A black Model 3 races from left to right at high speed across a desert landscape, with a sandy cloud plume trailing. At sunset, the same car in another shot quickly veers left with a spray of snow as it oversteers into a high-speed bend. Two more shots of the same car with full throttle: stable, determined, moving with control in a straight line. It is a scene of speed and certainty, an important theme within the “Tesla 2018” YouTube video.
Tesla is a company that prides itself on accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy by offering the safest, quickest electric cars on the road and integrated energy solutions. A promotional video with the big picture title “Tesla 2018” implies that the 1:47 footage will capture the currency and vision of the company, which specializes in electric cars, lithium-ion battery energy storage, and solar systems.
What themes emerged from the video, and what messages do we take away after viewing it?
Theme #1: Production is a Delicate Dance of Human Workers and Robots
The “Tesla 2018” video can be considered as having three separate sections. The first section is all about production. In the initial shots, we see a “Proto 1” that spins with red Tesla brake caliper, signifying a performance version. A pull-back shot of the Fremont factory. Model 3 under cloth cover in design studio. Automated spot welding flashing blue on the factory ceiling.
But then the important shots of human workers begin. A white female, male of color, another female. Workers (female, male) paint a Tesla. 4 males of color in baseball caps and uniforms brainstorm and plan. 3 males discuss data on a computer screen. 2 males point to a schematic on a glass wall. A male of color analyzes a diagram with a penlight then looks upward to the camera.
The section recognizes and celebrates the human within the Tesla organization. At a time in which Elon Musk found himself humbly acknowledging that plans to increasingly automate the Model 3 assembly line with robotics might have been too grand, too soon, the “Tesla 2018” video devotes a significant percentage of overall footage to human workers. In 2015, Elon Musk claimed that there would be “3–4 times more robots” on the Tesla Model X production line. By 2018, he acknowledged in a tweet that the Model 3 pace was limited by choosing automation over workers. Then, in a May 2 earnings call, Musk conceded, “We went too far in the automation front and automated some pretty silly things.”
“Tesla 2018,” with lots of footage of workers at the Fremont factory, Nevada Gigafactory, and solar production facilities, reinforces the concept that robots do enhance production, but such efficiency comes at a price of human jobs. In a joint study conducted by Oxford University and the Oxford Martin School, “47% of jobs in the US are ‘at risk’ of being automated in the next 20 years.”
The bottlenecks on the Model 3 plant were due, in large part, to expectations of robots that were unfulfilled. While automation will continue to play an important role on cleantech assembly lines, it’s not the answer to every production problem. “Tesla 2018” nods to the important place of human workers as it struggles to find the most efficient mix of human and machine. It is these workers who will, we infer, increase Model 3 production capacity to their internal target of 5,000–6,000 Model 3s per week by the end of June.
A series of culminating frames follow. The Model 3 dulled by ceiling reflection. A blonde male wrapping his hands around the Model 3 steering wheel. A stationary Model 3 front quarter panel in dull gray that zooms across a factory floor.
Theme #2: Tesla Innovation Is Much More Than Today’s Catalog Of All-Electric Cars
Then the “Tesla 2018” video changes topics, offering glimpses of other Tesla endeavors.
SolarCity rooftop panels. 4 Tesla Powerwalls lined up side by side. A low aerial view of the Buena Vista Centro de Usos Multiples in low light with a single male leaning against an exterior wall. A male with yellow JUAPI vest moving toward and inspecting 2 Powerwalls. A Powerpack installation. Horses running across a snow-covered terrain in the foreground as the aerial camera zooms down to the Nevada Gigafactory, situated in a valley, surrounded by mountains.
And, yes, more robotics, as a reminder that what we’re seeing in all this innovation takes what’s being coined “automating intelligently.” Harvard Business Review argues that a real “Factory of the Future” will look different because companies will have invented “entirely new processes and designs” that require reimagined manufacturing techniques.
So when “Tesla 2018” features 2 males who collaborate in the foreground with bright yellow robotics in background, or a 2-story high robotic arm that grabs equipment from high and exchanges it to ground level, Tesla is reminding us that robots are the new technological normal, working alongside humans to fix problems in ways that fundamentally rethink the Henry Ford assembly line approach. That gestalt will introduce the sustainable and exciting future we want.
