Autonomous Vehicles

Published on January 15th, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan


Elon Musk: “Every year, we are doubling our total cumulative production.”

January 15th, 2016 by  

Originally published on EV Obsession.

Elon Musk was recently interviewed by the BBC. You can watch the video above for the whole deal. Some key summary points are:

  1. Elon Musk had to reiterate Tesla’s “secret master plan” to explain a variety of things many of you already know.
  2. He was also practically forced to say that Apple is building an electric car, which he called an “open secret.” This has gotten a lot of headlines, but really… it is an open secret. There’s no news there, imho.
  3. He also talked about the S-curve of disruptive technology, and his thought that EVs will grow much faster than most people are anticipating. (I’m fully onboard with all of that and try to highlight it any chance I get — see video below.)
  4. However, there was a snippet I found quite interesting. Elon said, “Every year, we are doubling our total cumulative production. [long pause] So, um, at the beginning of last year, we had 50,000 cars in total on the roads worldwide. And then last year we produced another 50,000 cars, so the total fleet of Tesla vehicles doubled last year, and will approximately double again this year.” That seems to indicated that Elon is guiding ~100,000 sales in 2016. Hmm, perhaps I need to increase my projections.
  5. Elon also showed how Tesla has been inspiring conventional automakers to launch, accelerate, and improve electric car programs. But he also drops some obvious criticism on them.
  6. Elon also noted that the Tesla Model S was the top-selling car in its class in the US last year (something I just covered).
  7. Elon again states that he expects, in the future, no one will buy a car that isn’t autonomous. Buying a non-autonomous car would be like having a manually operated elevator, or having a horse rather than a car.
  8. He also explained, concisely, the difference between autonomous cars and deep AI (artificial intelligence).
  9. Elon concedes that he has had nightmares about AI.
  10. There’s much more about AI in the interview that you may want to listen to.
  11. Again, Elon comes across as extremely humble and good-hearted to me, and it may make me finally write an article I’ve been planning to write for months… stay tuned.

In regard to point #3, here’s a talk where I focus on that quite a bit (with charts and such to go along with the words):

h/t Kyle Field

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • Al

    I wonder what is the learning curve for Tesla. If it is 20% then we should see a 20% reduction in price for every doubling of production

    • Bob_Wallace

      Not price, cost. And only if the product remains the same.

  • neroden

    I know a number of people who would prefer to have a horse rather than a car. Maintenance costs are about $3000/year minimum, though, and that’s if you own your own pasture. Apparently upfront cost of purchase is actually quite low…

  • Foersom

    > Elon concedes that he has had nightmares about AI.

    I agree with Musk on this point. Also the drive for making robots that are human look-a-likes it gives this “uncanny valley”. We need machines to automate and assist humans, not replace humans.

  • newnodm

    The interesting part of his Apple comment has been dropped from every article. Musk said Apple has hired 1000 engineers. This means they will build a car, I think. It probably means they will build a car with a steering wheel.

    So that would make Apple a straight up Tesla competitor, not some future autonomous car maker.

    • I think that’s part of the open secret. Nothing new, from my perspective. But I forget that not everyone obsessively follows this stuff.

    • Frank

      When you say build, do you mean like the iphone, where they send the design to foxconn?

      • newnodm

        Sure. Rumor is Ford. But they would probably build the electronics package with their existing vendors.

  • Alaa

    I am surprised that Elon allowed the BBC to even ride a model S. Did he forget what these British snobs did to him with the roadster?

  • Ivor O’Connor

    According to linked:wikipedia there were 32,675 fatalities in the USA during 2014. Musk states that all it will take is a magnitude safer vehicle before self-driving becomes a reality. So it will be ok if there are 3,268 deaths due to AI per year according to Musk?! It seems like even 327 death a year is unacceptable. Even 33 deaths a year is a legal nightmare. In America’s litigious society even a drop of five magnitudes, a death every three years, will be a problem. I can just see the mothers against self-driving cars righteously sobbing away about the loss of their little loved ones due to negligent companies like Tesla.

    • Brooks Bridges

      My wife, yesterday, read that over 30 states in the USA (2014) had deaths due to guns (suicides, homicides, accidental…) that were higher than deaths from auto accidents.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        Apparently it is true:

        However it is a shame suicide is not the #1 cause of death. When people get cancer or something else and their lives are over it seems suicide is the best way to go. Unfortunately religions and governments are on the side of greed and not of compassionate reason.

