On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Tamara Warren joins Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode to answer questions about Tesla. As the Verge’s transportation editor, Warren covered Elon Musk’s unveiling of Tesla’s latest project, the Semi truck, as well as the sexy new Roadster. The three answer listener questions about Tesla’s ambitions and whether it can live up to its promises.
You can read some of the highlights from the discussion here, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at The Verge.
KS: And you’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.
LG: It could be anything at all, like how to tell if a celebrity has died, or if they’re just a groper when their name comes up on Twitter Trending lists now.
KS: Oh, that’s not a good joke. A little too soon. Too soon, Lauren!
LG: It’s not funny.
KS: That’s not funny, none of it is. Send us your questions, find us on Twitter or tweet them to @Recode or to myself or to Lauren with a #TooEmbarrassed.
KS: Yeah, I am. I’m in LA.
LG: I haven’t seen you in forever.
KS: No, I’m a traveling lady. I’m in LA, I’m having a great time here with all my celebrity friends.
LG: What are you doing?
KS: I’m just wandering around. I was in Venice ...
LG: Just wandering?
KS: Yeah, I like it here, but I’m here at the Crooked Media Studio right now. I’ve taken over their successful headquarters, and they’re letting me record here today, because I have so much dirt on John Lovett. So that’s why I’m here.
LG: Oh, boy. I don’t even know if that’s a joke.
KS: No, it’s not. No, it’s not, and I’m going to actually be on his show in San Francisco in the next week sometime. He’s bringing it to Oakland, but it’s a really nice, lovely studio. They have a whole studio, Lauren. Like, we have to operate out of all kinds of places, but they have a beautiful studio here and they have neon, they’ve got decorations, they’ve got a big staff. It’s really nice. I’m staying.
LG: That sounds lovely, but at this point I would just go for a little bit of soundproofing on the walls over here.
KS: Yeah, yeah. They got that.
LG: I mean, it’s really ... Yeah, I’m not going to talk about our little pushcart.
LG: Our audio studio on a pushcart ... Anyway.
LG: Everyone just keep subscribing to Too Embarrassed, and tell us how much you love us, and we’ll grow to be a huge podcast, and then we will get soundproofing on the walls.
KS: Fantastic, but today ...
LG: Today on Too Embarrassed to Ask, we are talking all about Tesla. If I’m going to say it like Elon Musk, excuse me, Tes-La ... Because a bunch of people woke up on Saturday morning this past weekend and were like, “What the heck happened last night?” Tesla had a big event and everybody was talking about it.
KS: Yeah. About everything, and we’re delighted to be joined by Tamara Warren, the transportation editor at The Verge, who’s going to talk about all this, because it was a very exciting time with Elon and Tesla. Hi, Tamara.
Tamara Warren: Hello. So much to talk about.
KS: So much. Why don’t you just get started? They had the big event last Friday, and Elon was Elon as usual. Let’s go through what exactly was unveiled. I’m sure everyone’s read about it, but let’s go through them tick by tick.
Well, sure. To start off, Tesla threw us for a loop on this one, because generally events are on Friday, but this one was actually on Thursday night, but technically Friday if you’re on East Coast Time, because it was around midnight, 9:00 pm he took the stage.
KS: Right, of course. Yep.
So we all knew what was going to happen was the big unveiling of the Tesla Semi, and lo and behold, a big semi truck drives out, Elon takes the stage to great applause, because there’s lots of fans of Tesla in the audience. And then he declares the range of the truck, which beat out many expectations, because there are actually already two electric trucks that have been introduced by Cummins, the big truck maker, and Daimler, the parent company of Daimler Benz.
He announces that your truck will drive for a million miles without breaking down. It has enhanced autopilot, which is a different feature from what was originally promised, which was total self-driving. Then things kind of wrapped up, and then cue the Beastie Boys. Boom, boom, boom. The opening guitar licks of “Sabotage” come streaming through the system, and out zips across the stage this bright red little Roadster, which has the very clever name of the Second Generation Tesla Roadster.
LG: Oh! So he pulled a one more thing? He pulled a one more thing, and he’s calling it Generations. Okay, this smells like Apple. Continue.
KS: So let me just ask, the trucks were expected, correct? The trucks were expected or that they were working on them?
KS: Right, it’s just how much range they had and stuff like that, and also they’re very slick looking. People liked to look at them, essentially.
