Last night I went for a walk and listened to the Recode interview of Elon Musk, by respected journalist Kara Swisher.
The interview goes for around an hour and during the chat, the pair discuss Musk’s opinion of the media, his life and challenges this year at Tesla as the Model 3 ramps up production, and then briefly talked about the roadmap of products coming in the years ahead (definitely not making EV bikes).
These new products are where the most revealing pieces of information were revealled.. namely a new solution for utility customers which sounds an awful lot like a new battery, perhaps Powerwall 3.
Musk revealled details on the truck (not the semi), where he explained it’s basically being built because he wants it to exist in the world, not because there’s an established market opportunity. While that sounds strange, if it ends up appealing to everyone who currently buys F150s (or similar), then the potential market is big, very big.
While the interview was definitely entertaining to listen to, I left it with many more questions I wish had been asked and below is a list of questions that I’d ask Elon, should I ever get the chance to interview him.
Musk describes the Model 3 production hell, almost like a relentless rapid fire of successive engineering challenges to solve. On top of that the logistics challenge of managing more than 10,000 suppliers and of course once you nail those problems, getting thousands of cars to customers is the next challenge. While Tesla are leading the way in EV and technology, much of the process of building cars is not new. With EVs containing less parts that ICE vehicles, this problem should be a simpler one.
Q1. How did you arrive in this position? Did you hire the wrong people, not enough people who understand the production process? Or did the volume of pre-orders simply catch you off-guard? Also have you considered going downstream, that is making some parts yourself rather than rely on 3rd parties?
Orders post pre-order
Famously Tesla had some 400,000+ pre-orders for vehicles, many of which were made before the vehicle was even revealed. While there are examples on Facebook groups of people placing orders and receiving a Model 3 within 2 weeks, many original pre-orders (mostly outside US and Canada) are still waiting for their vehicle.
Q2. Once these pre-orders are all completed, are you confident you’ll have a steady stream of orders to match the production rate at that time?
Competition from Nvidia
During the interview Musk made a frank assessment of the competition and I agree with him that most legacy car company’s haven’t re-engineered to fight to technology battle that’ll power the future of transportation.
I do think there’s another play though, that’s for the auto maker to be self-aware enough to recognise that’s not their core competency and outsource the tech to a company like Nvidia.
In my mind Nvidia’s Drive PX 2 platform is the most serious competitor to Tesla and that’s a hardware platform that, with a serious investment in software developers, could be used to create a competitive computer vision system and therefore, an autonomous driving solution on. Musk wasn’t directly asked about this, so I would.
Q3. Is Nvidia’s Drive PX2 platform your biggest competitor ? Have you considered licencing your tech to others? Their website lists ‘the journey to zero accidents’. Your cars are already doing some basic collision avoidance, do you think you can win that battle and what happens to insurance if a car is self-aware enough to never crash (or be crashed into).
Musk has been asked previously about the viability of integrating solar panels into the surface of the vehicle to extend the range of the vehicle. He dismissed the idea, suggesting that it only offered a relatively small surface area to collect power from and therefore the incremental difference to range wouldn’t justify the cost.
Q4. Hyundai have just announced they will add solar panels to the roof of future future vehicles, so who’s right?
Despite shipping over 100,000 vehicles, there are still too many examples of issues upon delivery, with most complaints relating to panel alignment. With robots making the parts, they should be exact in size to the mm (or less). So it’s perhaps a tolerance in the attachment mechanism used on the vehicle body.
Q5. Do you have an answer as to why this continues to happen and what are you doing about it to ensure every Tesla leaves the factory in showroom condition?
Product development cycle
Having ambitious future products on the roadmap is undoubtedly a great thing for positivity inside and out of the company.
Q6. Have you considered if the timeline of announcement to shipping vehicles is one you’re satisfied with? Are you looking at reducing it ?
Model S racing series
Your vehicle’s (the Model S) are being made into a racing category – Electric GT.
Q7. How do you feel about someone taking your vehicles and improving on them? Do you have any plans for a motorsport division? Also how do you feel about the driverless category RoboRace that tests engineers rather than drivers? Could this be a source of talent discovery in the future ?