Tesla Motors CTO: A maniacal focus on making a product that customers love

KentPresents* is "a festival of ideas" that takes place at the Kent School in Kent, Connecticut. KentPresents has a distinguished Board of Advisers including such luminaries as Stephen Sondheim, Jasper Johns, Henry Kissinger and Harold Varmus. It's quite an honor to be invited to speak, and, during the conference, Tesla Motors' co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO) JB Straubel was invited to face off with Gilbert Castillo, Senior Group Manager of Advanced Vehicle Strategy at Hyundai about "new innovations" in automotive technology.

Above: Tesla CTO JB Straubel; Image: Fortune (Photograph by Anda Chu — AP)

This panel discussion (more akin to a debate) centered around the ongoing battle between battery electric vehicles vs. hydrogen fuel cells to see which technology is most likely to displace the gas-powered internal combustion engine. However, during the panel discussion, Straubel also made some fascinating comments about Tesla's "secret sauce" relative to its business success and the forecast ahead for its grid-scale stationary storage business. The panel discussion took place in the fall but the video was just published this week by KentPresents, check it out below...

Source: Kent Presents

As noted, the majority of the panel discussion pits battery electric vehicle tech vs. hydrogen fuel cells. While Hyundai's Castillo does an acceptable job presenting progress towards a future of electrified transport, he stubbornly believes that future belongs to hydrogen fuel cells. The talk clearly shows the added layers of complexity with hydrogen fuel cells. As reference, we've provided a comprehensive blog post/infographic on this very subject. No surprise, Tesla's JB Straubel clearly sides with battery electric vehicle technology. In fact, the moderator brings up Tesla CEO Elon Musk's claim that hydrogen fuel cells are "fool cells" and Straubel gently (and respectfully) agrees. If you're still unsure about all this, check out this helpful video below that includes a few valuable Elon Musk quotes on the matter...

Source: 5 hours ahead

From our point of view, the more interesting comments were unrelated to the "debate" between these two. Tesla Motors CTO JB Straubel offered up an intriguing answer to an audience member's question about Tesla's success. A member of the crowd asked, "what's the secret sauce" that makes Tesla successful? Straubel hesitated, and then answered: "If we had to put our finger on one thing, it's that the product is really good. People love the product. The car is very good, it's won tons of awards, customers refer it, it sells itself." He goes on to explain that Tesla has...

"... a maniacal focus on making a product that customers love." - Tesla Motors CTO JB Straubel

Instagram: @jameswpang

Another interesting call-out from the panel discussion had to do with Straubel's comments on stationary battery storage relative to grid-scale applications. He notes: "We're actually starting a whole separate business unit to commercialize our battery technology and battery architectures for grid applications. It's a pretty sizable business, we're planning to do something around $100 million in revenue this year and a half a billion [dollars] next year just on that secondary market outside of cars." Please note: this panel discussion took place last year in August 2015, but, the video was just published this week by KentPresents.

JB Straubel always provides a unique outlook on Tesla Motors' business strategy. We look forward to hearing more from him later this year. Already, Straubel is scheduled as keynote speaker at Ontario Centres of Excellence's Discovery 2016 being held May 9-10. And, we'll also be sure to continue to update you on the latest comments from Straubel.


*Source: KentPresents