Right, and we knew this was going to happen, and they’d made actually a really big deal all year long about the Semi unveiling. In fact, at one point we knew that this could potentially be a bigger event than when Model 3 was first delivered to supposed customers, but it was delayed several times.
So we thought there might be some kind of gotcha moment, but this was really next level.
LG: But the Roadster 2.0, that’s not coming for a while, right? I mean, what we saw, is that happening soon? Or was that a concept?
Well, people are putting their money on it quite literally right now. It’s coming in 2020, which in Tesla terms, if that’s realistic, is pretty much accurate as far as what we’ve seen in the past when people have doubled down by putting money down on Tesla. But what we don’t quite know is if they can fulfill that, because there’s so much going on. There’s a base model that is $200,000, or you can have your Founder series for $250,000 if you’re willing to just pay in full upfront.
LG: Oh, not too much. Yeah, no big deal.
KS: No, but a lot of this ... Look, this is a really exciting thing. He’s creating excitement around electric vehicles, which is fantastic, but the Roadster’s just a stunt, right? The real thing is the trucks, right? That’s really where their businesses have to go, and even then, it’s a hard enough and difficult enough road. I hate to use the metaphor, but let’s talk about why they’re getting into semi trucks. They’re busy doing other things and not delivering everything quite so quickly. Am I wrong in reading that, or are they doing really well?
I mean, I think most people’s read at this point who follow this industry closely is that they’re really under pressure with Model 3, and they are missing the marks they have promised on in great scale. They have a lot of people that have faith in this car and want to believe that this car is going to happen, but making a car in the hundreds of thousands of numbers is a much more difficult prospect than manufacturing at a slower rate, right?
What needs to happen is that we need to see the scale happening with Model 3 in order for this business model to be sustainable. Now trucks, yes. Trucks are a lucrative industry, they are a big space that a lot is happening in right now, especially with electric trucking, because we all know carbon footprints come from trucks quite in large numbers. But what we are worried about seeing is really how Model 3 susses out, because without that what is Tesla? Right?
So another piece of that plan is the Supercharging network, and the Megacharging network, and how all of this comes together, and I think it’s all part of a big sort of sweeping vision, that by the way also includes SpaceX and Boring Tunnel, and so many things, and Solar City. We have a very ambitious business plan in scope, but there’s so many moving pieces, right? And so is Semi crucial to Tesla’s survival? I don’t know.
It’s a new market for Tesla. I mean, there’s a few companies that are taking an interest. We have Walmart that’s said they’ve preordered 15, but that’s 15 trucks out of 6,000 in the Walmart fleet, and they have told reporters that they frequently test new technologies. So it could also just be curiosity, and even something that they share with competitors. Who knows?
KS: Well, that just seems like an anti-Amazon thing, the press release, right?
KS: Like, “Oh, we’re going to get the Teslas, and Amazon can go fish.” See, a lot of this, press releases, a really interesting vision, no question, but shouldn’t they get the rest of their business correct before moving into another business? It seems like there’s a lot of reveals, but the main business really needs to get on solid footing. Again, is that incorrect, or not?
Well, I think part of the business is wooing Wall Street, right? So Wall Street, we’ve seen this market share for Tesla just skyrocket in the last year, right? Tesla is this golden child people are just frothing at the mouth for. That doesn’t necessarily represent where they’re really at in terms of sales, but the other aspect of this is Tesla has a very loyal customer base. So if you can get people to put down cold, hard cash, you’re infusing a company that’s hemorrhaging cash with exactly what it needs, is capital.
So it does do the work in that respect, and also just the brand that is Tesla, that everyone in the auto industry is very jealous of now, because Tesla ... Most companies spend thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars marketing their products, where Tesla just doesn’t need that. They have this sheen that is really unmatched in the auto industry, and a lot of that has to do with Elon.
But I’m really curious to see what happens with Model 3, because now we’re getting into the pockets of people that don’t necessarily have six cars in their garage, and can’t afford if they’ve decided that this is their car, and this is what they’re investing in, there’s a lot more issues with quality and service, and all of those things that really have to be in place when you’re investing in a car that’s $50,000 versus the $200,000 new Roadster.
LG: I mean, if I was a Model 3 buyer, I might feel differently right now, but it doesn’t seem to me like it’s a terrible strategy to diversify the business at this point. You mentioned Amazon earlier, if you’re Amazon and the e-commerce business isn’t fully mature yet, but you’re starting Amazon web services, 10 years later that’s seen as incredibly savvy. Or if you’re Jack Dorsey and Twitter’s not doing so well, you start Square, but that’s a whole different story.
