“From a corporate good-governance perspective, Tesla has a lot of red flags,” Andrew Poreda, a senior analyst who specializes in socially responsible investing at Sage Advisory Services, an investment firm in Austin, told The Times last month. “There are almost no checks and balances.”

Mr. Musk’s management style and success — he is listed as the world’s richest man by Bloomberg and Forbes — have earned him admirers but have made him a lightning rod. Tesla has lost a number of top executives in recent years, many of whom have gone on to top jobs at other automakers, tech companies and battery makers.

Recently, Mr. Musk praised the work ethic in China, where labor conditions can be harsh or even abusive, suggesting that workers in the United States were lazy. “They won’t just be burning the midnight oil. They’ll be burning the 3 a.m. oil,” he said about Chinese workers in an interview with The Financial Times. “So they won’t even leave the factory type of thing. Whereas in America, people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”

Still, some analysts remain bullish about Tesla’s prospects. “In our view, Tesla likely does not need to hire any more employees to maintain its growth, and we think the plan to reduce the work force likely shows that Tesla over hired last year,” Seth Goldstein, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar, said in a note on Friday.

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How Elon Musk Winged It With Twitter, and Everything Else

Kimbal Musk and Mr. Gracias, who left Tesla’s board last year and serves as a SpaceX director, declined to comment for this article.

Today, Mr. Musk oversees or is associated with at least a dozen companies, including public ones, private ones and holding companies such as Wyoming Steel, which he uses to manage real estate. His net worth stands at about $250 billion.

As Mr. Musk established more companies, he collected associates he could deploy across many of the endeavors.

One was Mary Beth Brown, who was hired in 2002 to essentially be Mr. Musk’s executive assistant. Known as M.B., she soon became a kind of chief of staff, handling media requests and some financial matters for SpaceX and Tesla, as well as helping to manage Mr. Musk’s personal life, said Ashlee Vance, the author of “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.”

That same year, Mr. Musk hired Gwynne Shotwell as SpaceX’s seventh employee. As the rocket maker’s president and chief operating officer, Ms. Shotwell has overseen the company’s growth, becoming one of Mr. Musk’s longest-lasting employees.

At a conference in 2018, Ms. Shotwell explained how she managed Mr. Musk.

Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

“When Elon says something, you have to pause and not immediately blurt out, ‘Well, that’s impossible,’ or, ‘There’s no way we’re going to do that. I don’t know how,’” she said. “So you zip it, and you think about it. And you find ways to get that done.”

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Frustrated With Utilities, Some Californians Are Leaving the Grid

The appeal of off-grid homes has grown in part because utilities have become less reliable. As natural disasters linked to climate change have increased, there have been more extended blackouts in California, Texas, Louisiana and other states.

Californians are also upset that electricity rates keep rising and state policymakers have proposed reducing incentives for installing solar panels on homes connected to the grid. Installing off-grid solar and battery systems is expensive, but once the systems are up and running, they typically require modest maintenance and homeowners no longer have an electric bill.

RMI, a research organization formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute, has projected that by 2031 most California homeowners will save money by going off the grid as solar and battery costs fall and utility rates increase. That phenomenon will increasingly play out in less sunny regions like the Northeast over the following decades, the group forecasts.

David Hochschild, chairman of the California Energy Commission, a regulatory agency, said the state’s residents tend to be early adopters, noting that even a former governor, Jerry Brown, lives in an off-grid home. But Mr. Hochschild added that he was not convinced that such an approach made sense for most people. “We build 100,000 new homes a year in California, and I would guess 99.99 percent of them are connected to the grid,” he said.

Some energy experts worry that people who are going off the grid could unwittingly hurt efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is because the excess electricity that rooftop solar panels produce will no longer reach the grid, where it can replace power from coal or natural gas plants. “We don’t need everybody to cut the cord and go it alone,” said Mark Dyson, senior principal with the carbon-free electricity unit of RMI.

Pepe Cancino moved from Santa Monica to Nevada County in 2020 after he and his wife, Diane, lost their jobs during the pandemic. They bought five acres with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains. Mr. Cancino, 42, a former home health care worker, picked up a chain saw and an ax and began learning how to build a house and generate his own power.

When they finish their two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom home this fall, the family, including their 15-year-old daughter, will generate electricity and use a well for water.

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Rivian Loses Its Shine as Investors Fret About Production Delays

The company also did not tell investors that its chief operating officer, Rod Copes, a Harley-Davidson veteran, left the company last year. Public companies and those in the process of listing their shares generally disclose the departures of top executives. The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Mast said Mr. Copes had a “phased transition from Rivian in fall 2021, prior to the I.P.O.” and retired in December, after the offering.

