Sue and I took a tour of the Tesla Model S factory in Fremont, CA today. This is the old NUMMI plant. If you haven't heard the NUMMI story between GM & Toyota, and you're a car buff, there's a This American Life episode about it that's just mind blowing. The net of it is that GM tried to learn Just In Time assembly practices from Toyota, they built a factory together for Toyota to transfer this know-how to GM, and GM completely blew it. The factory shut down and was sitting idle after that fiasco.
When Elon Musk was looking for a place to build his new Model S sedan, he approached Toyota with a $50MM bid for it, which Toyota accepted. Why would Toyota sell a car production plant arguably worth $1 billion or more for $50MM? For the answer to that, you really have to understand the relationship between Musk and Toyota, which is well portrayed in this 2010 WIRED magazine article.
As a reservation holder for the Model S, I'm proud to support one of the most amazing entrepreneurs of our generation. What makes Elon even more amazing is that he's not only revolutionizing the automobile industry, but the space industry as well, with SpaceX... at the same time. Elon, my hat is off to you.
Below are a number of pictures and vidoes of the factory and the event, which was very well done.
Here is a transcript of Elon Musk's talk:
George: First of all, for those whom I haven’t met. I’m George Blankenship. I worked with the team at overseas sales, worldwide service marketing. On behalf of that department and all 1,400 employees of Tesla I would like to welcome all of you here. We are very very excited to have you here. You have no idea. Thank you very much. Yeah go Tesla. We are really really like family here at Tesla. You are more like family to us than customers. I wanna share something with you today that the other department has no idea that i’m going to do. I’m gonna talk to you about family for a minute. We did this exact same event yesterday. And I tell you it wasn’t great. It wasn’t great. We had people just like this. Bunch of people talking all about it. It was all talking and smiling till I got home last night. I checked my email. I got an email last night from a gentleman who had a terrible experience. He listed everything that we did wrong yesterday. When I say everything I mean everything. He said our people were uninspired. He said it was ridiculous that we spent all the money we spent on doing white stores. He said all the plastic card he got when he left was ridiculous. He said it was crazy to have all this robots doing nothing is a waste of electricity. And then he said that you are doing a job of competing, and trying to be like Mercedes and BMW. That’s what he said. I take these very very seriously. I wanna tell you what I told him last night. I said I believe that your car should be built in an environment that is clean, modern and looks like a computer lab not like this factory in europe. That’s my comeback for him. I said some people thought of that before. Some people thought that that was very inspiring. And a little plastic car, I think you missed a point. There were a lot of people in that room yesterday that never seen plastic and believe don’t know what i’m talking about work before. As far as us being, wanting to be like BMW or Mercedes. That is not what i’m gonna be. I do not wanna be BMW. I do not wanna be Mercedes. Let me tell you why. When did you think is the last time was that BMW or Mercedes opened up their factory and let people just do whatever they want to do. Take pictures of everything, takes videos without security hanging all over them. It doesn’t matter. When was the last time you think the CEO and the Executive staff for BMW or Mercedes spent a saturday evening and a sunday afternoon with their family like Tesla. Their family are across the seas they doesn’t matter. I would love to give every single of you a speech for fifteen minutes. We weren’t expecting as many of you would come. We’re glad you did. Here’s the point. I do not want to be BMW. I do not want to be Mercedes. I want to be Tesla and if you give us just a little bit of patience and a little bit of time here’s what i guarantee you. We will give you access to things that no one else ever will. We will bring it to you in a way no one else can. Ladies and gentlemen no one else can bring you Model S. With your support we bring to you Model S. All the things I can talk to you about. We appreciate all your support. Ladies and gentlemen it’s time to turn on the cameras. Keep the videos running. Thank you for your support. Mr. Elon Musk and your future Model S.