But this idea that, “Okay, let’s see what’s going on with semis. Let’s see how we can make ourselves useful to a totally different kind of client, and let’s talk about how we can get between distribution centers around the country.” That’s kind of interesting to me.
KS: Yeah, but let’s talk about the truck specifically. What kind of routes will these trucks run? Who’s buying them? Obviously, Walmart’s testing them, and some of the specifics being autonomous, the center seating. So let’s go through some of these things, everything like that. Talk about how much they cost, where are they going to run routes to start with?
As far as I’ve heard, we haven’t had official pricing. The truck is designed for short-haul truckers, which is different than long-haul truckers, right? These trucks typically run in the 250-mile range, which gives Tesla an edge here, because what they’re doing is now they’ve entered a space that is quite realistic to where they can really make some in-way, if manufacturers feel that the quality is there. Elon Musk claims that they can go for a million miles without breaking down, but again, new, untested product, we don’t know that. What are the pieces of trucking and quality that they haven’t anticipated? Have we seen examples of testing of these trucks where they’ve driven a million miles? We don’t know that yet.
So the Semi is equipped with enhanced autopilot, which is a kind of doubling back from where they were going with fully autonomous driving, and even it was noted that when the truck was shown at the reveal in Hawthorne, California, that there were drivers. You could see the truck drivers, and it’s the same with the Roadster. Like, for a company that’s really been emphasizing self-driving, that wasn’t the message that we got last Thursday. That’s another interesting piece of it.
There’s another company called CB Hunt Transport Services, which is five decades old and based in Arkansas, that also has preordered some of these trucks. We expect to see these trucks in 2019, so we’re still a little ways away before we see the Tesla trucks on the road. The way they look is quite futuristic in the sense that one would expect of Tesla, with the very sloping glass windshield. So that’s something else to see in the center seating, but it’s really ...
LG: Yeah, I’m sorry to interrupt, I read a blog by a truck driver who said ... He questioned the lack of mirrors on the side, but I’m guessing mirrors are probably pretty important to drivers of massive trucks. What’s behind that decision and the center seat in the cab?
Well, this is my speculation just having watched so many car reveals over the years, is oftentimes when a car or truck ... I haven’t been to as many semi truck unveilings, I have to say, but when we see them, things like mirrors and those sort of things are not included, because they’re not production vehicles, right? They’re concepts, and some of that is regulatory, right? So there are different regulations, the United States versus Europe for example, on where mirrors and lights need to be. So I imagine the actual truck that we see when it gets delivered two years from now will look different, right? Or if it’s a 2019 truck, it conceivably could be delivered in 2018, so let me just back up on that, but what we see on the road might look different, as this is a concept vehicle from what I can ascertain, from what was shown.
So that’s something, and also again as you said, the big issue in trucking, conversations about autonomous trucking is the labor industry, right? What’s going to happen to these truck drivers? It’s one of the biggest professions in our country, it pays decently, and there’s a lot of pressure from the trucking industry for truck drivers to have a space in there. Now whether or not the choice to not push for autonomous trucking has to do with labor issues is one question, or was it just too much to deliver on is another. Or with all of the regulatory issues Tesla’s been having with its autopilot systems, was that the impetus for it? Those are all possibilities, and it could be a little bit of all.
KS: Right, right. That’s interesting. The concept around labor is an interesting one, but I doubt they’re thinking about that at this moment, because eventually if it doesn’t need people, they’re going to not have people. These trucking companies honestly will do whatever it takes to make as much money, presumably, but it’s probably more the second. It’s this issue around the safety of autonomous vehicles, essentially.
Right, and no one wants to be sued. Walmart doesn’t want to be sued, for example, if an autonomous truck causes an accident ... You know.
KS: Yeah, so what about the slickness of it? It doesn’t have mirrors? The look is fantastic, it’s like the super new truck of the future kind of thing.
Oh, sure. And it definitely does the work that Tesla needed it to do there. It’s very Tron or very sort of ...
KS: Tron. Yeah, Tron is a very good way to put it. Yeah.
Yeah, Tron meets ... what’s Emilio Estevez’s scary movie about monster trucks? So match those metaphors together, and you have an image of this hulking truck, and especially, in even color, you think about an average truck on the road, and it’s sort of dingy looking, but this is ... It’s definitely a truck that sends a certain message, and appeals to a certain company perhaps that might be interested in changing branding of that sort. But I think that’s also more about Tesla just being consistent in the message that it wants to send.
