Elon Musk takes a road trip. Will it boost business for Tesla?

Elon Musk is planning a cross-country road trip in his Tesla Model S. It's a great stunt, but what will it do for Tesla's bottom line?

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
Tesla CEO Elon Musk waves during a rally at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. in June. Musk is finalizing plans for a cross-country rad trip in the Tesla Model S.

Since June, we've known that Elon Musk was planning a cross-country road trip in his Tesla Model S. Yesterday, in a series of tweets, he announced that details of the trip had been finalized:

Just finalized the LA to NY family road trip route in Model S. 6 day, 3200 mile journey with only 9 hrs spent charging.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 5, 2013

At 1.5 hrs/day, we will only ever need to charge when stopping anyway to eat or sightsee, never just for charging itself

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 5, 2013

No doubt, Musk and his team have spent a lot of time finding routes that offer convenient access to charging stations. For drivers of conventional cars, the planning would've likely gone much faster -- possibly just a couple of minutes perusing Google Maps.

Still, six days is good time for a cross-country drive. For Musk to make the trip in a fully electric vehicle makes it even more remarkable.

The question is: what will it do for business?


Like other innovators who've disrupted marketplaces and upended traditions, Musk is creative, passionate, obsessive, and just a little egomaniacal. He is also outrageously charismatic, sitting at the center of his own, fledgling cult of personality. We wouldn't be the first to compare him to the late Steve Jobs.

And like Jobs, there are some people who will always like what Musk has to say, who will always revere him and back him up. There are others who will just as steadfastly refuse to buy the hype, unwilling to admit that the man has any good ideas at all. The former will always be in the market for Musk's products, the latter, not so much.

Where Musk needs to focus his attention, of course, is on those people in the middle -- those who might be swayed to consider Tesla, provided that its prices are competitive and that it doesn't constitute an added daily burden.

And so, Musk is doing what great inventors throughout history have done: he's proving the value of his invention by using it himself.

With luck, Musk will enjoy a fate similar to the Wright brothers, who bravely tested their own prototype airplane near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (And hopefully, he'll avoid the fate of Henry Smolinski, who created a flying car by attaching wings to a Ford Pinto. The wings fell off mid-flight.)

The question isn't so much whether Musk will safely make the trip from Los Angeles to New York. It's whether he'll do it in the time allotted, and whether he'll be able to do so on the slim charging schedule he's proposed -- just 1.5 hours per day.

If successful, Musk's efforts will go a long way toward undoing the damage caused by an unflattering New York Times article that came out earlier this year. If not, he won't hurt Tesla's reputation with fanboys, but it'll take longer for those on the fence to join Tesla's party.

Our guess? If nothing else, Musk is a showman. He's not conferred with us, but we're certain that he's gone over and over the stats for this massive trip. If he fails, it won't be for lack of planning -- which means that something or someone else would have to shoulder the blame. What or who would that be? We'll have to wait and see. 

For more about Musk's cross-country marketing stunt, check out our colleagues at Green Car Reports.  

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