Elon: Welcome, as you can see the Model S can easily handle 7 people plus luggage. Hey ben been working late. Spent there all night. As it turns out, the Model S can handle out 8 people plus luggage. I hope we would come out as first to create not the best electric car but actually the best car. One of the ways which you can evaluate a car. What makes a card good or great. We could start off with safety first because my kids are gonna be in the car, my friends are gonna be in the car. You guys are gonna be in the car. We care deeply about safety and making sure that this is the safest vehicle in the world. If you would look at some of the crash test videos. You can get a sense of how long the crumple zone is. This is a very important factor in safety. Because we don’t have an engine in the front. Instead of having this huge block of metal in the front where you’re forced to a short crumple zone or have the engine go through to your chest. We actually have a crumple zone that is about three times longer than a normal sedan would have. It has a huge length which could absorb the energy. If you’re in a potentially disastrous situation like hitting a concrete wall or having a head on collision. This can be safer and can give you a better position than any other car. Thats really incredibly important. In terms of side impact. Because we’ve got the battery pack in the floor pan. You got this really strong stiff rectangular base of the car. It really is resistant to side impact. In for the rear seats, people may be concerned like what if we got kids in the rear seat. Are they gonna be safe in that situation? The third row section, the safest place in a car from a front or a side impact. In for a rear impact we got a double octagonal crash structures that prevent impacts in the rear. Even if your car is in a highway speed impact from the rear. There will be no permanent injury to the rear occupants. It’s really important because my kids will be there. We spent a great deal of time on reviewing the safety. The Model S we believe will be the only car that has 5 star crash rating in every category without exception. You may read other cars with 5 star crash ratings. What they have is in most categories. This is in every category. I Believe we’re beyond that. Then in terms of performance, the Model S is the only all aluminum advance car. It’s important that its made of aluminum because we want it to have crash safety but also be light. The cars a little only a little over 4,000 pounds in mass and it allows it to be agile and quick and not feel heavy. The performance is another factor. The basic car can do 0-60 in 5.6 seconds. We announced yesterday that there’s gonna be a performance version of the Model S that can do 0-60 in under 4.5 seconds and that will be available from start of production next year.
The thing that makes this better than any gas sedan is the center of gravity.The center of gravity is superlow. It’s lower than most sports cars and that means that when you brake or accelerate. You don’t have to dive or this feeling of back and forth or falling back. It would only happen if you got a big engine above the axle. If you want to swerve out away from an accident. The best way, the best core safety is to not have an accident in the first place and to have incredible maneuverability. To be able to get out of the way is super important and because you have a low center of gravity you don’t have this issue. It’s a situation that a gas tank car virtually can’t compete on. What we’re really trying to show you is that an electric car is not almost as good as a gas fuel car. It’s quite better. That’s the thing that we’re gonna have to show the world. You see all these articles and so called experts in some cases they’re funded by oil companies. The reason is that when you go home to your home and you talk to people that you know. You’re gonna say that i’ve driven the car, i’ve seen the factory. You don’t have to say I think it would work or maybe they can make it. You’ve seen the product and you know with absolute certainty this is the real thing. In this case we really need you to help. Not for Tesla but for electric cars in general. There’s always a danger that electric car evolution could swell up. That people could say it was not a nice try we think we better go back to fuel power. We could not let that happen.
This weekend, Telsa held an exclusive Model X preview for reservation holders. As the CEO of a mobile startup, I have mad respect for Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla. Here's a guy who, after starting and selling PayPal, started not one, but two companies with prescient timing: Tesla and SpaceX. As gas heads towards $5/gallon (with the imminent threat of shooting up higher) and the US retires its Space Shuttle program, Elon's two startups are positioned perfectly. For more background on Tesla, take a look at the blog post I wrote after touring the Tesla Factory.
Critics are raving over the Model X. As someone who's passionate about cars & motorcycles and hopeful for the future of electric vehicles that perform as well or better than their fossil fuel burning brethern, I was originally a reservation holder for the Model S. When I saw the Model X, I immediately swapped my reservation out. Now I'm #486 on the list for a Model X. You can get a reservation of your own here -- it's a $5k refundable deposit. Your only risk, really, is that Tesla doesn't stay viable as a company, but as someone in the tech industry, I really believe in Elon, his vision, and his ability to execute. I'm willing to take that risk.
A quick background - I love Mercedes cars. As a kid my dad had one for a few years (incidentally, he hated it) and I always liked riding it. When we went to the dealership I would be drawn in by the pro-Mercedes anti-BMW propaganda.
When I bought my first car with my own money, it was a 1985 Mercedes 380SE. It was ten years old at the time, was the first car I'd even test driven, but I really loved the car. Even though it was so old it had good features and was fun to drive. Two months later, it broke.
Several years later I bought my second Mercedes, a 1994 E320 Coupe. I've always been a huge fan of the Mercedes Coupes. For one they have really cool four place seating, so instead of three squished seats in the back you have two full ones with a console in the middle. Their lines are beautiful, and they're fairly rare. I actually still have that car, although my brother, Devon, drives it right now.