It’s hard to say how much of the semi trucking business will actually be a part of Tesla’s future business plan, but I think yes, it is good to diversify, but at the same time, new ideas cost more money. Right? Also, where are you going to build all of these trucks? Trucks take up space. Tesla also, we really have to see how the Gigafactory and the ... The Fremont Factory is a former car factory. There’s a certain capacity that these factories can operate at.
So does it have the space to build 6,000 trucks a year? I mean, these are all questions that are a matter of scale as well, too. And that’s where we still don’t know how Tesla is going to be approaching that part of it.
KS: And when were they supposed to be delivered? These Walmart trucks, for example?
2019 is the model year, so I’m not sure if that means they deliver in late ’18 or mid ’19.
KS: It’s soon.
Soon, yeah. I mean, they should be theoretically in production now. That we don’t have any information about that at the moment.
KS: Right, and where is everybody else? The competitors like Daimler and others on these things, too?
Yeah, it’s all very similar. I mean, everything in the auto industry right now is incredibly ... What Tesla has done to the auto industry, just talking to people from all different companies, is just increased this sense of pace, and a sort of race to just introduce new technology. Also, real push for EVs, but a lot of this also has to do with what’s happening in China, and the push there for EVs, which is really the most transformative aspect of what’s happening in that market.
KS: Right, right. And what about battery technology? Where are we with that? Because that’s something that Elon talked about a couple years ago. Anything new in that genre/area?
Well, Tesla has made this promise of solar powered mega chargers, which will give 400 miles of range in 30 minutes. That’s a big step, if that’s a promise that we can see ... You know, with solar powered energy we have yet to see Solar City be able to sell this as a product for actual customers. In the larger space we’re still in this kind of race between lithium-ion and solid-state batteries, which one example would be a company like Toyota, which is working towards solid state battery technology in 2022. So a lot of this ... Batteries are really going to be transformative in the next several years, because there’s so much happening in that space right now.
LG: I think we’re going to get to questions shortly, but I have one more question about last Thursday night’s event, Friday’s event, whatever you want to describe it as. Why were people talking about Elon Musk’s jacket? Why was that a thing?
I think it’s because you see a little color happening there. There was a Racked piece whether or not it could be a Tom Ford jacket, and that was confirmed that it was not a Tom Ford jacket. It’s just Elon has sort of this image, and he broke out a little bit from it. So I think that just speaks to who he is as this sort of ...
Mega celebrity. Yes, iconic. He really is Tony Stark to so many people.
KS: Yeah. He just gave a big interview on his personal life, too. He’s just quite a character. He’s quite an interesting ... He could just ...
LG: Oh, yeah. He’s looking for a date!
KS: He’s looking for dates.
LG: Yes! Wasn’t he asking the interviewer who he could hook him up with?
KS: I don’t know. He’s done that to many people.
Maybe a run on “The Bachelor”? I don’t know.
KS: It’s funny. It’s funny when you think about it. Who wants to marry a famous billionaire? Anybody? Please call me, I will hook you up.
LG: Kara, you say that like you’re coming from experience, like he’s asked a lot of people that.
KS: No, I don’t know what you’re ... You know what?
LG: Has he asked you to hook him up?
KS: No comment. In any case, he’s a really exciting entrepreneur, and what’s really interesting ... Everyone will argue about whether he can deliver these things, but he is sort of setting a tone for the car industry to really step it up in terms of all these things, whether it’s trucks or batteries or whatever.
I got to say, the cars are ... Once you get in them, they are beautiful, they are amazing cars when you experience them. When he builds them, they’re amazing. So the last question from me, the Tesla Model 3, what is the new delivery timeframe? I think everybody wants one of these at least.
Still waiting. We don’t know. I mean, that’s the issue. We were promised that Model 3s would be delivered this summer. Some VIP customers perhaps have taken delivery, but we really haven’t seen the Model 3 in scale the way that we thought we’d be seeing it by now. I mean, Elon Musk has often promised to do things sooner than later, and that’s part of how he drives the psychology and pace of what he’s doing. The quality is the most important, and if the quality is not there, and there’s been reports of hand building things. That’s fine. If you have to hand build things in order to replicate that with machine building, and what’s happening with that automation within the factory, those things aren’t so much of an issue. I mean, I really think it’s important to get the quality right, but it’s also quality and it’s the space to do it.