Mr. Copes, 55, said in an interview that he did not leave Rivian because of concerns about his performance or because there were problems with production. He said that he had achieved key goals and that the structures were in place for Rivian’s ramp-up in production. “It was a smooth and seamless transition,” Mr. Copes said.

But corporate governance experts think Rivian ought to have disclosed his impending departure to investors during the I.P.O., given his senior role. “If they knew he was leaving, the optimal disclosure would have been to identify their C.O.O. but indicate that he was leaving,” John C. Coffee Jr., a professor at Columbia Law School, said in an email.

According to one former executive, Rivian has a poor management culture.

The executive, Laura Schwab, said she was fired last year from a high-ranking sales and marketing position after expressing concerns about what she called the “boys’ club culture” and “gender discrimination” at the company. She filed a lawsuit in state court in California accusing Rivian of violating the state law prohibiting employment discrimination and retaliation.

Ms. Schwab said she had been part of 30 vehicle introductions in prior auto industry jobs, including at Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover. Soon after arriving at Rivian, she said, she felt compelled to express concerns that the company was in danger of missing delivery targets.

“The production line doesn’t go from zero to thousands of cars overnight; it just doesn’t work that way,” she said.

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Why This Could Be a Critical Year for Electric Cars

Sales of cars powered solely by batteries surged in the United States, Europe and China last year, while deliveries of fossil fuel vehicles were stagnant. Demand for electric cars is so strong that manufacturers are requiring buyers to put down deposits months in advance. And some models are effectively sold out for the next two years.

Battery-powered cars are having a breakthrough moment and will enter the mainstream this year as automakers begin selling electric versions of one of Americans’ favorite vehicle type: pickup trucks. Their arrival represents the biggest upheaval in the auto industry since Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908 and could have far-reaching consequences for factory workers, businesses and the environment. Tailpipe emissions are among the largest contributors to climate change.

While electric vehicles still account for a small slice of the market — nearly 9 percent of the new cars sold last year worldwide were electric, up from 2.5 percent in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency — their rapid growth could make 2022 the year when the march of battery-powered cars became unstoppable, erasing any doubt that the internal combustion engine is lurching toward obsolescence.

The proliferation of electric cars will improve air quality and help slow global warming. The air in Southern California is already a bit cleaner thanks to the popularity of electric vehicles there. And the boom is a rare piece of good news for President Biden, who has struggled to advance his climate agenda in Congress.

more than a dozen new electric car and battery factories just in the United States.

“It’s one of the biggest industrial transformations probably in the history of capitalism,” Scott Keogh, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America, said in an interview. “The investments are massive, and the mission is massive.”

But not everyone will benefit. Makers of mufflers, fuel injection systems and other parts could go out of business, leaving many workers jobless. Nearly three million Americans make, sell and service cars and auto parts, and industry experts say producing electric cars will require fewer workers because the cars have fewer components.

Over time, battery ingredients like lithium, nickel and cobalt could become more sought after than oil. Prices for these materials are already skyrocketing, which could limit sales in the short term by driving up the cost of electric cars.

The transition could also be limited by the lack of places to plug in electric cars, which has made the vehicles less appealing to people who drive long distances or apartment residents who can’t charge at home. There are fewer than 50,000 public charging stations in the United States. The infrastructure bill that Congress passed in November includes $7.5 billion for 500,000 new chargers, although experts say even that number is too small.

could take decades unless governments provide larger incentives to car buyers. Cleaning up heavy trucks, one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, could be even harder.

Still, the electric car boom is already reshaping the auto industry.

The biggest beneficiary — and the biggest threat to the established order — is Tesla. Led by Elon Musk, the company delivered nearly a million cars in 2021, a 90 percent increase from 2020.

Tesla is still small compared with auto giants, but it commands the segment with the fastest growth. Wall Street values the company at about $1 trillion, more than 10 times as much as General Motors. That means Tesla, which is building factories in Texas and Germany, can easily expand.

“At the rate it’s growing now, it will be bigger than G.M. in five years,” said John Casesa, a former Ford executive who is now a senior managing director at Guggenheim Securities, at a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago forum in January.

Most analysts figured that electric vehicles wouldn’t take off until they became as inexpensive to buy as gasoline models — a milestone that is still a few years away for moderately priced cars that most people can afford.

But as extreme weather makes the catastrophic effects of climate change more tangible, and word gets around that electric cars are easy to maintain, cheap to refuel and fun to drive, affluent buyers are increasingly going electric.

outsold diesel cars in Europe for the first time. In 18 countries, including Britain, more than 20 percent of new cars were electric, according to Matthias Schmidt, an independent analyst in Berlin.

study.

