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Elon Musk, the 21st Century Industrialist

On Fridays, Elon Musk gathers his engineers in an old hangar in Los Angeles. The building, next to a municipal airport a couple miles south of the Hollywood Park race track and casino, is now a research and development facility for Musk’s electric car company, Tesla Motors (TSLA). Musk uses these meetings to check the team’s progress and give straightforward, often withering, design critiques. During one such session in July, versions of the Model S sedan and the skeletal frame of a forthcoming sport-utility vehicle, the Model X, sit in a corner. Drivetrain prototypes lay on the concrete floor next to interior cabin mock-ups.

Musk’s staff huddles around him as he zeroes in on a sun visor. He hates it. He examines the seam and, noticing how it pushes up the fabric, declares it “fish-lipped.” The screws on the hinges feel like knives stabbing him in the eye. He announces he wants to find the best sun visor in the world, and then make a better one.

Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

The session continues in the parking lot, where a number of competitors’ vehicles—some hybrids, some conventional—await judgment. Musk squeezes his six-foot-two, broad-shouldered frame into the back seat of a luxury sedan from Hyundai and then into an Acura SUV. He scoffs at the cramped third-row seats in the Acura. “That’s like a midget cave,” he says, and the group chuckles on cue. “It’s good to get a sense for just how bad the other cars are.”
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