What’s happening, I think, we’re all sort of seeing how that plays out, and if one thing goes wrong in quality, it slows down the whole line. The takt time, which is the time that it takes to start each new car on an assembly line, right? This is the new space that we’re moving into, and it’s really kind of a more traditional OEM problem, original equipment manufacturer problem. So I think that’s really the problem.
What to me ... Overall what I would like to say about what he did last week, and what I think is most interesting, is he reminded everyone what Tesla stands for, and I think that’s what was most effective about this event. That it was just putting that wanderlust back into the brand when it really needed that, because there’s been so much criticism and speculation lately about, “Where are they going?” “Can they pull this off?” So this sort of gave a nice to-be-continued ... feeling that is much needed right now.
KS: Yeah, it’s very exciting. All right, in a minute we’re going to take some questions about Tesla, I like calling it Tes-lah, from our readers and listeners, and Tamara is going to ... is it Tahm-muh-ra or Ta-ma-ra? Which do you prefer?
You had the first Tamara. Yeah.
KS: I’m going to call you Ta-ma-ra, like Tes-lah, but first we’re going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. Lauren?
LG: Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!
KS: That’s a lot of them there, Lauren. Okay.
LG: Well, that’s how much a new Tesla Roadster’s going to cost!
KS: That’s right, yeah. Neither of us is going to own one.
And now we’re back with Tamara Warren — also, Ta-ma-ra — The Verge’s transportation editor, talking about Tesla, and we’re going to take some questions on that topic from our readers, we’ve got quite a few. Lauren, would you read the first question?
LG: I would love to. The first question is from Kevin Lamb, he tweets — we’re going to have so many long questions because of 280 characters. Thanks, Jack.
KS: I know, it’s true.
LG: “On the short-haul routes that the Tesla Semi was designed for, when compared to the same estimated mileage in one year for a diesel-powered truck, how much money could be saved taking into account maintenance, tires, etc?”
I imagine this had to have been one of Tesla’s talking points around how efficient or cost efficient or whatever these Tesla Semis might be. Did they say anything about that when compared to a diesel truck?
No, and so this question actually reminds me of me helping my fourth grader with his math homework, but I’ll take a crack at answering part of it, and you can make your conclusions from that.
So let’s say if a trucker travels 90,000 miles a year, for example, and he or she is buying $2.7 liters of ... Let’s say the cost of fuel for a diesel truck, which is a little bit cheaper than gasoline, is $2.70 a gallon. Let’s say that’s $0.35 per mile, and so if you think about that just for fuel alone, that’s about $31,000, $32,000 that trucker is spending a year on fuel. The average price of gasoline for a mile for a trucker is $0.42.
So think about that, and then as far as the cost of maintenance on your truck, that really is kind of subjective, because that depends how much you’re driving it, the condition of your truck. I won’t go into that part of the question, but you can imagine if you’re just using solar ... I’m sorry, if you’re choosing battery charging in order to power your short-haul truck, you’re saving thousands of dollars a year, and that definitely is lucrative for a lot of truckers when it comes down to it, right? Or their companies.
KS: Right, absolutely. All right, next one is Productive Citizen @technosucks, that’s a nice name: “I just sent my wire for the Roadster. Am I a big dumb-dumb?”
Well, like any contract, read the fine print, right? You’ve got to make sure that you feel comfortable with what you’ve invested in, and that if it doesn’t work out, you’re going to get your money back. Maybe paying in full is an interesting prospect for something, that if you buy something generally people aren’t in as big a rush to deliver it to you if you’ve given them all of your money, right? But people have bet against Tesla before and Tesla has won, and it’s gone both ways. So that one, no judgment.
KS: No judgment.
LG: Okay, this next question is from Irma Nezirevic, I hope I’m saying that correctly. On Facebook, she says: “Do you think it’s a good idea for Tesla to do new models while they can’t deliver on the Model 3?”
We touched on this earlier. I’m kind of in the camp that it’s probably good to diversify your product portfolio, even though you haven’t yet delivered the car that a lot of people are really excited about. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, a diverse product portfolio is great. What’s really selling in mass right now would be a vehicle like the Model X. That’s what American customers are buying, are crossovers. The Roadster, you’re dealing with a very small group of the population that buy in this over-$200,000 category. It’s their core customers, or it’s people who are driving competitive vehicles like Aston Martins or Bugattis and things of that nature.
KS: People with some disposable income, presumably.
KS: Well, pretty much. Jason Calacanis will have four of them.
