon Tony StarkElon Musk, the adored Paypal/SpaceX/electric-car innovator who’s been showered with unmitigated media praise and highly inflated stock values, has another lithium ion battery fire to explain.
This one happened after a Model S crash in Mexico. The last one happened less than a month ago in Kent, Wash. Since then Tesla’s share price has fallen from $193.90 on Sept. 30 to $160.58 this afternoon. The irrational exuberance that made the electric automaker the darling of Wall Street has now become merely excitable, although still unjustifiably so. Even Musk himself told Bloomberg last week, “The stock price that we have is more than we have any right to deserve.”
Another fire, another mysterious technical glitch, and happy-go-lucky Boeing skips along enjoying strong sales, revenues and profits, despite the shadow of uncertainty that hangs over the lithium battery-charged Dreamliner.
The wide-bodied 787, following two fires on Japanese airliners in January that grounded them for months, experienced another blaze on July 12 at Heathrow Airport in London. This time the victim was Boeing customer Ethiopian Airlines, whose Dreamliner had a hole burned through the roof of the fuselage in front of the tail. The cause was attributed to an Emergency Locator Transmitter manufactured by Honeywell International, which contains a lithium manganese-dioxide battery – more about that later.
Now that Boeing has placed most of its 787s back into service, including those in United Airlines’ fleet, executives with both corporations are putting a happy face on the expensive hardship that was caused by the four-month grounding of the planes due to fire hazard risks.
United reinstated the so-called Dreamliners on May 20, when United CEO Jeff Smisek and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney hopped a flight from Houston to Chicago to show the troubles with the plane’s lithium ion batteries were behind them.
"Attention ladies and gentlemen, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will depart shortly – any potential fires caused by our lithium ion batteries will now be contained within the aircraft. Please line up at the gate for imminent boarding!”
Are you ready?
In case you missed it the Federal Aviation Administration, by publishing an Airworthiness Directive in the Federal Register last week, opened the door for the troubled “green” aircraft to return to service in the coming months. The document lays out the specifications required for Boeing to get the extremely costly project moving again, if the changes are implemented and FAA inspectors sign off.
President Obama’s alternative energy “stimulus,” administered through his Department of Energy by previous Secretary Steven Chu, had already become a joke because of the failures and foibles of so many recipients of Recovery Act funds. But now – as though officially commemorating the absurdity of this historically bad U.S. government program – one of its bankrupt beneficiaries has changed its name from one of simplicity to one of mockery.
Taxpayer-supported Tesla, recipient of a $465 million stimulus loan guarantee to produce yet another electric toy car (the Model S) for rich people, reported its 4th quarter earnings last week. The word from billionaire CEO Elon Musk (Flickr photo: Jurvetson) was, “we’ll do better next quarter – promise.”
Would you be willing to fly on a newly developed jumbo airliner with battery technology that has been known to cause fires, whose exact cause is still unknown, but whose manufacturer has claimed to find a temporary “fix” that would allegedly contain –but not prevent – future flaming flights?
The employees of battery maker LG Chem still haven’t found anything to do worthy of their pay since they were caught playing games and watching videos four months ago, and now the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Energy has embarrassed the company into returning some – but not much – of the $142 million (out of a $151 million grant) in taxpayer money they took.
Gregory Friedman released his report – which was based on an inquiry spurred by the original media stories in the fall about the mostly idle workers in Holland, Mich. – last week. Turns out the reports about workers on-the-clock playing Texas Hold ‘Em and video games, doing Sudoku and crossword puzzles, and volunteering at nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, were not exaggerations.