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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on December 22nd, 2019 | by Alex Voigt

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On A Personal Note

December 22nd, 2019 by  


Editor’s Note: Alex sent along the letter below a couple of weeks ago. He let us know about the big shift noted here and that he’d be publishing the letter on Patreon on December 15. I decided to let his letter stand alone on his page initially and then republish it here a week later. So, here it now is! Quickly, though, I will note that Alex’s articles on CleanTechnica, which have typically been in-depth, thorough pieces tackling a variety of major topics, have been very well received. He has received comments of support, likes, and retweets from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, among others. Certain automotive giants in Germany have also reached out in order to tap him for feedback on their own electric efforts. I am humbled and deeply touched to read the letter below, and I appreciate greatly what Alex has contributed to telling the story of this tremendous technology transition we’re in the midst of. The letter is, of course, much more than a letter to me. (I’m honestly a tiny part of it.) It is much more a superb (Alex’s style) history of Tesla from one person’s perspective and an intro into himself. I highly recommend it.


Open Letter to Zach Shahan at CleanTechnica.com

Dear Zach,

All of what I describe below would not have been possible without you asking me a question a year ago.

I want to express my personal “Thank you” and describe in this letter why this is not only important to me and my life what you and all your colleagues at CleanTechnica are doing but also and much more for an ecosystem of people who make a shift in theirs, often sacrificing a lot to help the world to do better.

The work you guys are doing is much more important than you may consider it to be.

Small changes in life can trigger big unexpected shifts. It’s like the path in the forest you decide to take that leads you to new opportunities you never imagined before. It’s like deciding whether to take the blue or the red pill, both having their advantages and irreversible consequences.

After a longer thought process consulting family, friends, and my supporters, I decided for a new personal path and took one of those pills, and with it I made the decision to resign from my secure and very well paid, safe job to dedicate starting in December all of my time, passion, and energy to support the mission of sustainable transportation.

My journey in life that led to this very moment started in 2010 with a funny coincidence. The first Tesla showroom in my region opened in the mall my fitness center moved into. Therefore, I passed a few times a week the original Roadster and started to think about it and Tesla.

In those days, I was looking for the next large disruption to invest into early, and given my legacy as a person who always believed in the value (for humankind) of protecting our nature as heritage and as the largest value and beauty we have on earth, I decided to investigate BEV technology more profoundly. When I did my due diligence, I concluded in a long thought process that the moment may have come in which you could actually make money by investing in green tech. Though, I still had many more open questions than answers.

To be frank, I started to discuss battery technology with engineers and friends of mine back in the year 1990 having heard first about recuperation technology, but I was undecided for about two decades if the fuel cell would not be a better solution for the challenges the world is in. At that time, it was considered a topic for tree huggers that no one seriously wanted to listen to.

The concept Tesla described did find its path in my engineering heart quickly, understanding immediately the huge superiority of it on every level for transportation technology as well as the overall consequences on auto manufacturers along the value chain, down to the oil drill. I loved right from the start what Tesla did, but also had many critical questions about the likelihood of a small new automaker to succeed against Big Auto — if they had enough financial stability, developed technology, great management and mechanisms to defeat the hate and likely later competition. I pored over the question of whether that small company had the ambition to do the impossible. It was a true David against Goliath fight. Usually, though, putting The Bible aside, the big guys win. At least in the last 50 years, 60 Davids tried and lost against Big Auto for various reasons.

I liked the thought process and personality of Elon Musk the first minute I heard and read about him, as all he said made total logical sense to me, and after reading the biography written by Ashlee Vance I knew that Elon was the one that would win, despite of all odds. The future of Elon and his companies was written in his past, and who was willing to listen could hear it loud and clear.

We are now in the year 2010 to 2013 with me not knowing that Tesla was almost bankrupt at that time and Elon in a severe discussion with himself whether to sell Tesla to Google. We know today he did the impossible again after multiple crises he had with Tesla, SpaceX, and his wife back in late 2008, not only keeping his companies magically alive but making them prosper and grow while getting divorced.

Brown Tesla Model S in 2015 in Amsterdam. Photo by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica

That was the start for me as an investor in Tesla, and despite following my gut feeling and interest in investing immediately, I waited until the Model S launch to start finally in 2015 to buy shares, but then luckily did so with the majority of my capital. Fact-based information was very hard to find in those days. There was a lot more from the media and analysts explaining that the company was dead from the start and would never win, at best remaining a niche vendor for a few rich buyers or being bought from Big Auto if they did especially well. It felt lonely having been a Tesla investor in those days. At that time in my life, I had learned already an important investor lesson, which was, never listen to the media and analysts unless you have very good reasons to do so.

In order to have more information about the small company everybody called me nuts to invest in, I came across a US forum called Tesla Motors Club in 2016 and read posts without participating/writing for a while, until I subscribed in 2017 and started first publishing careful posts. I mean, seriously, what do I know and who am I?

To my personal surprise, my German points of view and thoughts, partly about German auto companies I have been proud of and angry at in the same moment, were appreciated and welcomed from that small community of BEV nerds who spent their free time in front of a computer to run heated discussions about Tesla, technology, and automakers. I also found the insights and controversial discussions very helpful to better evaluate if my investment was a smart or stupid one. At that time, I learned a ton from people much smarter than me.

After having written more often, and longer analytical pieces that earned for me surprising approval ratings from people knowing much more than me, I was approached from you, Zach, if I would be willing to write an article about my conclusions to be published at CleanTechnica. I am not sure if you ever realized that it took me a long time to respond to your question, and the reason for it is because you did touch a vulnerable point without knowing. Let me explain.

