Ryan Pollin, ERS, for Zondits
All right, folks: Elon Musk of Tesla Motors has let us in on the big ideas once again. Most blog posts don’t tend to cause this much stir, but seeing how 10 years later his first one turned out to be true nearly line for line, it might be worth our time. These aren’t investment-grade, measured and verified projects, but there are some real ideas. Here are the tenets in bold, with my comments following:
- Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage. The SolarCity merger takes aim directly at this objective, and is a continuation of their zero-carbon power generation goal from the last master-plan post. Zero-carbon electricity fed to an electric car makes zero-carbon transportation (well, almost), but why that solar product must be in-house and in-brand is not quite as clear. There are significant symmetries between stationary battery storage, EV battery storage, and energy production, and somewhere in the mix could be a winning combination to reduce the cost of electricity and ease burdens on the grid.
- Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments. Musk reveals a “Tesla Semi” product for heavy-duty trucking and a high-density urban bus as the next targets of their automotive rollout. The sheer quantity of vehicles alluded in these rollouts is made possible by significant potential refinements to the manufacturing plant, which is described as a product with a few stages of iteration all its own. I can’t give an example of anyone moving from zero to manufacturing perfection as quickly as Tesla aims to (there may not be one).
- Develop a self-driving capability that is 10 times safer than manual via massive fleet learning. Autopilot has gone about as expected thus far ‒ that is, impressively well with a few inevitable bad headlines. By Musk’s math, the autopilot fleet has driven around 180 million miles and been involved in one death, and the NHTSA’s statistic for humans is one for every 89 million miles. Tesla stakes its development finish line at ten-fold better and thinks that by 6 billion autopilot miles driven, the technology will be legal worldwide.
- Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it. By enabling your vehicle to drive without a human, it can now be called to retrieve you, or anyone else, and essentially become part of a peer-to-peer taxi fleet, as others have discussed. This is as much about vehicle affordability as it is Tesla’s sustainability dream. EVs have a high upfront cost (though they are more competitive by a total cost of ownership calculation), so enabling additional value streams via auto-pilot and car-sharing will speed up the adoption. What Musk doesn’t mention is that this has implications on the total number of miles driven. It’s all well and good to reduce the carbon intensity of driving with EVs, but if the population now travels significantly more total miles because it’s easier, more convenient, and socially permitted as “sustainable,” then it creates an uphill battle. What’s more, autonomous vehicles undercut the efforts toward actually more sustainable transportation modes like mass transit, bicycling, and walking.