The news Friday that Apple has up to 1,000 employees actively working on some kind of car — a kind of “electric minivan,” not just software in the dashboard — set off a nuclear bomb of speculation, jokes and lukewarm takes. At one extreme came the Detroit-centric reaction, the “oh, this carbuilding business is sooo hard and costly” view, which felt dated when it was deployed against Preston Tucker. From the left coast came the Silicon Valley excitement at impending disruption and the potential profits, epitomized by investor Jason Calacanis predicting Apple will buy Tesla for $75 billion in 18 months.
Those extremes have a fingertip grip in reality; car building is hard, which is why Tesla was the first successful U.S. automaker start-up since the Dodge Brothers in the 1920s, and won’t be profitable until 2020. MORE: