Jun 7, 2017

7 things we learned from Elon Musk's Tesla shareholder meeting

Tesla's shareholders voted this afternoon at their annual meeting against declassifying the electric car company's board of directors. Critics have said that Tesla's board is not independent enough, and that it's filled with people who are incentivized to stay in CEO Elon Musk's good graces. Declassifying would have made the directors subject to annual elections, but the outcome of the vote means the board will keep its staggered, three-year terms.


But, as is consistently the case with Tesla, Elon Musk stole the show when he came on stage to speak to the shareholders and answer questions from Twitter. Compared to how his loose lips have ignited some of his past speaking engagements, this one was surprisingly light on shock value. There were still a few interesting tidbits though.

1. Musk first teased the Model Y in October of 2015 when he tweeted, and then deleted, a short mention of the company's forthcoming all-electric crossover SUV. He's been light on details ever since, as the company has been focused on launching the Model X and Model 3. At the meeting today, though, he flashed what is our first glimpse of the Y.

There's very little to go off of in that image, I know, but it appears in line with what Musk has said about the car. It will be a crossover, one that's sized smaller than a Model X but bigger than the Model 3. It will also be a much simpler car with respect to the electrical systems inside — Musk said last month that the Y will have far less wiring than its other cars as the company moves away from its standard 12-volt battery architecture.

Musk also said last month that the Model Y, which is targeted for 2019, would be built on an entirely new vehicle architecture platform, contradicting assumptions that it would be built on the Model 3's platform as a cost-saving measure. Musk said today that "there are a number of really major manufacturing improvements that can be done that allow us to build a car in a way that a car's never been built before" by building the Model Y on a new platform.

2. In fact, Musk justified starting a new platform for the Model Y by trashing the platform-borrowing approach that it has taken with its cars so far. "I think actually we made a mistake in trying to derive the Model X from the model S platform," he said. "It would have been better to just design an SUV the way an SUV should be designed, [and] design a sedan the way a sedan should be designed. Otherwise you're just trying to shoehorn something in that doesn't make sense."

3. The Model 3 is the car that's supposed to bring Tesla to the masses, and yet it wasn't discussed much — even though it's launching this summer. Musk did say, though, that the configurator for those who have preordered the car will go live toward the end of next month, when the first Model 3s roll off the line.

But he added that those customers will have to deal with a very limited set of options — essentially color and wheel type — in order to make sure the company can ramp up production accordingly.

"I should say that we've kept the initial configurations of the Model 3 very simple," Musk said. "A big mistake we made with the X, which is primarily my responsibility — there was way too much complexity right at the beginning. That was very foolish."

Musk said he's learned from the Model X rollout, which allowed for so much customization at launch that Tesla wound up hurting its own production timelines. "[Model X] is like a Faberge egg of cars. It's really an amazing product, but it has way too many cool things in it that should have really been rolled in with version two, version three," he said. "We got overconfident and created something great that probably will never be made again. And perhaps should not be."

4. The tech provided by Israeli company Mobileye was a big part of what powered Tesla's semi-autonomous capabilities in the early going. But the two companies argued mightily last year over who was to blame for the man who died while using the Autopilot system. When the collaboration disintegrated, Tesla had to rebuild Autopilot using its own hardware and software, and it's only now that Musk feels Tesla's version is about to eclipse the level of semi-autonomous driving Mobileye had made possible.

"It's definitely been a tough slog transitioning from the Mobileye vision chip to Tesla's internal vision system, but I think we're almost there in terms of exceeding the ability of the hardware one cars," he said. "I think with the next release of software, which is maybe as soon as next week, we will finally exceed the experience of the hardware one cars, and then it's going to advance very rapidly from there."

5. Tesla is working on making an all-electric, heavy duty big rig that it plans to unveil at an event this September. We've known that for a while, but what's new is that Musk said the company is collaborating with potential customers of the semi truck to help design it correctly.

"We're getting them closely involved in the design process, so the biggest customers of the heavy duty Tesla semi are helping ensure that it is specified to their needs, so it's not a mystery," Musk told the shareholders. "They already know that it's going to meet their needs, because they've told us what those needs are. So it'll really just be a question of scaling volume to make as many as we can."

Musk added that he hopes to reach production scale on the Tesla Semi in two years.

6. Musk got cheeky when he was asked whether Tesla is working on anything else in addition to its road cars, semi truck, home battery storage service, and solar panel business. "There's a few other things I haven't mentioned here. I just like, really recommend showing up for the semi truck unveiling," he said. "Maybe there's a little more than we're saying here. Maybe. Could be. Who knows?"

7. Elon Musk is famous for his late night Twitter proclamations and, sometimes, rants. Asked a question about how he splits his time between his many companies, he said that "tweet frequency has no correlation with what I actually do for a work basis." Meaning that, while he tweets a lot about the Boring Company — his effort to dig a massive tunnel system under Los Angeles — he still considers that "basically a hobby."

Musk also admitted that he "sometimes goes crazy" on Twitter. "You know, [when] there's a little red wine, a vintage record player, some ambien. Magic. Magic happens."

The Verge

by Sean O'Kane