I’ve been saving up a number of Elon Musk interviews for awhile but haven’t been able to get to them. So, now I’m getting to them all at one time. Below are links to the full interviews, or videos of the interviews when they were videotaped, but I’ve also gone ahead and pulled out some of my favorites quotes from the interviews, a ton of them.
I hope you enjoy these, and feel free to drop your own favorites quotes or thoughts in the comments below the article.
Since this turned into such a massive post, I’m planning to simply add onto this when good new Elon Musk interviews come out. So bookmark this page!
[Update January 4, 2015: I’ve added the interview below from CHM Revolutionaries. It’s probably my favorite yet. Notes come via my post on Planetsave.]
Here’s a really interesting interview with the head of Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and SpaceX — Elon Musk. This is perhaps the most interesting interview I’ve seen with him, as it runs through life stories from age 6 to today. For some reason, it took me ages to get to this, and it is actually from 2013, but most of it is timeless. Check it out, followed by just a few of the many highlights:
- Showing his determination even at a young age, when grounded at the age of 6 and really wanting to go to his cousin’s birthday party, Elon walked about 4 hours across town to get there. Granted, he didn’t realize at the time that it would take so long.
- At the age of 12, Elon started creating video games and selling them… in order to buy more video games and better computers.
- When dating in college, Elon was so fond of electric cars that he would talk about them on dates, even starting at least one with the line, “Do you ever think about electric cars?”
- Elon initially provided something like 95% of the funding for Tesla Motors, and tried really hard to not be the CEO, but eventually had to take up that role.
- Elon pushed his cousins Lyndon & Peter Rive to create SolarCity, and as the key funder is Chairman of the Board.
- The one thing Elon Musk thinks the federal government needs to do is price/tax externalities. It’s common sense that is covered in some way or another in a basic economics course, but we still don’t adequately do it….
- He also noted that we’re playing Russian roulette with the atmosphere. Not addressing global warming is the world’s dumbest experiment.
- Elon gets a lot of his big ideas during long showers or late at night pacing around the house.
- It’s good to solicit negative feedback from friends on your ideas.
Oil & Gas Summit 2014
First of all, yes, he was speaking at an oil & gas summit in Norway… the reason was apparently just that Norway was a big Tesla market and the country loves him and wanted him there. Also interesting, to me: Elon put on quite a snazzy suit. You don’t often see him so dressed up. I’ll take that to mean that he thought this was quite an important event to pull in influential outsiders who weren’t already Tesla fanboys.
- “Certainly, Norway has a lot of incentives for electric vehicles, which are great. but it’s worth noting that, say, Denmark also has very strong incentives for electric vehicles, but our sales are much greater in Norway than in Denmark. In Norway, there’s a core group of electric vehicle enthusiasts who have really taken it upon themselves to promote electric vehicles and have done an amazing job. And as a result, that has made Tesla sales in Norway really, really great.”[Interestingly, this matches quite well what the Manager of Corporate Planning for Nissan Europe emphasized at EVS27 in Barcelona last year — that the key to EV growth in Norway was the society’s high level of electric vehicle awareness.]
- “[The Model X is] on the same platform [of the Model S], so it’s about the same cost.”
- “About a third of the output of the Gigafactory is intended as stationary storage, primarily to be paired with renewables, but also to do grid buffering in non-renewable situations, so that you can operate the plants — even if it’s a hydrocarbon energy plant, you can operate it at close to its optimum and avoiding having to sort of peak.”
- “Here’s a little tidbit: If you take a nuclear plant, and you took its current output, and you compared that to just taking solar panels and putting solar panels on the area used by the nuclear power plant — because these typically have a big keep-out zone, you know of about 5 kilometers or thereabouts, where building houses and dense office or housing space… usually people don’t want to do that near a nuclear power plant. So, there’s quite a big keep-out zone, and when you factor the keep-out zone into account, the solar panels put on that area would typically generate more power than that nuclear power plant.”
