I love Elon for the fact that he thinks of his businesses on a planetary basis, and if you consider the point, you'll see he's actually executing Tesla in multiple markets simultaneously, and essentially going directly from startup to Multinational, and skipping the domination of a single category. He knows that if he doesn't, he's going to face stiff competition from entrenched companies and it's likely he'll lose his advantage. But by tight control of the supply line businesses, and a few strategic relationships with existing multinationals, he's able to elevate Tesla into a multi-business, multi-national organization in record time.
Sure, they're a battery company, but what they really are is an organization that's shooting for the moon and actually executing at that scale. Simple incredible to watch.
For example, being a leader in direct sales is great for their goal of spreadings EVs. But how is this applicable anywhere else outside the car industry? Does apple 'monetize' direct sales as a 'channel'? Does apple 'monetize' JIT manufacturing as a 'channel'? To me they just use it as a tool to better position the company. Similarly, once established it's unlikely other car manufacturers will consistently buy motors from them. Fortunately or not, electric induction motors are beautifully simple, any manufacturer could come up with a design much quicker than an ICE for example.
Now for it's two markets, electric cars and commercial batteries, I do think they're posed to succeed provided pure electric cars actually gain widespread adoption and so do Li-ion batteries (and not other storage methods which may turn out to be cheaper).
The interesting point for me is that all his business currently rely on steady, yet iterative, technological improvement to reach their goals (they're already successful, but haven't reached the ultimate goals yet). Tesla needs better batteries, SolarCity better cells, SpaceX reusable rockets.
It will indeed be a thrill to watch over the next few years.
Yes, keeping their stock pool as low as it does has real financial benefits associated with it. Cook's entire empire at Apple was built on the back of his prowess at streamlining this, such is the value of it to the business. In that sense, they certainly did monetise their skills in JIT manufacture.
I'd argue they also did monetise the direct sales aspect, since the whole 'Apple Store' experience is presumably of net financial gain to them, or else they wouldn't do it.
Do you know how manufacturing takes place at all those other car companies in Germany, Japan, and South Korea? I can not talk about the Asian-based companies, but I know for sure that the manufacturing plants in Germany are very ahead. Because they produce different models at same time on the same track. Each and every car is different in every aspect. In Europe it is very common that you order your car they way you like it and do not buy the one that dealer has in its parking lot. You order to your specification and the option lists are huge compared to the one from Tesla.
Tesla is having only one Model with limited different features and many same parts from Ford, Audi, Mercedes, Bosch and others and still is unable to keep up with delivery as you can see from their latest IR reports.
BTW, the Tesla plant is build with German technology by German companies. Just to remind you.
All of which was pioneered decades before Tesla existed.
EDIT: Another therm for that is "Lean manufacturing" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing
It should be obvious that quality control across the entire supply chain is vital to make lean work -- and indeed that is how Toyota and others does it: They work very closely with suppliers.
When they are building at Toyota volumes with their diverse product range then I will be impressed.
Of the major US manufacturers, none were started after 1925 (though some had brands that began after that - like Saturn, which operated from 1990 to 2010); of the minor ones, only Tesla and DeLorean could be considered household names - and only one of those is manufacturing new automobiles.
Most of the minor manufacturers are niche (e.g., racing / supercar; off-road; golf cart; single-part mfg; kit; etc) oriented. Of the modern minor manufacturers that are or are planning to sell actual automobiles to consumers:
* Tesla produces ~700 vehicles per week, and has a global cumulative sales of 46,948 units through Sept '14.
* Fisker has delivered ~1,800 vehicles (ca 2012)
* Detroit Electric (revived in '08) has yet to deliver a single automobile
* Aurica doesn't even have a prototype
* AM General is primarily a military outfit, manufacturing HMMMWVs
Frankly, I'm impressed that a non-military-contractor has been able to even begin producing at the levels TSLA has been able to (~37,000 units per anum).
For a new automobile manufacturer, their sales numbers are anything but insignificant: they're larger than any other minor US manufacturer, and larger than a lot of foreign minor manufacturers.
I can confirm, I bought a Mercedes and they had 10-20 options, which I could customize however I wanted.
