Tesla has just announced plans to add Superchargers (its rapid car chargers) in dense, urban locations in order to assist owners of its cars who live in cities and in many cases don’t have places to plug in their cars at home. Tesla’s own blog post does a good job of explaining the various charging options available today to owners both at home and away from home, but the post from Jalopnik linked below does a fantastic job of explaining the significance of the move. Essentially, if you’re an urban Tesla owner you have to explicitly go find somewhere to charge your car from time to time, which might well be inconvenient, especially because even the Superchargers take 45-50 minutes to charge the car. What Tesla is offering now is Superchargers sited in locations where those customers might already be spending time – e.g. at supermarkets, malls, or shopping or office areas within cities – so that their cars can charge while they’re busy doing other things. That potentially solves one of the biggest challenges for would-be urban owners of Tesla cars, and reinforces the challenge that still faces pretty much all of the other electric carmakers: the lack of widespread charging infrastructure. Though Tesla’s total scale in terms of car production remains tiny relative to the bigger manufacturers, the one area where it has a massive lead is in building out that infrastructure to enable charging while traveling and elsewhere, and adding Superchargers in cities will give it a further lead.
Tesla On Track to Deliver First Model 3s by End of July, But Q2 Production Falls Short (Jul 3, 2017)
Update: following another release from Tesla on Monday, I’ve amended both the headline and content on this piece significantly from the first version published Monday morning.
Overnight, Tesla CEO Elon Musk had tweeted that Model 3 production would begin shortly, with the first deliveries happening by the end of July, with production ramping up slowly from there. Hitting the launch milestone is something of an achievement for a company that’s often missed its own self-imposed deadlines, but the real test is ramping production enormously above past levels, and that continues to be the achievement I’m far more skeptical of. The new numbers provided today suggest far lower total production than Tesla has promised in the past, at least in the second half of this year and first half of 2018. Later on Monday, the reason for getting that news out overnight became a little clearer, as Tesla released its production and delivery numbers for the June quarter, including a shortfall in both due to battery shortages. That’s bad news for Tesla, and more evidence of its inability to plan and execute on production in predictable ways, and therefore to meet the targets it sets itself. None of this gives me any more confidence in the longer term projections of Model 3 production.
Nissan-Renault Plans to Combine Electrification, Automation and Mobility Within 10 Years (Jun 23, 2017)
This comparison leaked earlier in the week but Tesla has now made it official by posting it on its website (and Elon Musk pointed to it in a Tweet overnight). The only reason I’m including it is here is that it’s a great illustration of the hole Musk dug for himself with his puerile naming strategy for the Model 3 (he originally intended to name it the Model E, making the three current models the S, E, and X, but Ford objected so he flipped the E to a 3). That strategy has led many people to believe the Model 3 is the third iteration of the Tesla and therefore better than the other two models on offer, something Musk has been somewhat frustratedly trying to rectify for the last few months. This comparison, therefore, which is coming out months if not years ahead of the actual availability of the Model 3 to new buyers, seems almost entirely designed to clarify that confusion. Even the introduction makes the point Musk has been hammering home via Twitter recently: “Although it will be our newest vehicle, Model 3 is not “Version 3” or the most advanced Tesla”. All the specific side by side comparisons make clear that the Model 3 is indeed substantially inferior to the Model S – slower acceleration, shorter range, paid versus free supercharging, smaller passenger and cargo space, and so on. Again, this problem is entirely of Tesla’s own making, but also reflects an old problem in the tech industry: the Osborne effect, in which announcing a new version of a product while still trying to sell an earlier one reduces sales of the one currently available. This is just a unique spin on that particular problem given that the Model 3 isn’t actually a successor to the Model S.
