What Elon Musk doesn’t get about peace

The power one person can hold should never be underestimated. They can take people’s lives, as Vladimir Putin does, or save them as Elon Musk did in Ukraine. Two days after Putin’s invasion, Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, tagged Musk on Twitter and asked him to help Kyiv with Starlink. The communication centres were one of the first targets for Russian missiles. ‘While you try to colonise Mars, Russia tries to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space, Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people!’ tweeted Fedorov. The answer was immediate. Musk tweeted: ‘Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.’ It was stunning

The ups and downs of driving a Tesla

I began the week in Miami, looking forward to what a friend of mine describes as ‘the finest sight in all Florida – the departure lounge’. That is a little unfair; a tour of Cape Canaveral is mind-blowing. But beyond that I confess I find the state brash and gaudy, a fitting place for Donald Trump’s retirement. If indeed the 45th President has retired. No one will be surprised if he runs again, nor if he is re-elected with the help of his Republican party which has been busy restricting voters’ rights and playing origami with constituency boundaries. I doubt he will win the popular vote, but nor does he

Why Elon Musk should forget Twitter and stick to Tesla

I spent Easter agonising over whether to throw the considerable weight of this column behind Elon Musk’s maverick $43 billion bid for Twitter. One thing I didn’t do, however, was consult the multitude of opinions on the matter available via Twitter itself, because I’m afraid I regard it as a satanic cacophony of misinformation and vanity. If that puts me in the position of the late-15th-century scholar who said ‘Printing presses? Pah! The only news I trust is handwritten by monks’, so be it. But when I read Musk’s claim that ‘civilisational risk’ would be decreased by his sole ownership of the ubiquitous microblogging site, I laughed out loud. Not

The hypocrisy of Elon Musk

Tesla’s sleek, if expensive, electric cars are leading the battle against climate change. Its batteries are moving renewable energy into the mainstream, while its founder Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, likes to present himself as a free-thinking radical. It is hard to think of a company more right on than Tesla — well, okay, perhaps Unilever — or one that depends more on its politically correct credentials. But hold on. There turns out to be one opposed minority that Tesla couldn’t care less about: China’s Uighurs. Most of the corporate world will sooner or later have to make a tough decision: do they care about human rights? The company has landed

How we did the locomotion: A Brief History of Motion, by Tom Standage, reviewed

Audi will make no more fuel engines after 2035. So that’s the end of the Age of Combustion, signalled by a puff of immaculately catalysed smoke from polished chrome exhausts designed by fanatics in Ingolstadt. But some say the age of motion itself will have shuddered to a halt before then. A trope of the New Yorker is a cartoon showing cavemen inventing the wheel, a companion to the other trope of desert island castaways. The adventure promised by the wheel and the limitations of boring stationary solitude are ineffably linked. Since Homo erectus left Africa 1.75 million years ago, without wheels, moving our bodies through space has been a

Why I won’t buy a Tesla

I loved the Ford Mustang Mach-E which I had on loan for four days. It was gorgeous to drive, and slightly saner than the Tesla Model 3 — in that some of the controls involve physical switches and buttons, rather than an on-screen interface. The only annoyance was a persistent whining noise. This came from my teenage daughter who endlessly delivered her strongly held opinion that a fat, 55-year-old advertising man shouldn’t be driving a Mustang. As I patiently explained, when you are a 55-year-old man, you don’t really buy a car for yourself, you buy it for your Jungian shadow-self. So whereas your real-life wife and children might not

Charging ahead: how to get the best out of an electric car

Where do you want to go? China or India? I have always found India infinitely more fascinating — for a simple reason. If you ask Sinophiles about China, they always quote statistics; Indophiles tell you stories. It’s fine to know that China has built 24,000 miles of high-speed rail track, or that its GDP is growing at an annualised rate of 8.27 per cent, but it doesn’t make me want to visit. It’s like reading an article about the film industry in the Economist: informative, yes, but it doesn’t make you want to go to the cinema. The electric car market is trapped in a similar numerical morass. The more

Up Crash: why are markets soaring as the economy tanks?

