While Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk might be flying high now, back in 2008 the company went through some dark times (which I covered). Musk looked back at Tesla’s early history at the World Energy Innovation Forum at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California on Wednesday and reflected on a big lesson from the early days.
Tesla should have designed an electric car from the ground up from the beginning, Musk said. Tesla’s first electric car was the Roadster, which used a Lotus body and a third party powertrain from AC Propulsion. Tesla only produced a limited number of the cars and the Roadster faced a long delay when it was launching back in 2008.
“We ended up changing most of the damn car,” said Musk, “so we thought later, why did we do that.” Tesla was built on two false premises, Musk said: that Tesla could easily adapt the Lotus chassis, and that the powertrain from AC Propulsion would work as-is in a commercial environment.
Tesla is now a long way from the Roadster, which it no longer manufactures. Its second car, the award-winning Model S, was designed from the ground up as an electric car — the first one in the world — and driving it is a substantially different experience from driving a gas-powered car. The battery pack sits super low on the vehicle and has “Newton on its side,” joked Musk. It’s also got a variety of other innovations that are specific to an electric car, rather than being hold-overs from the gas-powered car.
Eventually, Musk thinks that every type of transportation — other than space travel — will go electric. In fact, he thinks that the architecture of a gas-powered car is “ridiculous” and “absurd” from an engineering perspective, he said during the onstage interview.
But if just a fraction of the world’s future vehicles go electric, that will create a massive and unprecedented need for batteries. That’s why Tesla has to build a battery factory itself, so it can just meet its own scale-up projections. “There will be quasi-infinite demand for battery storage if energy density and prices are good enough,” Musk said.