KS: He has like 10 of them.
So diverse is a hard word in that area.
LG: That’s true.
KS: Next question: “What is wrong with Model 3 battery production? Is it Tesla specific, or is it something common for companies dealing with lithium-Ion battery production? Do these problems threaten the viability of mass-produced electric vehicles? And the battery is the center of everything, right?”
Battery is the center, but I don’t think that their problems are only with batteries. I think it’s just a matter of making all of the pieces of the automobile come together, right? That’s really how the car is, the fit and finish, the build, the battery. It’s all of these things that really matter. Battery has to be right, and they have to be able to build enough of them. We don’t know every single problem they’re having, but we know that there are multiple issues with just getting the quality right and being able to build the cars fast enough to complete enough that it makes a dent in what they’ve promised.
KS: Right. All right, same question from the same guy, go ahead Lauren.
LG: Oh, yeah. This is also from Josh.O, @Sir_Schwartz: “Also, what’s going on between Tesla and Steve Jurvetson? And what’s the outlook for that relationship?” That’s a great question.
KS: Yeah, I can answer that too, but go ahead. Why don’t you start, Tamara?
I mean, I think I’ll let you answer that question.
KS: We just wrote a very great piece, Teddy Schleifer on our staff, about what’s going on with Steve Jurvetson, a VC in Silicon Valley, and some issues he had, which caused him to leave the venture firm that was named for him and he founded. He was also on the board of SpaceX and Tesla, and I think he’s taking a leave — I don’t think he’s off them completely — while he sorts out some personal issues.
You know, they were very close, Elon and Steve were very close. He’s been on both of those boards. He’s been a big backer of Elon’s, and so I suspect given all the sexual harassment allegations everywhere, this is something that Tesla didn’t want focused on them, given this event happening. But Jurvetson was actually at the event from what our reporting showed, in the VIP area during the unveil. I suspect he’s still involved, but not in a public way, and it certainly will be a question if he stays on the board. I don’t know. That’s up to Elon Musk, I assume.
LG: So there’s distancing going on right now is what you’re saying.
KS: There’s public distancing. He was at the event though, that’s what we reported. So there’s public distancing and it takes the controversy away from these public companies, and I think that’s happened with a lot of these sexual harassment allegations. Immediate removal from public eye, essentially.
Yeah, and I think we’ll see this issue continue to play out. I think all of it, everything, it’s all relying on each other. Like, what’s going to happen, what ...
KS: Oh, yeah. There seems to no end, every morning. Like, “No! Oh, all right. Yeah, I got that one.” Kind of thing.
Another one bites the dust.
KS: Yeah. Many of them well deserved. Anyway, next question is from a Filipe Alves, @filipeopensador, Filipe Opens the Door? Something like that. Okay, all right: “Is Tesla ever going to compete against the big players? Ford, BMW, etc.?” I think they are, but go ahead, Tamara. What do you think?
I guess it depends what you mean by compete. As far as mass market and sales? A lot of this depends on Model 3. I think they are as far as brand image, they already are competing. In the luxury space they certainly are competing. It’s really that pie in the sky that everyone wants in the car industry, wishes to be, which is to be the 1-2-3 automaker, the automaker to sell the most cars, who really drives the trends, who really is in the car that you see every Uber driver pull up in. That’s where you’re really making the big profits.
But as far as competing ... That’s how I look at competition with Ford per se, but as far as competing just as a legit automaker? Sure.
LG: That probably is a good segue to our next question from Matt Caruso, who asks: “Does it seem probable that a bigger tech giant or traditional car maker will acquire Tesla?”
At the moment, I wouldn’t bet on it. What happens in the future is anyone’s guess. At this point, Tesla really has to prove that it can do this car, and this is such an important car for the brand. It solidifies its future in the industry, and whether or not it’s more of a small luxury carmaker or is it a real player, and the technology that it’s developed and what is lucrative to other carmakers. Because carmakers typically, they’re acquiring other brands sometimes for their sales and for their image and for what they offer, but it’s often for a piece of technology.
Like, if you look at the history, for example, of Ford acquiring Volvo, because Volvo had excellent history in safety technology. So that drove the acquisition to acquire that, or when Daimler as Mercedes Benz acquired Chrysler so that it could make SUVs. That’s what we’re looking at as far as a traditional automaker acquiring. Now as far as a tech giant acquiring Tesla? What people have found, the car business is really tough, and so I think you need a dogged leader like Elon Musk there in order to make this really happen.