Shops are boarded up. More than four million people are on furlough with little idea of whether they will have jobs to go back to. Global trade has hit levels last seen a decade ago, and government deficits are soaring, while most developed economies have seen output shrink by 10 per cent, a collapse not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. On just about every measure imaginable, the global economy has never been in worse shape, and we are all a lot poorer. And yet here is a puzzle. Why can’t we see any evidence for that in the financial markets? Instead we are witnessing a series of

Sell bitcoin, buy Tesla

Which is madder, bitcoin at $41,500 — oops, make that $31,000 on Monday — or Tesla shares at $880 apiece? Don’t get me started on the crypto-mania in which the Financial Conduct Authority has warned gamblers ‘they should be prepared to lose all their money’. But Tesla, relatively speaking, is a real thing: a California-based carmaker which has expanded the frontiers of the electric vehicle market that’s going to become huge in the next decade and could soon make carbon–fuelled road transport extinct. Put that way, it’s not so surprising — in tech stock terms — that investors should value Tesla higher than the rest of the US auto industry

The surprising brilliance of meal kits

Ford’s Kumar Galhotra once remarked that carmaking is 100,000 rational decisions in search of one emotional decision. You spend five years and billions of dollars perfecting the drive train, the suspension and the onboard software only for people to choose a car based on the number of cupholders or the fact that the satnav is voiced by James Earl Jones. I’m hardly immune to this myself. I recently decided I wanted a Tesla because it offers an ingenious function called dog mode. This is faintly absurd to begin with: it’s even more ridiculous when you consider that I don’t own a dog. Consumer capitalism is the Galapagos Islands of human

Cars weren’t invented for transportation, but conversation

When I first heard Abba’s magnificent 1982 swansong ‘The Day Before You Came’, I’d never come across the Americanised use of the verb ‘make’, meaning ‘reach’. So the line ‘I must have made my desk around a quarter after nine’ baffled me. Given the Swedish obsession with self-assembly furniture, I even wondered whether Björn was using the word conventionally, and Ms Fältskog was in fact kneeling on the floor aligning Tab A with Groove C, while looking for the elusive Allen key with which to attach the castors. On the other hand, if you are British, the lyrics to the Beach Boys’ song ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ are like the poem

Martin Vander Weyer

Is there anywhere visitors will be welcome this summer?

Do stock markets foretell the future while politicians fudge and economists mumble? No: share prices collectively have a life of their own — driven by herd mentality, weight of money and the available range of investment choices — which indicates little more than the simple fact that what goes up must one day come down and vice versa. Both the FTSE100 and America’s S&P500 indices lost a third of their value between late February when the pandemic began to look serious and a month later when the rate of virus transmission was at its height. So far, so logical. But since then, both have sustained rallies that defy all public

Portrait of the week: Europe’s lockdowns ease, England stays alert and Broadway stays shut

Home The government changed its slogan from ‘Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ to ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’. Authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland refused to adopt it. The day after a 13-minute televised speech to the nation by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, the government published a 50-page Recovery Strategy. A 14-day quarantine would bind anyone entering the country (with exceptions, such as people from France). Everyone should continue to work from home if possible, but workplaces ‘should be open’, apart from those required to be closed. People returning to workplaces were to walk, cycle, drive or use electric scooters, because the capacity of

Martin Vander Weyer

It’s mavericks like Elon Musk who’ll get us through this crisis

This month’s most significant corporate deal attracted less attention than it might have done in normal times, crowded out by grim news elsewhere. It is the proposed £31 billion merger of O2 and Virgin Media to create a telecoms giant with 46 million customers. Following BT’s 2016 acquisition of the mobile operator EE, further ‘convergence’ in the sector had been expected, but the mid-lockdown timing was spun as a vote of confidence in the UK, described as ‘one of the most attractive markets on Earth’ by José María Alvarez–Pallete, chief executive of Telefónica of Spain, which owns O2. Investment of £10 billion in the new group’s mobile, broadband and television