The year of the U-turn

year of uturn

Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May,  has made quite a number of U-turns since she took office: grammar schools, workers on boards and registers of foreign workers are just three of the areas where she has suffered a change of heart over the past six months.  Now, most important of all, she has agreed to publish her plans for Brexit before triggering Article 50.  Her Foreign Secretary has caught the bug and made a few U-turns himself.  With the election of Donald Trump to the White House, for example, Boris Johnson has had to describe the President-elect as a ‘liberal guy’ having previously cited him as a good reason not to visit New York.[1]

Both are politicians though, and in politics, a fickle approach to opinion is often expedient and therefore to be expected.  The 2016 trend, however, extends beyond politics.  Now we have businessmen springing Christmas surprises on us.

Notably, the founders of Tesla and Uber, both of whom have joined Mr Trump’s new economic advisory board, according to an announcement on Wednesday.[2].  Both Elon Musk of Tesla and Travis Kalanick of Uber have shared Boris Johnson’s clarity when describing the President-elect in the past: Mr Musk felt ‘strongly’ that he was ‘not the right guy’ for presidential office whilst Mr Kalanick said he would move to China if Mr Trump won the 2016 election.

So why the volte-face?  Could it be that they, too, find it expedient to treat Mr Trump as an ally rather than a foe?  It is certainly the case that Tesla has not had a good couple of weeks.  It has had to recall 7,000 faulty adapters following two customer complaints of overheating that left a pool of molten plastic where the charging element should have been.[3]  It has also seen General Motors beat it to market with a vehicle that can run for 200 miles on a single charge. [4]  As if that were not enough, Tesla’s former chief engineer, Peter Rawlinson unveiled another rival yesterday: a competitor to Tesla’s Model S that he has designed for China’s Lucid Motors.[5]

Uber, meanwhile, is once again involved in regulatory controversy.  This time, it is arguing with California over whether it needs a special permit for its self-driving cars in the State.[6]

So in the year of the U-turn, cynics might suspect that both bosses might have decided that, with a friend in high places, they are better positioned to influence regulation in their own favour.

A happier prospect is a belief that both may feel that it is best for the planet if they help Mr Trump to modify his fossil-friendly outlook by sharing with him their world vision.  Mr Musk foresees a future where transport is cheap and emissions-free.  Mr Kalanick is looking for a transport system in perpetual motion, freeing up the valuable space occupied by garages and parking bays for parks, houses and schools.  This, at least, is what they have said in the past.

[1] Johnson says Trump a liberal guy
[2] Musk and Kalanick join Trump advisory board
[3] Tesla adaptor recall
[4] GM Chevrolet Bolt to rival Tesla Model 3
[5] Lucid Motors unveils rival to Tesla Model S
[6] Uber told to stop self-driving in California