Given all this, it is too early to sing praises for Tesla! Musk is a great visionary, but creating the next GE also requires a lot of luck and happenstance.
Facebook is a multinational company with only a few thousand fulltime employees. If GE or Microsoft developed in the same technological context as facebook, they would likely employ far fewer people than they do now. The market increasingly favors agility, and monolithic business models are becoming obsolete (if they are not also decentralized in some capacity, a la Uber).
Tesla can become a powerful multinational player while remaining agile.
3M is often used as an example in Strategic Management, particularly as an example of Mintzberg's views (strategies emerge and are not planned). I think the emerged strategy is usually labeled "working with surface material" or something.
I guess one could argue "battery company" is an emergent strategy for Tesla in that sense but I think there's certainly planning to it and it wasn't just discovered. But you can use that "post-branding" that is typical of Mintzberg and I think the author of the blog does a good job.
But you're right, their execution on multiple fronts is truly unreal.
What lead do they have in battery production? Currently, they purchase all cells from Panasonic, if I'm not mistaken. Sure, the Gigafactory is going to be...big. But it's far from finished (and there's speculation that construction is on hold). Meanwhile, it's not like all the other large-scale battery producing conglomerates are just sitting around; they are also expanding production.
Why wouldn't gas stations merely re-equip with electric charging equipment? They already have the best real estate.
There are also competing standards for DC charging, so I find it highly unlikely that the other manufacturers will license anything from Tesla, rather than settling on another standard.
I'm not sure existing gas stations really have the best real estate. Pulling off the highway for five minutes to gas up is pretty different from plugging in for an hour, and I'm not sure I'd want to do those two things in the same kind of location.
If Tesla is going to be a battery company, be it, but I think they have a bright future for most of their business (including selling electric cars).
I hope Tesla succeed though.
We need someone out there to run this opportunity and encourage competitors in this space.
I really want to know did he start out with this plan or did he simply see batteries as being the easiest thing to improve on by multiples compared to alternatives. Perhaps better said, there are many parts to a car that could be innovated on to such great improvements but the battery in electric cars really needed to be improved by an order of magnitude to make them competitive with petrol power.
Was it that fact that drove him to move into the global space using batteries or was moving global going to happen with whatever he needed to do to improve over the competition so much?
When I realized that, I came to conclusion that Tesla Motors could be viewed as merely a stepping stone on the way to building a Gigafactory.
When demand for batteries is low, a low-volume battery factory has to share its suppliers with other clients, and those suppliers will price their risks and profits into the deal, multiple times along the chain. On the other hand if you have enough volume to justify having the entire manufacturing cycle under one roof, from ore to ready packages, all those markups go out the window. It wouldn't surprise me to see overhead going from the staggering 500% to a more moderate 50%, but only as long as there is enough demand for all of those batteries. Which is why you need cars - they consume a lot of energy.
By now it's pretty much certain that Tesla will be the first to build a Gigafactory. The interesting bit is whether Musk figured out a way to make sure no one has the ability to build a competing Gigafactory and commoditize the business. Right now only Tesla itself can generate enough demand, so they are pretty safe. If Musk can convince the other car manufacturers to buy batteries from Tesla, it will kill the incentive for anyone else to build a competing Gigafactory for a long time. So at the least Musk needs to appear non-threatening to other car manufacturers, and perhaps the best move would be to split battery division away from Tesla Motors completely.
Think about this - how do words become words? There isn't a government agency that makes decisions on that, it's the people who do, through common use.
One thing that Musk has and BYD doesn't is the eager attention of the world's best engineers. Musk has an interview where he described SpaceX having designed things in house instead of buying them, and coming up with much better solutions. I imagine that battery and rockets are similar to software in that regard - a top engineer is 10x more productive than an average engineer. Combination of scale and engineering talent might be Tesla's bet to stay ahead.
All told, more energy storage production is a good thing, regardless of the producer. There is a massive technological shift underfoot, the next 5 years are going to be fun to watch.