Weekly Narrative Video – Tech Disrupts Transportation (Apr 29, 2017)
Elon Musk Tweets About Future Tesla Products Including Semi and Pickup Trucks and a Convertible (Apr 13, 2017)
Tesla Reports Q4 2016 Financial Results (Feb 22, 2017)
The last in our trio of financial results today comes from Tesla. This Wall Street Journal piece from this morning does a great job highlighting some of the investor enthusiasm about Tesla in the face of its continued failure to hit expectations and deliver on its own production and other promises. In the end, today’s results were a mixed bag – both production and deliveries in Q4 were down slightly on Q3 but well up on Q4 last year, revenue was up almost double year on year, and the Solar City business looks to be breaking even on gross margin. But overall, the company had big net losses, ate massive amounts of cash in the quarter, and continues to be a long way from its production targets for the Model 3 which is supposed to start shipping in July. It’s also about to embark on a huge increase in battery production, with three additional Gigafactories being planned for construction starting later this year. Meanwhile, the company’s valuation is now ahead of Nissan’s, despite producing losses and massively fewer cars – the power of trajectory and belief in a disruptive business model.
via Tesla (PDF)
Building the Supercharger Network for the Future – Tesla (Jan 12, 2017)
Tesla announced the outlines of this new approach several months ago, but has now fleshed out some of the details – it will begin charging for using more than 400kWh annually at its supercharging (rapid charging) stations for new cars sold from this month onward, but the rates will be very low – apparently just $120 to drive across the US from New York to Los Angeles. The motivation here is that this charging infrastructure remains absolutely critical to the owner experience for electric cars, and densifying the network is expensive. As such, Tesla wants to recoup some (though apparently not all) the costs from those who actually use it. One of the big challenges for the big auto manufacturers is not just matching the performance of Tesla’s cars but matching its charging infrastructure over time too, and some have partnered in Europe to accelerate this rollout.
Tesla fails to come through on its promise to deliver 80,000 to 90,000 cars in 2016 – Recode (Jan 3, 2017)
The shortfall mentioned here was modest, and was entirely due to delivery rather than production issues. The bigger issue is that, even if it had hit 80 or 90k deliveries in 2016, its targets for 2017 and especially 2018 are higher still, with 2018 apparently ramping to 400,000. That’s still an incredibly steep hill to climb, and I’m doubtful Tesla can up production that quickly. There may be a lot of disappointed Tesla 3 reservers come 2018…
Well, Faraday Future does actually seem to have a car, which seems to be able to drive fairly quickly in a straight line, and is sometimes able to park itself automatically. That much is clear after its press event tonight at CES. But its financial situation, the eventual price and exact launch date of the car, and much else besides remain unclear. The event seems to have gone fairly well, which was in doubt after some recent stories, but it’s still far from certain that we’ll actually see a production vehicle from FF next year.
Another day, another negative story about Faraday Future. At this point, I’m wondering whether there will even be anyone left to present at FF’s CES press conference next week. Certainly, all this bad press is unhelpful both to FF itself and to its major investor, LeEco, which is making its big push into the US too.
Two top Faraday Future executives just resigned – The Verge (Dec 23, 2016)
It’s hard to avoid the sense at this point that this company is in enormous trouble, along with its investor LeEco, both of which seem to have overspent in an aggressive pursuit of new product and geographic markets.
Behind the scenes at Faraday Future, an electric carmaker on the brink of collapse – The Verge (Dec 22, 2016)
A pretty damning take on Faraday Future and its current financial situation, ahead of a big launch at CES early next month. It’s hard to avoid the sense that both Faraday Future and its largest investor LeEco are struggling with the results of over-ambitious expansion plans.
Master Plan, Part Deux | Tesla (Jul 20, 2016)
This is Tesla’s four-part new master plan for the next few years: “Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage; Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments; Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning; Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it.” Autonomy and sharing – the last two bullets – are the key ones from a broader tech perspective, and this is the first hint we’ve had that Tesla will participate in sharing, though its vision is more aligned to the future vision of the Ubers and Lifts of the world than their current business model – autonomy + sharing. Given how effective Musk and Tesla have been at achieving the broad strokes of the first “master plan”, they seem likely to succeed again, and there are few concrete timelines here to miss.