        • vensonata

          Canada has until February to legalize doctor assisted suicide. Supreme court weirdly enough commands parliament to make the law.
          It seems a good idea to you. But have you considered why this is happening now? That’s right…too many boomers. Not enough replacements. Make it easy and the trend to off yourself increases, it tends to be infectious. The next stage is, “why not while you are healthy, why wait ’til you are sick?” etc, etc. In fact you can see a few youtube videos of healthy people about 80 explaining why they have decided to terminate now while they are in good mental and physical shape. There are a few twists and turns to that issue….

          • Ivor O’Connor

            I don’t have any problems with somebody in their 80s or 30s deciding to terminate their lives. It is after all their lives.

            Governments are funny. I suppose they’ll make it ok for the boomers to remove themselves in order to save money. However they will continue to maintain it is illegal for the taxpaying young.

          • vensonata

            That is correct. The society like the individual, has an unconscious. We often don’t quite know why we vote for this or that, it just seems an issue who’s time has come. The longing for annihilation is one of deep tendencies in human nature. Sometimes societies who need members discourage it, sometimes, as in certain Eskimo tribes, elder suicide is politely encouraged…with a certain sadness of course. But how did we get off on this topic?

    • Roger Lambert

      One would think a 90% or 99% reduction in auto deaths would be heralded as an enormous benefit.

      I have two reservations about autonomous cars:

      1) I love driving fast in a good car.

      2) I love that when I drive fast, I get to my destination much sooner.

      I would guess that for a few decades, at least, we could still drive our cars manually before that becomes a privilege only for the rich.

      And I think the whole autonomous car acceptance rate might be enhanced if autonomous cars could be allowed, when conditions were favorable, to legally drive much faster than our current speed limits. Right now, my sense is that autonomous cars = slow cars.

      • Brooks Bridges

        I’m sure in the early 1900’s there were people who felt the same way about giving up the thrill of riding nice horses on roads. I used to love driving myself – then moved to Eastern Shore of MD – flat and no curves – my wife’s Mini Cooper is wasted here.

        I think there may be private tracks built for people like you.

        Autonomous could mean much higher speeds – if everyone had them. Also much closer distances between cars.

      • Jan Veselý

        I’m sure there will be a plenty of race tracks for you. Safe, thrilling and no soccer mom or old-man-in-the-hat or Sunday driver will slow you down.

      • Kraylin

        I love driving fast ! Typically on a race track for true joy but still fast on the street within reason. Can i set my automous car to drive around 10km/h over the speed limit so as to decrease travel time while maintaining a very low probability of a speeding ticket?! =)

    • super390

      Humans apparently aren’t wired to count deaths equally, even when they make a big show out of numbers. For instance, as a warfare nerd I’ve come to see that having anyone of your “tribe” killed by foreigners feels much more like an existential threat than having far more killed by fellow tribemen or by acts of God. Because the idea that there’s someone out there plotting against you who might actually outsmart you is a terror you don’t like to admit. We’re wired to accept that the natural disasters we’ve grown up with won’t suddenly become orders of magnitude worse, but there’s no telling what an enemy might do. I think that death by robot will be seen as an alien, ominous thing regardless of the numbers.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        Yep. It is this “existential threat” our leaders recognize and pull our strings with.

        Regardless of the stats showing how much safer we are it is that existential threat that movies, shock jocks, and attorneys will use. We are still very emotional creatures and hence the reason we have all the casinos, churches, and bad government still.

    • neroden

      Damn. Musk might actually know his business. I always said that robot cars had to be at least 100 times safer than human-driven cars before they’d be accepted.

      If Musk is saying an order of magnitude, that’s 10 times, so he may have some sense of the psychology. Most of the robot car fanatics assume that robot cars just have to be better; they don’t realize how MUCH better they have to be to be accepted.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        Yes, for psychological reasons they’ll have to be much better. Maybe Musk is bargaining. You know like seeing something at a garage sell and throwing out a silly low number before the real bargaining starts.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Google’s self-driving cars have caused, what, zero accidents? They’ve been involved in a handful but those were caused by human drivers.

        I suspect problems with autonomous cars will be limited to them pulling to the side of the road and parking themselves because they can’t pick up the cues they need to go further. They should not drive into something else or off a cliff.

        • neroden


          Rural roads in the snowbelt are hard. They’ll drive into ditches and they’ll run into deer and in the dark they’ll drive straight onto bridges which are out….