Once one person has a battery factory the same size as all the other battery factories in the world combined, pretty soon someone else will try and double it. I fully expect China to announce the construction of a new lithium battery plant larger than Elon's, shortly after it starts production.
edit, just noticed mstachowiak's comment about BYD's new factory being built. As a side note, lithium mining is going to get interesting - http://investorintel.com/technology-intel/china-may-making-l...
This is an even better summary than the post's title!
The usual way to lower costs is to specialize, and to have a diverse network of suppliers. The Gigafactory is meant to do everything under one roof, so it's the opposite of specialization (and low costs).
The advantage of something like a Gigafactory, however, is the ability to coordinate actions in-house. Transactions costs are lower, and Tesla is able to "upload" innovations rather fast (compared to a diverse specialized network of companies).
This seems to have been the dominant hypothesis for a long, long time, and is always what justified Tesla's early (very) red activities. They were a battery company using luxury automobiles to fund battery R&D.
Maybe so, but for casual observers, this lays out the argument very concisely, in a way that might not have been apparent before. (To the average American, "battery company" means Energizer and Duracell, and doesn't seem like a very future-facing sector, so characterizing Tesla as such seems diminutive and hyperbolic.)
This seems questionable to me. I just don't see lithium-ion powering electric cars in an affordable or usable fashion. The density isn't great and after 4-5 years the battery pack wears out, making your $30-50k battery investment disappear. There's no resale value on a battery that can't even hold 30% of its original charge. Musk's solar city shenanigans are cute, but not a lot of people are moving to solar when electricity is so cheap.
Tesla just never got the battery breakthrough it needed and it will probably never become a hybrid engine company. All this talk of "just wait until Musk does this or does that" has been the same excuse we've been hearing for years. It hasn't materialized, at least for Tesla.
$300m losses in 12 months is scary. $100m loss in the past quarter is just bad. Musk can build this factory, but he can't improve lithium-ion tech nor can he raise the price of gas. If gas is under $6 or so, there's very little incentive to buy a pure electric. Fanboyism aside, Tesla just looks like a mess and making excuses about how its really not a car company stinks of desperation. Tesla is pretty much a failed company. Unless they pivot to hybrid engines and start selling a lower cost car, they'll just continue to be the toy of the idle rich.
Can you show me where you have seen hard evidence of battery packs "wearing out" after 4-5 years? Also, please define wearing out as there are different meanings to that.
Contrary to what you have said in this thread the battery life has actually been significantly better than expected (http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/In-Gear/2015/0219/How-much...)
Also, saying the only incentive of buying an electric car to save money is ignoring a lot of other factors in the word.
Americans replace their car every 6 years now. You may have 30-50% capacity at year 6, depending on a lot of factors. This is unacceptable considering the anemic range of a new battery. EV means losing almost all your car's value after 3-5 years. High trade-in values we enjoy now will be lost as the majority of the cost of the vehicle will be its battery. These batteries will fill landfills and be an environmental disaster.
The current "fix" is just to build the battery replacement cost into the warranty. So now your car is more expensive. Warranty claims now become a legal struggle over what is faulty or not. Nissan claims 70% battery power is non-faulty. That means your 75m LEAF range is now ~50m. My gas car gets that in a gallon and a half.
>You also seem to be VERY anti-tesla as seen in your other posts in this thread.
Its a 12 year old company that has done nothing but burn money. They have no mature product on the horizon and their promises of making a middle-class cheap EV with great range and durability are just not in the realm of technology. The stock has been on a decline since mid last year and they have a celebrity CEO who is good at PR and gimmicks but not delivering affordable vehicles.
>Also, saying the only incentive of buying an electric car to save money
This is the only motivator for mass market acceptance. The idle rich love the acceleration of that $100k car, but that doesn't matter to someone who makes half or a third that in a year.
I think this is one of two fundamental flaws in your reasoning. First, yes, R&D is incredibly, incredibly expensive. I don't think anyone doubts that, and I find it just hysterical that x or y "social startup" can burn through far more money than that and never have to answer questions about the value of their R&D.
We know what Tesla is doing, and we know that it's difficult. It should be no surprise that it's expensive as hell. This isn't to say I'm betting on their success, it's to say that "R&D is expensive" isn't an argument against Tesla or its potential for success.
