To the Editor:
Regarding "Tesla's biggest test" (Jan. 13):
Elon Musk's ambitious plans for Tesla by 2020 require two strategic moves he now underestimates or ignores. Both, unless he spends a minimum of $4 billion by 2020, will doom Tesla, which will be reduced to an "ex" date brand rather than a marrying brand.
Supercharger charging stations? Musk will need a minimum of 20,000 in place before 2020, or Tesla won't see 2030. At the stated cost of up to $200,000 per, that's $4 billion upfront. He won't know until after that sum is spent whether sales are sufficient to support that infrastructure, but if he doesn't build it, sales will wither by 2017.
Musk and other automakers developing battery or alternative-fuel cars make the error of linking their economics to the price of oil/gasoline. That is a fatal mistake and not just because they don't predict oil/gasoline prices correctly.
Their comparison is irrelevant and obsolete, and it's why electrics failed a century ago.
Henry Ford was told a century ago that a low-priced car would never win a mass market because it had to compete against the horse, with the latter being less costly, cheap to feed and self-replacing.
What Ford did was to ignore such idiocy and demand oil companies build a national infrastructure of gas stations -- or, he hinted, Ford would.
Gasoline became available nationally as Model T sales rose, and the Model T rewrote the economics that applied to both the horse and gasoline, and the 20th century was created. Baker, Detroit and Milburn electrics, because they wouldn't or couldn't expand their charging networks, became collateral damage.
Gasoline's economics developed only after its infrastructure existed. Electrics such as Tesla face the identical conundrum a century later.
NORMAN P. HIGBY
Menlo Park, Calif.