          …unless the robot cars turn off the autonomous feature *literally everywhere where I ever drive*, in which case I really don’t give a damn about the autonomous feature. And a lot of people will have the same attitude.

          Here, you usually can’t even safely pull off the road to park without running into a ditch — no shoulders — so good luck with programming the autonomous car to drive safely. Not going to happen.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I live in an area where people frequently drive into deer. The largest reason, I suspect, is they watch the first deer that crosses the road, turning their head in the direction of travel and then a second or third deer enters on their blind side.

            I haven’t hit a deer (yet). I think that’s because I make a large effort to ignore the deer that’s going to get across and look for the next one or ones that are the real danger. An autonomous car can track several deer at once.

            Driving into ditches? We’ve already got lane-keeping.

            Drive into streams because the bridge is out? There would be no confirmation signal for the presence of the road surface from radar.

            A hundred years ago you’d have been one of those people claiming that man will never fly…. ;o)

  • Ivor O’Connor

    About 9 minutes in the video becomes incredibly funny causing me to break out laughing. I was basically thinking about the interviewer. How he makes his money trying to ask questions his audience might want to know. How he might wake up in the morning thinking about be self-effacing while talking to people that are actually making things happen. When out of the blue this interviewer lights up with real interest on a topic that clearly is important to him.

    MUSK: It’s quite hard to do [make a bev] but I think companies like Apple will probably make a compelling electric car. It seems like the obvious thing to do.
    INTERVIEWER: Are you betting that is going to happen? You heard anything?
    MUSK: Well it’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it.
    INTERVIEWER: So you think Apple is serious about it?
    MUSK: Uh.. [doing his best not to roll his eyes and say what he’s really thinking] Yeah, I do. This is an open secret.
    INTERVIEWER: uh…. and will it be a threat to you or will that just expand the industry? [as the interviewer probably at some level realizes he needs to change the subject…]

    Hopefully this will be a life changing moment for that interviewer. That he now does his homework and gets on board with reality.

  • Bob_Wallace

    What’s the annual capacity for the single assembly line Tesla was running. 1.08 (roughly) lines produced 50,000 in 2015. Will 2.0 give them 100k cars or will they need a third line?

    AFAIK the Holland factories just put on wheels and stick in battery packs. The putting together of the other parts happens in Fremont. Seems like they’ll need a third.

    • Freddy D

      Didn’t they say in the past that the Fremont factory is good for 500,000? It’s an enormous facility. I have no idea how much of the facility they’re currently using. Plus they opened a casting plant in Manteca. And the Sparks facility will assemble final battery packs, correct? So for final assembly, the Fremont plant might have a lot of headroom.

      • neroden

        They’re using a ridiculously tiny corner of the Fremont factory — like, less than 10% of it. They were able to use the old paint shop while setting up the new paint shop.

        The decision to open the casting plant in Manteca surprised me.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Lathrop, not Manteca.

          (You’d need to have been there….)

    • neroden

      The production line was originally supposed to produce 20K cars on one shift (so 60K cars on three shifts). I believe they said that the second production line has higher capacity (applying experience…) but I don’t know how much more.

      The Holland factories do more than putting on wheels and sticking in battery packs…
      …but not much more. They do seem to open the frunk so I suspect they may be filling up the windshield washer fluid or putting in the frunk liners.

  • tmac1

    Great interview
    Now about the presidential requirement of being born in America .or having American parent???…. Ted Cruz Canada ….. Elon Musk South Africa ….. Can’t we make his mom retroactive Native American??

    • Doug Cutler

      Elon Musk is dual Canadian-South African with a Canadian mother.

      • newnodm

        How does being a naturalized U.S. citizen fit into that? Can someone have three passports?

        • Doug Cutler

          OK, guess I’m a little behind the curve. Musk WAS Canadian/South African but is now naturalized American.

          Even if Musk doesn’t qualify to run for President, he may yet be on track to have a profound impact on the world.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It’s not clear that Musk would make a good US president. One can’t run the US government like a CEO can run a corporation. The jobs take different skill sets.

            Musk is almost certain to change the world. Give Tesla a couple more years run and what we drive will change. We need a more affordable long range EV and inexpensive batteries. With the other Tesla innovations the car business will change. In a couple more years SpaceX will have taken space from NASA and commercialized it. SolarCity looks to bring solar panel manufacturing back to the US on a large scale.