Inevitably, a transition this momentous will cause dislocation. Most new battery and electric car factories planned by automakers are in Southern states like Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. Their gains could come at the expense of the Midwest, which would lose internal combustion production jobs.

Toyota, a pioneer in hybrid vehicles, will not offer a car powered solely by batteries until later this year. Ram does not plan to release a competitor to Ford’s Lightning until 2024.

Chinese companies like SAIC, which owns the British MG brand, are using the technological shift to enter Europe and other markets. Young companies like Lucid, Rivian and Nio aim to follow Tesla’s playbook.

Old-line carmakers face a stiff learning curve. G.M. recalled its Bolt electric hatchback last year because of the risk of battery fires.

The companies most endangered may be small machine shops in Michigan or Ontario that produce piston rings and other parts. At the moment, these businesses are busy because of pent-up demand for all vehicles, said Carla Bailo, chief executive of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“A lot of them kind of have blinders on and are not looking that far down the road,” Ms. Bailo said “That’s troubling.”

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Can Anyone Satisfy Amazon’s Craving for Electric Vans?

That number is growing quickly. Amazon is several years — and tens of billions of dollars — into a huge push to deliver packages, shifting away from relying on large carriers like UPS. To begin the expansion, Amazon ordered 20,000 diesel Sprinter vans from Mercedes-Benz.

Through its network of contractors, Amazon now delivers more than half of its orders globally, and far more in the United States. Amazon has six times as many delivery depots now as it did in 2017, with at least 50 percent more new facilities set to open this year, according to data from MWPVL, a logistics consultancy.

That logistics boom, accelerated by the pandemic’s shift to online shopping, multiplies the challenges the company faces in meeting its pledge to reduce its climate impact. Its vow to make half of its deliveries carbon-neutral by 2030 is part of the company’s broader pledge to be net-carbon-neutral by 2040.

“Electrification of their delivery fleet is a really important part of that strategy,” said Anne Goodchild, who leads the University of Washington’s work on supply chain, logistics and freight transportation.

Delivery vans are well suited to electric propulsion because they usually travel 100 miles or under in a day, which means they don’t need large battery packs that add to the cost of electric cars. Delivery trucks are often used during the day and can be recharged overnight, and usually require less maintenance than gasoline trucks. Electric vehicles don’t have transmissions and certain other mechanical components that wear out quickly in the heavy stop-and-go typical in delivery routes.

In September 2019, when Mr. Bezos announced Amazon’s huge Rivian order — the largest ever order of electric vehicles — he positioned it as central to Amazon’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. At the time, he said he expected the 100,000 vans to be on the road “by 2024.”

Amazon invested at least $1.3 billion in Rivian, which Amazon says is supposed to make 10,000 vans as early as this year. Amazon also locked up exclusive rights to Rivian’s commercial vans for four years, with the right of first refusal for two years after that. The companies have been testing the vans for almost a year.

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Why Tesla Soared as Other Automakers Struggled to Make Cars

For much of last year, established automakers like General Motors and Ford Motor operated in a different reality from Tesla, the electric car company.

G.M. and Ford closed one factory after another — sometimes for months on end — because of a shortage of computer chips, leaving dealer lots bare and sending car prices zooming. Yet Tesla racked up record sales quarter after quarter and ended the year having sold nearly twice as many vehicles as it did in 2020 unhindered by an industrywide crisis.

Tesla’s ability to conjure up critical components has a greater significance than one year’s car sales. It suggests that the company, and possibly other young electric car businesses, could threaten the dominance of giants like Volkswagen and G.M. sooner and more forcefully than most industry executives and policymakers realize. That would help the effort to reduce the emissions that are causing climate change by displacing more gasoline-powered cars sooner. But it could hurt the millions of workers, thousands of suppliers and numerous local and national governments that rely on traditional auto production for jobs, business and tax revenue.

Tesla and its enigmatic chief executive, Elon Musk, have said little about how the carmaker ran circles around the rest of the auto industry. Now it’s becoming clear that the company simply had a superior command of technology and its own supply chain. Tesla appeared to better forecast demand than businesses that produce many more cars than it does. Other automakers were surprised by how quickly the car market recovered from a steep drop early in the pandemic and had simply not ordered enough chips and parts fast enough.

G.M. and Stellantis, the company formed from the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, all sold fewer cars in 2021 than they did in 2020.

