I recently met a gentleman named David Havasi while charging our Tesla Model 3 at a ChargePoint station at a Whole Foods I frequently visit. He recognized me from CleanTechnica and I quickly learned he worked at Tesla for 7 years, until just recently. We got talking, talking, talking, and talking. I wasn’t sure if he’d be camera shy to repeat some of what he told me (or more) on camera, but it turned out he very much wasn’t shy — he had actually worked on Broadway before working at Tesla!
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To kick off our first on-camera interview, I got some background on David, which included being raised by a professional Detroit gearhead. His dad had actually been instrumental in designing the now dominant crossover vehicle style, which David humorously relayed was an odd-sounding idea when his dad excitedly explained it to him many years ago.
From that gearhead background and a deep passion to help protect our climate and environmental resources, when David found out about the AC Propulsion tzero (read our exclusive, fascinating piece on the tzero if you haven’t done so yet) in 2003, and then soon after that the Tesla Roadster, he got super excited about electric vehicles. (David’s Broadway background was kicking in well at this point, helping to animate the history — I recommend watching.)
Interestingly, David noted that it was the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that really pushed him to get into the industry, that pushed him to try to get a job at Tesla. This was in 2010. With such a wild few years (for Tesla and politically), it seems like lifetimes have passed since then, but that was less than a decade ago. We discussed in a bit of wonder how far Tesla has come since then. Back in 2010, Tesla was almost unknown. A story about Tesla would be a short sidebar of Motor Trend. “Tesla clickbait” was definitely not a thing!
After a short side tangent about lingo from the ’90s and ’00s, David talked a bit about the early Tesla recruitment process and how he joined the Tesla team, starting with a meeting in Palo Alto in 2010 and then his eventual hire in May 2012.
He also discussed early roles at Tesla, and how much the unique corporate culture of “builders” and everyone being “ultra hardcore” led to its success. We talked about the culture changing a bit and how trying to retain the deep essence of Tesla is an ongoing process. “The ultra hardcore mentality can’t be an archaic notion from a bygone era,” David said. “We can’t become complacent,” was his critical parting message to colleagues when leaving the company earlier this year.
Getting back to 2012, he noted how empty and “post-apocalyptic” the Fremont factory seemed. (Update for clarification from David: “‘post-apocalyptic’ because of the remnants of the old GM/Toyota equipment that sat dormant in the vast, yet to be used, sections of the factory.”) Tesla was only using about 10% of the space, and David had some hilarious stories of riding bikes across the empty space from one side to another, including one funny story of seeing Elon along the way and circling back to spy on him again. We also talked about how much different the factory is today, how impressive it is, and my first big impression from our tour of the factory earlier this year: “The World Inside Tesla Is Completely Different From The Media’s Portrayal Of Tesla.”
One interesting tidbit David shared is that Elon and Jerome, in the past at least, required at least two incremental improvements to the car a week, from a manufacturing standpoint. (Also see: “Capital Efficiency: Tesla’s Obsession.”)
We got into a short discussion about Tesla Easter eggs, humor, and Tesla’s many literary and film allusions, including a fun story about Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest experiencing a “turn it up to 11” inside joke while test driving a Tesla Model S. David also noted a fun Monty Python tweet he sent out a while back that Elon Musk responded to and then Eric Idle of Monty Python also responded to. David talked a little bit about how the younger staffers at Tesla miss some of these references so well known to our generations, like “All our patents are belong to you,” which made me think of one of my recent joke articles, an article many people loved but others were confused by. In case you missed it, the article was “All The Problems With Our New Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus.” Luckily, David was a fan of the article and even called it poetic! He actually had some thoughtful philosophical reflections on the blank article. Admittedly, as off topic as that part of the discussion was, I think it’s what got us most animated and enthusiastic. That said, David is highly enthusiastic throughout the interview and definitely relayed more interesting and important stories throughout the talk. It’s worth a watch, so I hope you’ll now go click play and watch or listen to the conversation.
We wrapped up the conversation talking about elementary school enthusiasm around Tesla, Elon Musk’s role as a legendary historical figure, how the media narrative around Elon has warped the story of his life and business career, David’s first days at Tesla, and Tesla achieving “the impossible.” There’s much in there that can’t be summarized in text, but I think you now have a good overview of what’s in the conversation.
We have more “Tesla Inside Out” articles underway. We’ll publish the videos and summaries soon. Stay tuned.
Update: Here’s the second episode in this series: “Tesla Inside Out, Part Deux — Tesla Stores, Early Deliveries, & Seeing Elon.”