- “You could power the entire United States with about 150 to 200 square kilometers of solar panels, the entire United States. Take a corner of Utah… there’s not much going on there, I’ve been there. There’s not even radio stations.”
- “If you’re in non-renewables, it’s like you’re stuck in a room where the oxygen is gradually depleting, and then outside, it’s not. So you want to get out of that room. And I think the ones that get out of the room sooner will be better off.”
- “I don’t like patents, personally. When I was first starting out developing technology, I got lots of patents, and thought this was a good thing, and then I sort of discovered that a patent was really like buying a lottery ticket to a lawsuit. I was like, I’d rather not buy those tickets. You look at sort of the battle between Apple & Samsung, who is really winning there? The lawyers are winning certainly, but neither of those two companies. And, in the case of Tesla, I thought, ‘Well, would Tesla ever sue some other car company if they were using our patents, to try to make them stop making electric cars?’ We would never do such a thing, so why pretend that we would.”
- “Norway has tremendous natural resources in terms of hydropower, also I think wind and potentially geothermal. I think there’s a huge opportunity there to expand those renewable sources and then provide that power to the rest of Europe. That really, I think, would be a wise thing to do.”
Getting the Tesla brand out there more and more, Elon Musk was recently interviews by GQ magazine. Here are some quotes I loved:
- “We really wanted to break the mould, to show that electric cars aren’t just glorified milk floats. This is the fastest accelerating four-door production car in the world. That’s one hell of a milk float.”
- “I had thought the big car companies would be coming out with electric cars sooner. Crazy thing is, it’s now seven years since we unveiled the Roadster, and yet there’s still not a single car for sale without a Tesla badge that has a 250 mile range. That’s mind blowing.”
- “It’s the goal of Tesla to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport, and I’d rather the other manufacturers would go fully electric as soon as possible.”
- “Open sourcing the patents does have the advantage of making Tesla a more attractive place for the world’s best engineers to work. And it builds goodwill, which I believe will be important…”
- “I only own 30% of the company. They can fire me if they want. I’ve got nothing against profit, I don’t think it’s an evil word. But if we have a choice between short-term profit and scaling the business, the latter makes much more sense.”
- Musk apparently noted that “at least one major car company” is already taking advantage of Tesla’s open patents. Any guesses? Nissan would be mine, but I’m not putting any money on that.
- “So I’ve come to the conclusion we need to be a lot more active in building our own cars. Maybe if we start taking market share away from other companies that’ll get them a lot more interested.”
- “The P85D is a precursor to the Model X, which will use the same chassis and drive train architecture. Demand for the P85D is off the charts. We’re seeing a very high proportion of orders for all-wheel drive, either P85D or 85D (which has smaller, equal sized electric motors front and rear), so 70% plus of our cars will be dual motor. With deliveries of the X due to start next summer, the biggest problem we have at Tesla now is meeting production demands.”
Notably, this one is infamous for some not-so-true storytelling, or perhaps misunderstanding to give the benefit of the doubt, but it still included a lot of good tidbits (that I hope are actually true). Being in German, nothing is an actual quote, especially not after being translated by Google. So, these ones are not Elon Musk quotes but summary points from the Tesla Motors Club forum (member “HansWurst”):
- “About 10 percent [of a Tesla battery uses cobalt]. But it does not originate from the Congo. In our new Gigafactory we will use cobalt from Canada.”
- “In our cars we do not use any rare earths originating from doubtful countries. Our engine mainly consists of copper and steel. Our batteries only contain materials such as synthesised graphite and nickel.”
- Elon Musk expects to build a battery factory in Germany within the 5–6 year timeframe.
- Elon Musk thinks German OEMs should put a lot more effort into developing batteries, thinks Germany has good preconditions to do so (b/c of a lot of engineers living there).
- He thinks Toyota and Daimler sold stakes to realize profits, nothing more.
