The Blunt Calculus About Elon Musk’s SNL Appearance That Everyone Seems to be Missing

The Tesla CEO made it even harder for rivals to sell their electric cars

Steve LeVine
The Mobilist
Published in
6 min readMay 11, 2021

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As Wario. Photo: Courtesy SNL

With his aw-shucks, confessional, good-sport, loves-his-mom, boyishly eager-to-please star turn on Saturday Night Live, Tesla’s Elon Musk did what the CEOs of Volkswagen, Ford, GM and everyone else in the electric vehicle race know they cannot: yuk it up as an equal alongside pop culture celebrities, and then hog the conversation on TV, Twitter, and in the tech press for two days afterward.

And with that, Musk accomplished what he must have intended all along as guest host of the iconic comedy show last weekend: Widening the already forbidding moat separating Tesla from the rest of the fast-growing EV pack.

For the last several months, most of the world’s large automakers have taken their turn with high-profile declarations about their coming EV wares: GM, back in January, with CEO Mary Barra’s announcement that by 2035, the company intended to be selling only electrics; Ford CEO Jim Farley, the very next week, announcing he had doubled spending on EVs and would not be left behind in the race for the future; and in March, VW CEO Herbert Diess’ statement that he would build six gigafactories in Europe and be the world’s largest EV maker by 2025, eclipsing Tesla. Chinese EV makers like Nio, Xpeng and Geely are making a run for stature in the international market, too, and the country is already the world’s leader in lithium-ion batteries.

Yet in the first quarter, Tesla still accounted for one of every four EVs sold around the world. Tesla revenue surged surged 74%, and a jump in sales gave the company a reasonable shot to produce 800,000 vehicles this year, a 60% spike from 2020. In second place with 17% of the world market was China’s SAIC, which mostly makes micro EVs. VW was third with 8%, followed by China’s BYD with 5%.

The past is not prologue, and VW very well could surpass Tesla in sales, especially in the 2030s, when EVs appear likely to be much cheaper and more normalized, so that motorists can easily buy one as they would any another vehicle. China could become to EVs what the juggernaut Japan was to compacts in the 1980s. Musk has repeatedly reminded…

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Steve LeVine
The Mobilist

Editor at Large, Medium, covering the turbulence all around us, electric vehicles, batteries, social trends. Writing The Mobilist. Ex-Axios, Quartz, WSJ, NYT.