KS: Yeah, and the question would be who? The only one you would imagine would be Apple, and who has the money to do it? Google maybe, but I don’t see him working for those guys. Any of them.
LG: Well, he’s got their presentation style down for sure.
KS: Yeah, he’s just ...
LG: He could host an event, but yeah.
KS: He don’t look like he ...
LG: It’s hard to imagine a Ford, that obviously produces so many vehicles a year, and has processes in place and has for decades now, and could mass produce electric vehicles at a rate that Tesla hasn’t, being interested in Tesla for that. But I guess if you’re an Apple and you’re thinking we really want the hardware, not just the mapping and driving software, maybe a Tesla makes sense? I don’t know.
KS: Yeah, he’s not selling it. Until he goes to Mars, maybe. Who knows? Okay, next one. Eric Grimley: “Will the mega chargers be available on other Tesla models to be used in the future? Like a quick charge for phones?”
I mean, I think that’s been hinted at that where we’re going is all of ... I think that’s part of the big vision, that you could just theoretically charge where you need it. That’s what I’ve been told by Tesla as far as you can do everything all the time with energy being provided to you, as opposed to you buying fuel or paying your gas bill, right? I think that’s what we’re working towards, we just have to see if it can be actualized.
KS: Right. All right, next one? Lauren?
LG: Next question is from Jaydeep Deshpande: “Since they have a significant head start in semi-autonomous in electric vehicle segments, should Tesla challenge Uber and Lyft with autonomous car as a service platform?” Oh, so like when you’re on your way to the airport in the morning, and you’re like, “I’m just going to call Tesla rather than an Uber or Lyft.” How does that work?
The issue with that is both Uber and Lyft have their own autonomous strategies, right? Uber has been working on autonomy. Lyft has partnerships with several automakers working on autonomy, and there’s a lot of discussion about the race toward autonomy and who has the right approach. Tesla has one approach, some other automakers have another. Some suppliers have yet another. Google as Alphabet, as Waymo has another. It’s really looking at, is it lidar based? Is a radar based? Is it camera based? Is it high-definition camera based? Or is it an element of all of these aspects of how you actually create the map? And that’s the race we’re in at the moment.
You know, maybe.
KS: Maybe, maybe. It’ll be interesting to see how it does shake out, or that these get bought, and stuff like that. But everybody can’t do everything, for sure.
LG: Yeah. Oh, I like this next question. A person named Hilal writes in: “What if any of these vehicles exploded just like the Note 7? How possible is that with 250+ miles per hour top speed?”
I love how the majority of Tesla’s audience right now are just wondering if anything is going to get delivered, and this person just went to 11. They’re like, “Is it just going to explode?” I guess that’s a concern with anything that’s lithium-ion battery operated, but Tamara, what are your thoughts on that?
Well, the Koenigsegg Agera, which is the fastest car of the moment, travels 277 miles per hour. If you hit something with that, it’s going to explode, right? If you hit something at that speed, you’re in trouble no matter what, but if the battery just explodes, then Tesla’s in really big trouble, and it’s not going to come down on them easily.
I don’t foresee that happening. There’s so many regulations in place before that happens, and if it did, that would be massive.
KS: Let’s not anticipate that happening.
No, no, no.
KS: All right. Swaroop Satheesh on Facebook says: “Tesla is cool.” Okay, that’s factual. “But will they last long like our gas cars do? Do you think current Tesla cars will age gracefully, say 20 years down the line? Or are they going to become like iPhones that you swap out every two to five years?” That’s a good question.
I think the question isn’t limited to Tesla. I think if you look at all of these cars, they all rely on software, and they’re more computer based than, say, a vintage car. So we really don’t know how they all age. We’ll be collecting these cars and driving them around, and also how old the batteries age for five decades from now. And will they be produced? And will we be able to sync up the software once a system is outdated with old hardware? I mean, it’s kind of like ... pull up your laptop from a decade ago, or two decades ago. It’s an interesting aspect, especially for Blue Book values, which is how your car is valued as it ages, and I think that’ll be an interesting space to watch.
KS: Right, absolutely. Or even owning cars. I think that’s even going down a pike. Do you need to own a car, or can you just have them for a while, or rent them or something like that?
LG: Yeah. Unless you need a utility vehicle, unless you’re somewhat ... I don’t know.
KS: I am of the feeling that owning a car is going to be like owning a horse in 30 years. You’re going to be like, “Oh, I have a car out at my ranch and I drive it around for fun.”
