Continuing our discussion of Tesla and David Havasi’s long history at Tesla, we took up where we left off, talking about early Model S days at Tesla. At the time that, Tesla had a gigantic factory in Fremont with almost nothing in it other than big, wild dreams and post-apocalyptic images of Blade Runner and The Highlander flashing through their heads as they looked across the expansive space. (No, it wasn’t the 1980s, but many of the Tesla staff in 2012 had probably come of age in the ’80s, and it seems the atmosphere in the nearly empty factory stirred up those images again.)
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David was brought onboard by George Blankenship, who was the architect behind Apple stores and The Gap before jumping into his VP of Design & Store Development role at Tesla. We are so used to Tesla stores now that they may seem like nothing special, but they shattered the auto industry mold by following that Apple model. The goal was basically to be the opposite of an auto dealership — welcoming, warm, cool, and a place you just enjoyed visiting. (Side note: David completely matches those characteristics, except that he’s a human, not a place.)
As David describes them, Apple stores were themselves revolutionary, something like “an art gallery and a petting zoo combined,” and Tesla replicated that feeling of premium, artistic, beautiful products being put on display but also, magically, available for touching and feeling and playing with. The atmosphere in a Tesla store is still something I love to experience. I’ll just go into my local store to see the eyes of wonder and excited tickling of inspiration that you can witness there. You can practically see into people’s brains as they let themselves genuinely consider buying a Tesla.
(At this point, we also had a bit of a chat about kids in Tesla stores, how much kids love Teslas, and how that relates to Tesla’s overall aim with the stores and the atmosphere therein. Then there was some discussion about people comparing Teslas to other vehicles in their class, about the different stages of tech adoption, and about Tesla’s leadership. To separate all of that out from the core of the interview, it will be in a separate video coming later.)
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Coming to David’s first time seeing Elon Musk, we had to go back to a time when there were about a dozen small delivery teams around the country. David explained that those teams were made up of people with diverse backgrounds who sometimes had to operate and solve problems in situations they were completely unfamiliar with. He noted that, for example, back then the company was so small and bootstrapping it so much that the delivery teams had to build the trailers for the cars (“build” as in “put together,” sort of like IKEA furniture). Finding people on the team with the right skills for each part of the process was like a game of, “What’s your background? What can you do?” They had to pull together skills and experience and combine them into something like a real-world, come-to-life scrapbook. David shared a funny story about doing that one long day and night.
Getting back to the post-apocalyptic Fremont factory, David talked a bit about watching early Tesla engineers work right on the floor there and develop Tesla vehicles, the manufacturing system, and more. That’s also where he spotted Elon Musk for the first time. It’s not a story of Elon doing anything crazy — or even anything at all — but it’s a fun little story that certainly made me laugh.
The best part of this portion of our interview series, though, related to the head of manufacturing at the time and the final product his delivery team created one night. You just have to watch the video or listen to the podcast for the ending of this episode of “Tesla Inside Out.”
Side note: David and I will be the featured entertainment at a coming Tesla Florida Enthusiasts event on November 24 in Sarasota, Florida. Join us if you can!