Quite the opposite, it seems their model has done a decent job of offloading a lot of R&D costs by, as I said, selling automobiles on the side.
Now, the second flaw ("nor can he raise the price of gas") isn't that the statement is false. He can't. But the laws of thermodynamics paired with the laws of economics can, and will, forever. Further, when it does happen, the success of his cars (or "toys of the idle rich") is irrelevant: he owns the infrastructure and he owns the IP necessary for everyone else to leverage the inevitable growth in fuel prices.
Also, to address the battery capacity loss argument:
Independent study on the Roadsters.
126 vehicles (of 2500 produced) reported a total 3,198,749 miles traveled. Tesla's projections said the battery would have 100,000 miles driving range, so at 50,000 miles the projection was to have 70% capacity. In reality, an average Roadster has 80-85% original capacity after 100,000 miles. That said, there was considerable variation between batteries' health, so take that as you will.
n practice we're seeing ~25% loss of capacity at 40k miles in LEAF real world testing. 30% loss at 50k miles is the accepted norm. Capacity goes down annually after that. It seems that some cars are doing better, but play cars owned by the rich that get very few miles like the early Tesla sportscars. Real world daily-drivers like the LEAF experience the exact decay that was predicted. Lithium-ion isnt some new hot tech we don't understand. We understand it very well.
I just told you the actual numbers, 100,000 miles at 80-85% capacity. You can't just say "get very few miles." I just told you how many miles.
Its still lithium-ion. It will behave the same way regardless of brand or celebrity CEO worship.
>I just told you the actual numbers
From a non-daily driver two seat sports car. Other sources follow the LEAF's numbers. My buddy's Porsche runs fairly well and its 30 years old. That doesn't mean you can have a 30 year old daily driver.
Great to see that other are catching on.
I thought Telsa was a car company and I followed them since the beginning until their initial IPO.
From there and sorta lost interest in follow any automotive news.
Plus it is very easy to see them as a car company, they started out as a car company and Elon came to Tesla, a car company, and took over.
The central insight of the Tesla founders was that people really will pay $85000 for an electric car. The other auto makers didn't believe that.
Um, no. Viewing the battery of a Tesla Model S as just a big flashlight battery misses the whole point of what Tesla is doing.
A flashlight battery does one thing: it discharges energy until it's empty. Even an ordinary rechargeable household battery only does two things: it recharges, and then it discharges.
The battery in a Tesla Model S, OTOH, is continuously computing whether to charge or discharge, how much to charge or discharge, what its current state of charge is, how to manage charging and discharging to maximize its life, etc. And it has to do this in a constantly changing environment--a car that is traveling at varying speeds over varying types of roads. (Doing it for a home battery is actually easier, in a way, because there is less variability in the load.)
This sort of technology is absolutely critical if batteries are going to become significant in our energy budget on a large scale. The energy storage medium of the battery is only a tiny piece of the whole picture.
Is it? I would imagine the software does that. The battery really is a large array of commodity batteries made by panosonic. Tesla is doing the gigafactory for vertical integration and to bolster it's own supply. Obviously, they have done a lot of innovation around the pack in terms of heat distribution and cell construction, as well as the management system. The innovation is really about the macro-cell construction and the software to manage the array. On a micro-level it is just a bunch of commodity batteries wites into small cells, that make up a large cell array.
It is. JB Straubel (Tesla's CTO) has done all of the hard work with regards to their energy management system.
Sure, babying the pack with a liquid medium for thermal transfer helps (compared to the inferior air cooling on the Nissan Leaf battery pack), but the foundation for both the performance and longevity of the Roadster and the Model S battery packs is Straubel's remarkable work.
Obviously the lithium-ion cells themselves aren't doing the computation; software is. But the software should be considered part of the "battery" as a system. Without the software the lithium-ion cells are useless for this application, and indeed for any application more dynamic than a flashlight. So the software development that Tesla has done is essential for making batteries viable in the sorts of applications that people want to use them for to help solve our energy problems.
Having a protection circuit per cell would be wasteful and also result in quite a bit of power loss and complexity in wiring them up.
We were told that they instrument every single one of the 7,000+ cells for temperature and voltage.