Yeah, it’s kind of going there now a lot with this sole performance car category.
KS: I hate driving cars now. I used to love it, but anyway.
LG: I hate driving in cars with Kara, too!
KS: Ha, ha, ha, ha. All right, next question, Lauren. Keep going.
LG: Next question is from Jonathan Tanzer.
KS: Two more questions. Three more ... Go ahead.
LG: I miss you. I would even get in the car with your right now.
KS: Don’t get in the car with me. I’m angrier than ever, so don’t. Road rage.
LG: Well, at least I can stop you from tweeting if you’re driving.
“What has Tesla done to convince Model 3 owners purchasing the $8,000 full self-driving capabilities will be worthwhile? Tesla hasn’t given a time frame of when this will be available on the Model 3.”
I think customers do it because Tesla says, which is an interesting way of telling people what to do things, and sometimes they do it, and they just have blind faith, and they believe. I mean, credit to the fact that there is no marketing strategy, nothing implanted in commercials that we see or hear, telling us, or even planting articles to back up that fact. So I think there’s just this sort of proposition, like “because we said so.” Is it a good bet? I guess it’s if you believe them or not.
LG: Kara, do you believe them? Would you buy the $8,000 ...
KS: You know what? The Tesla owners, they love Elon. Just whatever he says, they do. Honestly. When you meet them, they just revere him. It’s largely men, but they’re fanboys and just whatever he says, they do. I don’t know. I think it’s a very different car company, I’ll just say we don’t have that relationship with a Ford. My Ford is very nice, but I don’t listen to what it says ever, and I don’t care who the CEO is, but in this case, they absolutely do.
All right, last question. Chad Parizman: “Is there an aftermarket for Tesla cars?” That’s for the rest of us who don’t want to pay this much. “Should people look there for options if they don’t want to wait for the Model 3?” Is there a used car Tesla market?
Well, aftermarket actually means the way you hook up your car and trick it out after you buy it, as opposed to ... Yeah.
KS: Oh, okay. All right.
KS: I think they mean buying them later, so that’s not the right word, but go ahead.
Yeah, as a fun fact, Google “Tesla aftermarket” and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of options that people are sort of going off and doing DIY Tesla things on their own.
KS: Oh, my god.
And what was the second part of the question about Model 3?
KS: Can you get ones that are used? Used Teslas. You can’t afford a Model 3, what happens to the owner getting the Model 3 and wants to get rid of their last model they had?
Oh, yeah. I mean, of course you can buy any car that’s used. As far as if someone owns a car, they can resell it anytime. I mean, just look online at some of these sort of truecar sites.
KS: Is it a good market for Tesla compared to others, or not?
I think they maintain their value. I haven’t studied up on what their value is compared to others, but I think generally yes, because the demand is high and they don’t make that many cars, and there’s a lot of interest in Tesla right now.
KS: Anything to worry about in that case? Like, I suppose battery life and different things. Is there anything that wears down more than other cars?
No, I think it’s where the car is, like anything else. If you’re in a city that’s been hit by a disaster, as we’ve had many recently, then you definitely need to check these things out. Also, this is more standard car practice, like really do diagnostics and everything, and those things are important.
KS: Yeah, but it’s not usually like ... Remember the old granny from Pasadena Road?
Yeah, exactly. No.
KS: Some bro from San Francisco rode it around, and probably bashed it several times.
KS: Yeah, okay. Great. Finishing up, we’re going to go in a second, but are you excited? Is it an exciting company still to cover? It still seems like something new every day.
I mean, they really ... Not to use like bad karma, but they move at such a fast pace, and it’s really exciting, and there’s something new literally every week, and it’s a rollercoaster, and it’s fun. I think they’re injecting a lot of passion into the auto industry, in what was a very closed club for the last decade or so, and they’re really helping people get excited about change in transportation, which is very important right now. They’ve done an important service as far as making electric cars cool and acceptable and desirable, really. Right?
KS: Yeah, absolutely.
That’s the most important contribution I think Tesla has done as the brand, and if you look back at the past, it’s like a Tucker or something of that nature. Will they be the Ford of the future? We don’t know. It would be silly to bet completely against them, because they’ve already proven that they have some tricks up their sleeves, and Elon Musk is great at that. So it’s fun to watch every day. What’s next? Entertain me!
KS: This will be a story for a long time, and this has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. Tamara, thank you for joining us.
Thank you so much for having me.