Tesla’s production and supply problems made it an industry laughingstock. Many of the manufacturing snafus stemmed from Mr. Musk’s insistence that the company make many parts itself.

Other car companies have realized that they need to do some of what Mr. Musk and Tesla have been doing all along and are in the process of taking control of their onboard computer systems.

Mercedes, for example, plans to use fewer specialized chips in coming models and more standardized semiconductors, and to write its own software, said Markus Schäfer, a member of the German carmaker’s management board who oversees procurement.

traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:

It also helps that Tesla is a much smaller company than Volkswagen and Toyota, which in a good year produce more than 10 million vehicles each. “It’s just a smaller supply chain to begin with,” said Mr. Melsert, who is now chief executive of American Battery Technology Company, a recycling and mining firm.

recall more than 475,000 cars for two separate defects. One could cause the rearview camera to fail, and the other could cause the front hood to open unexpectedly. And federal regulators are investigating the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot system, which can accelerate, brake and steer a car on its own.

“Tesla will continue to grow,” said Stephen Beck, managing partner at cg42, a management consulting firm in New York. “But they are facing more competition than they ever have, and the competition is getting stronger.”

The carmaker’s fundamental advantage, which allowed it to sail through the chip crisis, will remain, however. Tesla builds nothing but electric vehicles and is unencumbered by habits and procedures that have been rendered obsolete by new technology. “Tesla started from a clean sheet of paper,” Mr. Amsrud said.

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Can a Tiny Territory in the South Pacific Power Tesla’s Ambitions?

Even with guardrails in place, natural resource extraction remains a sensitive issue in New Caledonia. Nickel prices are up by about 25 percent this year, reflecting the mineral’s importance in the campaign to move away from fossil fuels. But so far, that has not led to greater profits for miners.

Goro’s previous owner, the Brazilian mining giant Vale, was desperate to rid itself of the mine. Tensions over who would buy the nickel processing plant led to protests that forced Goro to shut for months, the kind of supply chain disruption that could be disastrous for Tesla. The conflict also triggered the fall of New Caledonia’s government earlier this year.

“In the history of nickel in New Caledonia, a battle exists between the multinational and the local populations, and there is also the colonial history,” said Mr. Mapou, who took power after the Goro conflict and is the territory’s first Kanak president. “With Tesla, with the new ownership, we have a compromise now that makes it possible to open the Goro plant, but it remains fragile.”

The coastal road to Goro, meandering past a bay studded with colorful coral, is littered with charred cars. The dozens of burned vehicles are detritus from the monthslong struggle that idled the mine and led to the collapse of New Caledonia’s government in February. And they are a visceral reminder of the tense politics that could stymie Tesla’s efforts to secure a steady supply of nickel.

André Vama was one of hundreds of Kanaks who barricaded the road with burning tires and vehicles this year, strangling the mine’s operations.

“From the start, we have been against this mine,” said Mr. Vama, who is a leader of a local environmental alliance. “This is our national patrimony, our assets, and the Kanaks, who are victims of history, are not in control of what should be ours.”

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Battling for Bolivia’s Lithium That’s Vital to Electric Cars

“The amount of lithium we need in any of our climate goals is incredible,” said Anna Shpitsberg, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for energy transformation. “Everyone is trying to build up their supply chains and think about how to be strategic.”

But Washington has little sway in Bolivia, whose leaders have long disagreed with the American approach to drug policy and Venezuela. That may explain why some energy executives do not think Bolivia is worth the risk.

“You’ve had 30 years’ worth of projects in Bolivia with almost nothing to show,” said Robert Mintak, chief executive of Standard Lithium, a publicly traded mining company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, referring to lithium development efforts dating back to 1990. “You have a landlocked country with no infrastructure, no work force, political risk, no intellectual property protection. So as a developer, I would choose someplace else that is safer.”

Mr. Egan sees the odds differently.

That Mr. Egan has gotten this far is a marvel. He learned about Bolivian lithium only by chance when he and a friend crisscrossed South America as tourists in 2018.

When they got to the salt flats, a guide explained that they were standing on the world’s largest lithium reserve. “I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I need to be involved,’” Mr. Egan said.

He had tried his hand as a sports and music agent and ran a small investment fund at the time. He had invested in Tesla in 2013 at $9 a share; it now trades around $975. (He would not reveal how many shares he had bought and how many he still had.)

But he felt that he wasn’t achieving much. Before Mr. Egan traveled to South America, his father, Michael, the founder of Alamo Rent A Car, advised him to make two lists — of his five biggest passions and of the five industries he thought would grow fastest in the coming decades. Renewable energy was on both lists.

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