          • Doug Cutler

            If not president, perhaps Musk could be made Secretary of Transportation when he gets a little older. Yes, weigh him down with lots more earthly responsibilities thereby inhibiting him from fulfilling his adolescent fantasy of being the first human to die on a new planet.

            Seriously, Musk is on record as willing to make the one way trip to Mars as long as he was confident in the continued stability of his enterprises. Personally, I find the romanticization of Martian colonization as very misplaced. In terms of humanity’s future in space, job one is first achieving full sustainability here on Earth. In this we still have a very long way to go.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Geezusssss. Here’s one of our most productive people of all times and you want to control his life?

            If Musk wants to spend the rest of his life figuring out how humans can live on another planet that’s not only his choice. It’s his right, he’s more than earned it.

            Now I’d prefer that Musk solved a few more problems here on Earth first. But he’s already done more than pretty much any other single person in recent history.

          • Doug Cutler

            I have not anything like your command of relevant facts but don’t I at least possess the right to let Elon know I don’t want him to die on Mars?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Write him a postcard.

            Actually I’m really interested to see what Musk’s next act will be. Moving to Mars is a lot of years away. I’ll bet Elon has a few more projects that interest him and we know he can do more than one thing at a time.

            I think he’s likely to continue helping Hyperloop. Not running it, but assisting. Maybe he’ll tackle battery powered commercial flight. Maybe he’s got ideas that we can’t even guess….

          • Doug Cutler

            OK, I’ll let Elon “retire” to Mars, but much later in life after he’s worked on the many great ideas you list . . . Mars where the cosmic radiation will fry his beautiful mind but alas . . .

            I actually think James Cameron may have the better idea: the next big move in space is asteroid mining not Mars colonization. The day humans can build a new radiation shielded space station from scratch from the abundant raw materials already present in the asteroid belt will be a tremendous step towards a permanent presence in space.

          • Ross

            He can be the first President of planet Mars. 🙂

          • newnodm

            The first one to grow crops……

  • eveee

    Ha Zach. I got 104,000. Wanna join the pool? Some want to make it official.

    • Otis11

      “Bob, I’ll take 104,001!”

      (Sorry… Price is right)

      • eveee

        Cool by me!

    • Karl the brewer

      I’ve got a google docs spreadsheet on the go. 5 or 6 on it so far.

      • Drop the sheet here. Happy to join. 😀

        • Karl the brewer

          Will tart it up first 🙂 Numbers taken from discussions here.

          • Jenny Sommer


          • Everyone is more bullish than me. 😀

          • Karl the brewer


        • Karl the brewer
          • mike_dyke

            I’ll say 110,000.

          • Zorba

            And there I thought my prediction was quite optimistic at the time. Will be interesting to see how successfully they ramp up the Model X this year.

          • Thanks. 😀

            I was thinking about what I’d go with, then opened it and saw that my number was already there and was basically what I was going to choose. Was thinking 80,000 (I think the X production ramp is going slower than expected), but 83,100 works for me… esp considering I’m the most bearish here!

          • Karl the brewer

            I pulled the figures from a previous discussion maybe a week ago so apologies if it seems presumptuous. You can always change as you are the boss :-/

          • No, no — I wrote it. 😀 And matches well enough with what I was just thinking again.

          • Freddy D

            Remember, Elon talks global numbers and here on this thread, we often talk US numbers. In rough numbers, about half of Tesla’s sales are in the US. If all they do is match another 50,000 Model Ss and make the same number of Model Xs in 2016, you’re there. Plus, I’d guess they already have that many orders for Model Xs.

          • eveee

            Try telling people who claim you are gung ho Tesla that you are the most bearish in our pool. LOL.

          • neroden

            You really are the most bearish. I am going to bet 90K — very simple prediction, 50K model S and 40K model X because Model X will be slowed down by the ramp-up.

      • eveee

        Thanks. I recall my bid at 104,000. You got my bid recorded?

        • Karl the brewer

          Yep, set in stone!

  • vensonata

    In another interview clip I saw, Musk talked about population and demographics. He thinks about these things. He used Japan as an example of declining population. He said “there are more adult diapers sold in Japan than baby diapers”. I sat pondering for some time. First, I have the impression that Musk is a fairly wide ranging genius. Then secondly it occurred to me that what he meant is, there is not enough young people to run the country and look after the aging (that means you boomers). And then I finally got the hidden message: service robots are necessary; the same tech as self driving cars and of course battery operated. Look soon for service robots by Tesla.