“Tesla 2018” includes a nod to the upcoming Tesla Semi, too. Headlights appear — first in dim shadow, then more defined, then finally revealing two separate shots of the Tesla Semi speeding down the road, one orange from right to left, one silver from left to right.
Innovation permeates the “Tesla 2018” imagery.
Theme #3: Tesla Sustainability Is Important … But So Is Speed
In the third and final section of the “Tesla 2018” video, a Tesla prototype, with vertical touchscreen and steering wheel reminiscent of a yoke of an aircraft, shoots down the road. The touchscreen is prominent and both driver’s hands are on steering wheel. (Read: This is correct Autopilot demeanor.) Then the exterior of what is now clearly a red Tesla Roadster is visible, zooming from right to left — with explicit hints that the Roadster will have this new steering and touchscreen.
In parallel to the Roadster speed, a fast-motion montage of Tesla assembly line follows. We note that the Models S and X are on the same assembly line. The assembly line is a choreography of human workers, which turns to robots in the automated paint shop covered in white plastic ministering to the half-born car, and finally with distinct orange robotic arms assembling seats.
A dozen and a half uniformed human workers stand outside the Fremont factory with arms folded in front; a Model S is nearby, speckled with military camouflage. 3 males (3 races) in dark uniforms fade to a new scene shot from within a Tesla design showroom. A dark Model X with falcon-wing doors extended open is on the left, a white Model S on the right. A half-dozen suit-and-dress-clad customers mill about the cars. Then, in timelapse photography, streams of Chinese customers come and go as they tour the showroom.
Next, in a complete mood shift, a blue-and-silver futuristic shot of the Tesla Model 3, surrounded in a halo of light and energy in the paint-drying booth, enters. It is followed by a Tesla Roadster at night, poised, waiting at a start light. “3 – 2 – 1.” Its red sheen appears as it accelerates. In the passenger’s seat is a male with camera in hand and amazed look on his face as the city shoots past. A total of 7 passengers (6 males, 1 female/ 4 whites, 3 persons of color) in various expressions of awe, glee, delight, and fascination experience the Tesla Roadster at race course speeds.
The screen flashes to full black, with only the red Tesla logo in the bottom right visible and remaining.
This final video section contains an extended metaphor of speed in all its elements — humans at work intensely busy on a production line, crowds of eager Tesla showroom customers quickly ebb and flow, the rush of the Model 3 on the open road. Tesla — like so many other auto manufacturers that preceded it — emphasizes speed by building ever more powerful vehicles and relentlessly appealing to potential car buyers to “get the feeling” of all that power — like the allure of the 1.9-second 0–60 mph time of the upcoming 2020 Tesla Roadster.
The speed we experience behind a Tesla is incomparable to the cars many of us first drove. If a 1976 driver were to somehow time travel ahead and sit behind the wheel of a 2018 Tesla, that driver would be shocked. Since those days, horsepower in the US has almost doubled, and the median time it took for an average vehicle to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour has halved, from almost 14 seconds to 7.
“Even with a weight of 5,400 pounds, the Model X is quick, with our 90D registering 4.9 seconds in the 0-60 mph dash. Moreover, the instant thrust proves gratifying anytime, anywhere.” —Consumer Reports
“Acceleration is outstanding and instantaneous. Drivability is excellent even before you turn on the semiautonomous features. It can’t hide its prodigious weight, but it handles like a vehicle that’s 500 pounds lighter.” —Edmunds
Sure, in 2018 Tesla has Autopilot, a sophisticated safety system that assumes control of the vehicle from the driver. Tesla offers the latest connectivity features and over-the-air updates. It’s fully electric, has proprietary charging, and is the hottest automaker brand right now, implying wealth and status to all who join in.
But Tesla has a complicated equation of speed and innovation, respect for those who have “brung us here” with the knowledge that technology is the reason manufacturing jobs are evaporating from the US. The “Tesla 2018” video asks us to consider multiple perspectives as we examine our love of All Things Tesla. Tesla is in the midst of a delicate period of technological change in which its enormous popularity invites tremendous scrutiny. The company is a new age celebrity, much like 20th century athletes and musicians — all of whom experience firestorms of speculation but also offer us glimpses into the rarest of human performances.
“If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic — being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. These are all things that would have been considered magic a few hundred years ago.” —Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Tesla is today’s magic.