YouTube tech addict Marques Brownlee, also known as MKBHD, recently sat down with Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the Tesla Fremont factory to talk shop. Topics for the brief interview were scattered across the Tesla spectrum and it was clear the two had fun talking about something they’re both excited about — Tesla’s tech.
How To Build A Brand
Marques has built a brand for himself as a YouTube product reviewer out of his passion for technology. in the interview with Elon, he probed into what makes a Tesla vehicle tick. Elon responded in kind, sharing that Teslas have been crafted to be products that people obsess over, that people love.
Elon shared that, “The key is to have a product that people love. If they are at a party or with friends, they’re going to talk about things they love.” Creating products that speak for themselves gets people talking about them and that creates momentum in the form of word of mouth. That, Elon shared, has been Tesla’s strategy all along.
To achieve its goal of truly accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy through electrified transportation, energy storage, and solar generation, Tesla products would have to be so much better than the competition that they were completely set apart. They would have to represent the pinnacle achievement in automotive design.
Design has been the cornerstone of Tesla’s products from the beginning, and as it has grown and matured as an auto manufacturer, it has continued to hone that design aesthetic. The Tesla Model 3 and the company’s next-generation Roadster concept both represent the crowning achievements of that design philosophy. The followings they have already earned speak to Tesla’s success in that regard.
Tesla also stands out from the competition with its prices — its prices are set and the company does not change or offer discounts to anyone for any reason. Elon shared with MKBHD that he even pays full price for all of his cars. That said, we have talked with several employees about how Tesla does find good prices for employee vehicles thanks to price reductions on its Model S and X leases, something which does keep its “no discounts” policy intact but also provides employees with good deals.
Model 3 Trade-Ins
The conversation shifted to a topic our own Zachary Shahan brought up on the recent Tesla quarterly conference call — conquest sales. Tesla has seen the most trade-ins for its Model 3 coming from surprisingly inexpensive vehicles, with the Toyota Prius topping the list. I traded my Prius in for a Model 3, so the connection is extremely logical to me. I was chasing my ideals from the environmentally friendly, long range, affordable Prius to the Model 3, which represented all those same ideals but with a smaller environmental footprint.
Marques also used this platform to ask about Tesla’s timing of an even more affordable $25,000 vehicle that could compete directly with the Toyota Prius on price at the register. Elon shared that the key to continuing to drive the cost of Tesla products down was indeed scale. Tesla is still learning how to design and build one new car at a time, while mainstream automotive manufacturers are able to parallel path a dozen or so cars at a time.
As Tesla continues to scale its design and production operations, this will drive more volume and allow it to produce more cars at even lower price points. We’re seeing this trend realized today as Tesla has essentially used the higher trims of the Model 3 as a $50,000+ stepping stone down from the $70,000+ Model S on the way to what looks like a profitable $35,000 Model 3 at the end of this year. A $25,000 Tesla has been talked about off and on, but with the Tesla Roadster, Tesla Semi, Tesla Pickup Truck, and Tesla Model Y all fighting for resources in the coming years — stacked on top of Tesla’s push into new global markets with new Gigafactories in Shanghai and Western Europe — it’s clear that a $25,000 Tesla is at least 5 years out.
Zero To Sixties
Marques was one of the first non-Tesla employees, if not the first, to drive a Model 3 Performance build with the elusive, exclusive “Track Mode” enabled, so it’s not surprising he was eager to steer the conversation to the performance of Tesla’s vehicles. Elon opened up in response to the inquiry, noting that Track Mode will be more than just an on/off setting and will contain a number of user-adjustable settings.
“With Track Mode, we wanted to open up a bunch of settings. It’s kind of like an expert user mode and you can sort of adjust traction control, adjust, like, battery temperature, braking — you can basically configure a bunch of things. And it will tell you ‘if you do this, it’s a bit risky.’ Like, ‘you’re going to wear out your brakes sooner’ [or] ‘you might blow a circuit,'” Elon shared.
The fact that Tesla is working to give users access to settings that could potentially even break the vehicles is interesting until you realize that this is the same access users have to internal combustion vehicles simply by popping the hood. The only difference is that, with electric vehicles, it’s all software, so instead of popping the hood and changing out the intake manifold, all of the settings and adjustments are right there on the 15″ touchscreen. Crazy.
That’s not to say that hardware upgrades aren’t coming in the future for Teslas, because that is already starting to happen, but getting access behind the curtain, if you will, and directly from Tesla is an exciting step forward that one can only hope stretches beyond just the Performance builds of its vehicles to the rest of the Tesla stable.
They had some fun conversation about the next-generation Roadster, touching on its mirrorless design. Mirrors continue to be massive aerodynamic drags on vehicles, accounting for as much as a 5% efficiency loss according to Musk. The Roadster prototypes are mirrorless, but it is clear that there is no path forward for Tesla with regards to a mirrorless Roadster at this point.
Eliminating the mirrors from the vehicle would require regulatory changes. My money is on Tesla pursuing the elimination of mirrors through Full Self Driving vs independent changes to the regulations that require them in the first place. Time will tell how this plays out, but for now, mirrors will continue to be a drag.
How Elon Spends His Time
Elon shared with Marques that he spends much of his time in engineering and design meetings at the factory while at Tesla. That has been heavily weighted towards production in recent months as Tesla has been on an insane push to ramp up Model 3 production. A recent profile by Wired alluded to this as well, noting that Elon likes solving problems. That’s really where he’s having the most fun. It noted that he tends to oscillate between small, daily problems and the larger, macro problems of climate change, traffic, and the like.
Both are manifestations of his engineering mindset and serve to tie daily operations and the engineering requirements of automotive design and production with his missional objective to save humanity from itself.
MKBHD In Automotive
Marques cut his teeth on technology-related interviews and has built a bridge into covering automotive tech over the last few years. I sat next to him at the original Faraday Future reveal event at CES in 2016, where FF surprised the world with its batmobilesque FFZERO1 concept.
The transition makes a ton of sense as automakers increasingly look to consumer devices like tablets, phones, and computers for inspiration for their user interfaces. The intersection of technology is at its peak in electric vehicles, as they push the boundaries of technology and regulation to define the future of the connected, autonomous, shared vehicles that will move us around in the not-so-distant future. Tesla is helping to move that cause forward and Marques has been tracking its progress over the last few years.
Marques purchased a Tesla Model S P100D — which he used in his winning entry into Tesla’s Project Loveday contest last year. More recently, Marques took Tesla’s Model 3 Performance build out onto a deserted airstrip for some time peeling around the makeshift track in what became the world’s first glimpse at the Model 3 Performance’s Track Mode.
If you haven’t already done so, we encourage you to watch the full interview.
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