Posted on September 18, 2016 by Matt Pressman
In a wide-ranging conversation covering Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA], SpaceX, and thoughts surrounding artificial intelligence (AI), Elon Musk talks with Sam Altman at Y Combinator* about his personal views on how to build a better future. Part of that better future revolves around Musk's vision for sustainable energy. In the short term, sustainable transport will play an important role with Tesla's first mass market electric vehicle, the Tesla Model 3. Musk discusses his early interest in electric vehicles all the way up to his current outlook on improving production for the all-important Model 3. As always, he presents a bold, brave, and fascinating vision of the future.
Above: Musk sits down for an interview with Sam Altman (Source: Y Combinator*)
Looking back, Musk notes that during his college years, he'd already expressed a keen interest in electric vehicles: "at the time in college, I sort of thought helping with electrification of cars was how it would start... That's actually what I worked on as an intern was advanced ultra-capacitors, to see if there would be a breakthrough relative to batteries for energy storage in cars. And then, when I came out to go to Stanford, that's what I was going to be doing my grad studies on — [I] was working on advanced energy storage technologies for electric cars."
Above: Musk's first electric vehicle with Tesla, the Roadster (Image: CDA News)
When discussing his bold risk taking, Musk reveals, "I actually think I feel fear quite strongly. So it's not as though I just have the absence of fear. I feel it quite strongly. There are just times when something is important enough that you believe in it enough that you do it in spite of fear." This applied to SpaceX and also Tesla, as he remarked, "Yeah, same with Tesla. I thought the odds of a car company succeeding were extremely low." But even with those odds, Musk still took the plunge and started not only a car company, but an electric car company.
Above: Musk in Tesla's early days with a Model S prototype (Image: Detroit Bureau)
Musk also discussed how he spends a typical week: "My time is mostly split between SpaceX and Tesla... I [also] spend basically half a day at OpenAI most weeks. And then I have some OpenAI stuff that happens during the week. But other than that, it's really SpaceX and Tesla... I think a lot of people think I must spend a lot of time with media or on businessy things. But actually almost all my time, like 80% of it, is spent on engineering and design. Engineering and design, so it's developing [the] next-generation product. That's 80% of it."
Above: Tesla factory floor in Fremont, CA (Image: GigaOM via Tesla)
When discussing his time at Tesla, he elaborates: "At Tesla, it's working on the Model 3 and, yeah, so I'm in the design studio, [it can] take up a half a day a week, dealing with aesthetics and look-and-feel things. And then most of the rest of the week is just going through engineering of the car itself as well as engineering of the factory. Because the biggest epiphany I've had this year is that what really matters is the machine that builds the machine, the factory. And that is at least two orders of magnitude harder than the vehicle itself."
Above: Video of Musk's complete interview (Source: Y Combinator*)
Looking down at the factory floor at Tesla's Fremont location, he admits, "this actually has a relatively lower level of automation compared to what the Gigafactory will have and what Model 3 will have." Remarking on current Model S and X production speed, he explains, "in terms of the extra velocity of vehicles on the line, it's probably about, including both X and S, it's maybe five centimeters per second. This is very slow... [but] I'm confident we can get to at least one meter per second. So, a 20-fold increase... [about] one meter per second. Just to put [that] into perspective, [that] is a slow walk or a medium-speed walk. A fast walk could be one and a half meters per second. And then the fastest humans can run over 10 meters per second."
Above: Tesla Model 3 at Tesla's factory in Fremont, CA (Image: Teslarati)
Without a doubt, Musk's forecast for a 20-fold factory increase in production will help "the machine that builds the machine" to massively expedite the production ramp of the Tesla Model 3. And with ~400,000 pre-orders of the mass market Model 3, this step forward will move society closer to wider acceptance of electric vehicles — an important step towards sustainable energy and a better future for all of us.
*Source: Y Combinator