    • Carl Raymond S

      It’s difficult not to admire the way the man thinks. I like how he uses the word ‘compelling’ to describe Tesla’s cars. Compelling means enthralling and fascinating, but also means forceful and authoritative. I’m sure it’s a veiled threat to the auto industry, as in, “we will compel you bastards to make sustainable cars”.

      If you haven’t read his biography by Ashlee Vance, it’s a great read. He has some, shall we say, imperfections, such as the time he chastised an employee for taking time off to attend to his partner giving birth. The book shows Musk to be a much harder task master than he presents. My wife doesn’t like him for his relationship track record. In the main you come away feeling that the world needs this man; and you realise that if he wasn’t tough as nails, both Tesla and Spacex might have flopped. I hope they’ve taken a DNA sample.

      • “such as the time he chastised an employee for taking time off to attend to his partner giving birth”
        -Elon very vocally denied that.
        I’d personally take Elon’s words on the matter over Ashlee’s. Ashlee seems to embellish a lot.

        But agree with the rest. 😀

        • Bob_Wallace

          Ashlee had one incident which might or might not have been true. And based on this he builds a story?

          This smell bad.

          • His opening piece on Bloomberg to launch/promote the book rearranged events in a non-chronological way in order to drum up a lot of extra drama and some misleading parts of the plot, from what I read. Based on that, I’ve even been hesitant to read the book, since I’d rather have less knowledge than really warped knowledge.

            That said, Elon said the book was mostly true, but he very strongly rejected that bit about the employee having a baby. Who knows what the actual story is there. A joke that the employee didn’t get? A miscommunication? A disgruntled employee lying or making a joke that Ashlee didn’t get? idk.

        • Carl Raymond S

          Thanks Zachary, I didn’t know it was refuted, and I apologise for repeating gossip.

          Early in the book, Vance and Musk sit down to a meal and there is a discussion of editorial rights. Musk wanted to be able to add a footnote where he disagreed. I guess that was never granted.

          In my low-flying world, people who share a meal have a relationship, such that if one denies a version of events, the other does not repeat it. Seems the code of conduct is different for high-flyers.

          I did notice that Musk was quick to tweet about Vance over reporting of George Hotz’s ‘self driving’ car software. I wondered then if they’d had a falling out.

          • neroden

            It’s a bit different if you’re writing a scholarly book — then you get as many different versions of the story as you can and you print the one with the most evidence behind it, even if your friend denies it. But Vance seemed willing to print stories without corroboration — which is usually not a good idea — as well as rearranging (falsifying) the timeline, which is never OK.

    • Ross

      We probably need to be cautious about putting AGI in service robots. They might decide they don’t like changing human nappies.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      This insight might explain why he’s making his cars self-driving. The geriatric crowd needs them.

      • Karl the brewer

        And which hairdresset to visit.

        • Graphite Gus

          or `car, can you recommend a hairdresser, you know what i like`…
          i guess that the cars will be monitoring their occupants during a trip, and if they notice a sudden change in vital signs, would divert to the nearest hospital, and call in advance so that help would be waiting

      • vensonata

        Absolutely. I am not kidding. Those in their 70’s and 80’s are desperate for self driving cars, they will preserve their independence. The self driving car is a “service vehicle” as are “service robots”.

      • Yes, I think that is really on his mind.

      • Jenny Sommer

        And I was thinking selftightening seat belts for children so that the car can pick up the kids from Kindergarten on its own and can easily be belted in…
        Wrong side of life.

        • Ivor O’Connor

          I’d want ankle, wrist and neck restraints too!

  • Carl Raymond S

    Musk has been talking quite a bit recently. There’s this interview, another shorter BBC (I think it was BBC, with female interviewer in studio and Musk on line) interview, and also a webinar where he takes questions from several journalists. I listened to that one on teslarati here:

    All three cover much the same territory.

    In one he talks about who is liable if the car has a scape during a driverless (un)summon. Fault still lies with the ‘driver’, who has control to stop the vehicle via the key fob. It’s going to be a big leap, both technologically and legally, the day the car leaves sight of the driver. Tesla may need to form their own insurance company – as I can’t see how anybody else can accurately appraise the risks. If they have the safest car on the road, it would be a nice little earner.

  • RexxSee


    • Ross

      Worth the TV licence fee the UK population has to pay on behalf of the rest of us. 🙂

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