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Liam Denning

What Stubborn Mules Can Teach Us About Teslas

Electric vehicles are the future, but incumbent technology can take years to supplant.

A case study in incumbent technology.

A case study in incumbent technology.

Photographer: Marin Tomas/Moment RF/Getty Images

“Short horses” was Warren Buffett’s very ex-post advice for investors of yore playing the rise of the automobile. Thousands of automakers rose but then fell while a handful emerged as winners. Horses, meanwhile, just fell and then fell some more.

Notice Buffett didn’t say “short mules.” Oversight? Maybe. Or possibly he noticed that while mules also went the way of the horse, they didn’t go in quite the same way. Half of America’s horses had disappeared before Pearl Harbor, but the mule’s crash is a postwar phenomenon. Had you shorted them in 1910, you would have lost out for several decades.