Each of the 16 modules is split into 6 blocks where the 70+ cells within a block are all wired in parallel -- so they are going to have the same voltage. The blocks within a module are wired serially and the modules are also wired serially.
Each module has a battery monitoring chip:
It has seven voltage measurement inputs (between each block and before/after the outer blocks) so it can tell the voltage of each block. It can also control a bleed resistor per block (for balancing). There are two temperature sensors per module.
Each module also has an 8051 (C8051F530A) that talks to the battery monitoring chip and to the data network connecting the modules to the "global" battery management system which has a Altera CPLD and (probably) an ARM CPU.
I'm not sure how much of a technological lead Tesla has versus major car companies already producing hybrids and electrics, but it can't be that huge, and those guys have way bigger R&D budgets.
The Tesla Model-S is an amazing vehicle that's not only electric but amazing to look at and drive.
As an aspirational status symbol it's got a hell of a lot of cachet 3 years after it's introduction. That's a feat of product marketing and engineering.
- solar city benefits from increased storage capabilities of batteries. Solar panels (a capital investment) generate higher returns when they also power buildings at night.
- National electric grids benefit from increased battery storage because they can store electricity for hours after it's actually generated.
- tesla is building a network of superchargers all connected to the electric grid
- tesla has arguably more at stake than any company in battery R&D. Few if any companies are as motivated as tesla for battery tech to improve.
My hypothesis is that Elon Musk is architecting Tesla as the "cloud" of electricity generation, storage, and transfer. He is building the ultimate smart grid. Electric cars are a nice excuse to develop the requisite network effects and initial momentum before expanding to other verticals. He's going from a red ocean to a blue ocean. 
Once we can store electricity (in batteries, for example), then intermittent power sources, like solar panels (and also wind turbines) become much more valuable.
Energy storage is a very inconsequential market right now, but if smart-grid-connected Teslas really take off, then they become important not only to the automotive industry, but also the electricity and energy industries.
Not to mention essentially all new homes have central A/C with one of the heat exchangers "installed on a specially constructed concrete plinth." We have plenty of space; it's simply not an issue.
There are also walls you could embed batteries in. A house has a lot of surface area that could be used to store energy.
and these guys
think there's plenty of lithium, not a problem.
Cobalt is much closer to being a problem -- and it is still very far from being one.
Is Eric Eason a good authority on mineral reserves and resources? I don't think so:
The coolest thing to me about Tesla is the car is becoming decoupled from what powers the car. It's still electricity but if my power provider was to switch to nuclear, solar, people on bicycles, or coal It would be transparent to me.
Foxconn hopes to build cars priced under US$15,000,
according to Gou. The contract manufacturer already
develops electric car batteries, which he said were in demand.
Being that the batteries are the expensive part of an electric car, Foxconn could get to the mass market before Tesla, and possibly set back the market if the experience sucks.
How did your career progress from there?
I was offered a place at Stanford University to do postgraduate research into high-energy-density capacitors. But then the Internet came along, and I wanted a piece of the action.
According to court documents he has never had any association with Stanford university, and, contrary to public statements, among them SEC filings, has no degrees beyond a Bachelor of Science in Economics from PennU.
Yes, their underlying hardware was necessary for the product to be revolutionary, and it was also something that no one else could produce at the time.
But, like Tesla, Apple added a layer of design and marketing that made for a revolutionary UX, as well.
So I agree that Tesla is a battery company, but I don't think that that makes them less of a revolution for the car industry.
The hard drive in the iPod was never the most interesting component, or the differentiator from the rest of the market. Tesla's battery is. The hard drive in the iPod is like the wheels on a Tesla. It's useless without them, but they're a completely replaceable commodity and has no bearing on the success of the product
Other drives were too big, expensive, and power-hungry. Apple made the iPod a common device because it was the first MP3 player with more storage than most people would need, it only cost a few hundred, and its battery lasted a long time.
Apple continued to compete by getting even better at miniaturization, like when they introduced the iPhone.
Eventually we're going to be arguing semantics, but my point still stands. Being the leader at manufacturing the boring internal components was necessary for both companies to provide the product that we perceive to be their core competency.