- “BMW has relatively cost-effective production of carbon fiber body parts.”
- Doesn’t think that the reduced oil price has an effect on electric cars, and doesn’t think the price of oil will fall much further.
- Elon Musk thinks fuel cells are ridiculous, three times less efficient, and highly flammable. [Editor’s Note: I think the correct verb there is “knows,” not “thinks,” but leaving it as it was written by my source.]
- Autopilot works on 90% of driven kilometers. Problematic is driving around places without road marking or where kids are playing. Tesla will solve this within the next three years.
- Elon Musk wants to talk with Tim Cook (of Apple), because Apple is highly interested in the car business. All he can say is that Apple is not about to buy Tesla. (and vice versa )
- Elon Musk thinks small, autonomously driving, electric pods could be a great way of individualizing public transport.
- He would like to see a lot more tunnels. Because buildings are three-dimensional, he thinks roads should be too. The alternative of flying cars is not the way to go because they are loud and can fall on your head.
And here’s one more from another forum member, NigelM (who I just realized is a forum moderator who lives in my hometown!): “Next month we’ll release new firmware so that the car can automatically recognize if it has insufficient range to get to your next charging opportunity. The car will warn you and offer directions to the nearest supercharger.”
Again, those were translations or even paraphrases (I think they were simply paraphrases in most of the cases) from interviewers at Der Spiegel who got the BMW–Tesla “partnership” story very wrong, so use cautiously.
Elon Musk and Steven Chu were both being interviewed in the video below. Both of them make many interesting and awesome comments. Here are a couple of notable ones from Elon:
- After talking about the three things he thought, while in college, would most affect the future of humanity — the internet, sustainable energy (consumption and production), and “extending life beyond Earth on a permanent basis” — he clarified, “not that I expected actually in college that I would address them.” He has mentioned these things before, but I found it interesting that he was careful this time to note that he didn’t have huge, egotistical expectations that he would be the important person he has become. This is something important about Elon Musk, imho. He is certainly confident about what he thinks he knows, and he is bold in his visions and efforts, but he is also actually very cautious and humble… from what I have seen. I think this is a critical, often-overlooked aspect of his character and why his businesses have done so well. He doesn’t seem to have a sense of entitlement like many big CEOs and chairman ooze.
- “As far as Earth is concerned, I think the biggest problem that humanity faces is one of sustainable energy. If we don’t solve that problem this century, independent of any environmental concerns, we will face economic collapse… This is obvious.” Nuff said.
- “Long-term, we expect probably something in the order of 60 to 65% of the cars we manufacture will be exported to Europe and Asia, and then other parts of the world as well.”
- “All three companies almost died in 2008.” (Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity.)
- Regarding running Tesla Motors & SpaceX as CEO at the same time: “I’m doing this because I think I have to, not because I want to.”
- “If you want to do something really innovative, you have to apply a sort of first principles analysis. And don’t reason by analogy. Analogies are referencing the past. First principles mean you look at the most fundamental truths in a particular arena, the things that really are almost indisputably correct, and you reason up from there to a conclusion. And if you see that that conclusion is at odds with what people generally believe, then you have an opportunity. You can’t operate like that on all things, because it takes too much mental horsepower, so most of your life, you have to operate by reasoning by analogy, but if you really want to innovate, you must reason from first principles to identify the problem.” (Before watching this video, I remember a CleanTechnica commenter highlighting that point/statement. Whoever that was, thanks for sharing that. Good commenters we have here. 😀 )
- “And then you also should seek negative feedback… from your friends and from people who are knowledgeable…. You need to understand where you’re wrong…. A lot of times people can look at what you’re doing and they know that it’s wrong, but they don’t want to hurt your feelings, and that’s why they don’t tell you.”
To be honest, I think Steven Chu had even more interesting responses in this interview, so just watch the video:
Related Story: The Truth About Tesla’s Demand