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Why Jay Leno wants you to root for Tesla

He's arrogant.

Tesla has relied too heavily on public financing.

The car lacks style.

There's no shortage of digs and complaints when it comes to Elon Musk, his auto company, and the cars they make. But is it all just veiled jealousy? Are the criticisms justified?

It depends on whom you ask.

If you ask Jay Leno, host of "Jay Leno's Garage" on CNBC, he'll tell you that Americans should be rooting for Tesla.

"It's a tough business to get into," Leno said. "And the fact that Tesla is making a go of it — and quite successfully — I think is impressive. It should be applauded."

Elon Musk, chairman and chief executive officer of Tesla Motors, speaks during an event at the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Elon Musk, chairman and chief executive officer of Tesla Motors, speaks during an event at the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

Leno qualifies his assessment that the auto industry is cutthroat and unforgiving by quickly listing just a few of the American car brands that, in his lifetime alone, have fallen off the map.

Oldsmobile. Pontiac. Saturn. Mercury.

Said Leno: "Here's a guy building an American car in America using American labor and paying them a union wage — the whole bit. Why are you not rooting for it to be successful? I don't quite understand that."

Nevertheless, many people do love to hate Musk.

They argue his ideas border on delusional. His extreme self-confidence can be irritable. And his technologies may be over-hyped compared to the actual needs of society.

Others critics simply fear him. The oil and auto industries, for example, see Tesla as a legitimate threat to their business.

But to the public at large — those, perhaps, not directly affected by Musk's successes or failures — disdain may come down to a simple matter of envy.

Human nature: the desire to see something big and bold come crashing down.

"We're becoming like the British," Leno said. "We like noble failures."

CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EDT.