For years, automakers wildly overpromised on self-driving cars and electric vehicles—what now?

The languid EV and AV rollouts are creating a mixture of confusion and desperation in the auto industry and among the tech companies that have staked their claims in it. No one doubts that the automobile is in the midst of a 100-year sea change—electric and autonomous vehicles in some form will eventually be commonplace. But there is a growing suspicion from inside the industry that the way auto companies are navigating this incipient revolution—primarily by wildly investing hundreds of millions of dollars a month in often-redundant research and development efforts whose returns on capital seem to be slipping further away—is foolhardy and lacks imagination. The problem is, a few top executives in the industry privately concede, the auto companies are slapping fresh ideas on old chassis, when the real outcome may be unlike anything that we envision today. Last year, one CEO described the expensive hunt for EVs and AVs as a “down payment on nothing.”