Edit: I forgot to address your point about manufacturing. They may not have manufactured the drives or had a unique technology, but they had advantages in manufacturing that no one else had. Tesla seems to be the same way, from what I can tell.
Too narrow. Tesla is a electrical energy storage and distribution company. Tesla has over 400 Supercharger stations.
I think this quote sums it up:
“I see us more as an energy innovation company, at our core, than even as a car company.”
I have very low hopes for EVs. Even if Tesla lowered battery prices by 20%, which would be impressive, they're still extremely expensive and still wear out quickly. They make sense when gas is crazy expensive, but its not, especially with all this investment in shale oil.
I imagine the future will have more efficient hybrids and perhaps Tesla will migrate to a hybrid company if they want to stay alive. 100k for a range anxiety inducing EV with a low resale value after x years due to its $50k battery pack wearing out is not the vision of the future here.
EBay, for instance, was there at the right time to take recent technology advancements, set up a network-effect marketplace and milk it for, oh, 2 decades. They stopped being a technology company a long time ago.
So how does this relate to Tesla? Answer: The supercharging stations. If Tesla owns the most charging stations then EV buyers have a good reason to buy Tesla over a hypothetical Ford or Toyota EV, putting Tesla at a major advantage. Eventually it'll be on Ford and Toyota to bet the farm on a massive supercharger network of their own and launch an EV to compete against Tesla's entrenched domination of the marketplace. Right now, Tesla is in a fleeting moment of technological and branding advantage which they are correctly leveraging to quickly set up their charging network.
It's a lot like telcos bragging about their coverage networks. Eventually all the (surviving) car companies will be doing something similar, running TV ads about their charging station maps.
Companies are either A) marketing companies or B) distribution companies or a blend of both.
Nike is a marketing company that happens to sell shoes. Ditto Taco Bell and cheap Mexican food.
Amazon, Akamai, Google and Facebook are distribution companies --- they own the network or marketplace.
Disney (mostly distribution), American Airlines (mostly distributiom) Walmart (mostly distribution) and Apple (mostly marketing/branding, but appstore and itunes are distribution powerhouses) are a little of both.
Edit: Nielsen, Google are distribution comapnies. They have prohibitively large or complicated information ingestion systems set up to and then resell the results.
Newspapers and TV are too, but their distribution monopolies are crumbling.
Interesting. That means solar advancements are very bad for Tesla. If people don't need to stop and charge, then the distribution network is worthless.
My company Chrg specializes in charging infrastructure. Note that the Superchargers you mentioned actually use specially designed Tesla batteries, which are precursors to the Home battery product Tesla will likely be launching soon.
Solar advancements are a great thing for Tesla. Once power is captured via solar panels, it will need to be stored – preferably in Tesla batteries.
B is required to perfect the product -- which serves A better than anything else.
I think the 'Apple way' is most efficient: selling the whole package and making it so good, that people happily pay a lot.
But I suppose there's not that much money in trying to sell bicycles...
That is a rather unfortunate (or rather appropriate) name for a company named after Edison.
The battery might currently be the most important single component of an EV, but there is no guarantee that will be true in five/ten/twenty years. The car is more than just a mechanism to increase scale. You don't beat Musk by making a better battery company. You'd better find a way to beat this:
(The word 'battery' is not even mentioned in the article. Tesla could have less battery life but still win.)
Again, similar to Apple, Tesla found a point of advantage and will own it. The landscape will change and so will Tesla's efforts at building or maintaining an advantage against some very powerful companies.
An order of magnitude or two improvement of current battery technology will fundamentally change the world in ways we can hardly imagine. A cool electric car is nothing in comparison.
This would be much more world-changing than cheap rockets.
And how many people care to have a tank of gas in their garage all the time, even though the idea is completely feasible today?
These 1% per year improvements are going to take forever to get us better EVs
So there's a trend here.
Current battery technology insufficient (your phone only lasts a day on a charge, or your electric car only gets 100 miles)? now that he's getting demand up for big-money big-volume batteries, Musk can fund battery research and production on a scale way beyond anything we've seen. Remember: Musk's "gigafactory" project is intended to build more batteries than the entire world currently produces.