Already in elementary school, teachers almost urged me to consider a career as a writer, which kind of embarrassed me to answer in front of the entire class, and they actually did so repeatedly, but with the years my passion for writing remained, as well as the belief that you won’t make any serious money in that line of business. Money never meant much to me, having been born in a family that never had any, but I didn’t have a role model to really develop into a writer, author, or journalist, while reading sometimes a book a day, and therefore it was not a valid option at that time for me.

Instead, my path led me over many years into different other professions, like two educations in glassblowing, where I learned English while producing in the workshop, a 7 semester university degree in machining engineering without having any clue of mathematics, consulting in which I learned you can work on 4 hours of sleep for a while, and later B2B strategic software sales with deals in the three-digit millions, where I was directly exposed to many top managers from the largest companies in the world as well as Silicon Valley software billionaires.

An important influence in my life and mostly forgotten forward thinker for renewable energy was my uncle Prof. Dr. Hans-Christoph Binswanger, a friend of my family and one of the smartest people I met who worked at the University of St.Gallen in Switzerland teaching already in the 1970s that if we did not adjust a cost to the raw materials we take from the earth as if they are for free and adjust that cost to our products and services, we will never be able to find a sustainable balance with nature and will destroy the basis of life in the mid or long term. He never had a car and traveled with public transportation, mainly trains, literally everywhere and made a severe impression on me with uncounted books and publications. Many large corporations asked him to present as a keynote speaker in the ’90s and later while they enjoyed the show but continued polluting the environment until today.

In other words, we are by far not the first ones who argue with the media, oil and gas, or the auto industry. The controversial discussion we are in has a long history going back far more than a generation.

So, in short when you asked me if I wanted to write an article for CleanTechnica, I felt put back in time somehow, sensing that this tiny piece may change more than I wanted to or was ready for, and I know now it did. I was thinking then about writing just one article, though, based on your request, but after it was finished, I realized I was not finished yet and had to say just a little bit more, which was the moment I wrote “A wake-up call for Germany,” which caused an unexpected positive reaction followed by additional articles. I somehow could not stop writing, and although thinking each time, “this is the last one,” encouraged by comments, likes, and retweets — even from Elon Musk — on Twitter, I actually wrote about one article per month in 2019, astonished about a growing audience following my modest thoughts posted on Twitter. And felt like this was getting somehow out of my control.

To my surprise, people asked me about my opinion and advice. I always thought, although being a German engineer by education, I have not really a lot of knowledge about the automotive industry because I never worked for it despite some smaller engagements as a consultant, so what do I know? Admittedly, my +20 years of experience in supply chain management and analytic skills helped me to find some “seeds of truth,” which as well as many of my thoughts, assumptions, and predications turned out to be accurate and correct in the aftermath. The German saying for that is, “even a blind chicken finds a corn from time to time,” but I had to admit I did find some more corn than expected.

I realized in those days that I did and still do about 3 hours of Tesla and BEV research a day, for years now, which feels like one hour, and while my normal job that paid for my bills suffered, I also realized that all of my motivation and passion was with what I called my hobby, and between the workload of the two, I personally suffered, too. It’s been an unsustainable situation. Not having been able — because of the lack of time — to write about what I call important topics was almost like a physical pain to me. Therefore, the thought that I needed to find a way to make my hobby a profession started — first small, but it grew.

Interestingly, I was approached over time from large German and international automakers who either read my thoughts or talked to people who did, starting to ask for advice — while I actually never approached anyone or offered any services. It is a chain reaction, where one stone after the other drops magically — me just watching in disbelief. For confidential reasons, I can’t be more specific than that, but interesting things are happening these days and it looks like my journey in that new adventure just started.

I am explaining all of this not because I consider my journey interesting to anyone, but I imagine many have their own story to tell leading to a similar result, and we all meet somehow in this community trying to make the world a better place to live in.

Without me daring to lift my head out of my safe rabbit hole in 2018, motivated by your request, expecting actually that fellow Germans would likely burn my car and house down or spit at me on the street once I expressed my disappointment about the German auto industry, I realized that all our restrictions in life are just existing in our imagination and you can be what you want to be if you just decide to, and much more important, I am not the only one.

Many people talk about Tesla, but not a single one about the ecosystem of companies that has been founded around it and in the shadow or light of that astounding success story, including the large group of people who found a new meaning in their life by following their gut feelings and passion to support a mission that is good at heart with their own small companies, educating and informing people who don’t have time to read and analyze hours and hours and draw the right conclusions to find a grain of truth in a world of confusion.

I believe to be able to talk on behalf of many people that CleanTechnica is not only one of those companies that grew and prospered with an impressive inspiring story but also an incubator for many author, writer, YouTubers, and podcasters, inspiring all of us to be bold and find our way, and I congratulate you for, be it directly or indirectly, helping us all with our mission and passion.

Mine is clear now. I will continue to try to find a grain of truth, worth publishing in CleanTechnica and in the German website Elektroauto-news, and start to develop additional valuable content for my readers, including new forms of it, like a condensed weekly analytical paper and maybe even a podcast of my own.

On top of these things, I have accepted the request from the German auto industry to give strategic advice, and as you can imagine, I won’t be able to give more information than that. Finally, I will have time now for the long-expressed invitation from Tesla’s management for a site visit in Fremont as well as GF1 in Sparks, Nevada, and exciting events like the Tesla Battery & Drivetrain Day scheduled sometime in Q1 2020.

Since I have been a successful investor in the stock market for the last 3 decades and my work around Tesla started from a due diligence perspective, I may even start to shed some light on my investment thesis and decisions from the past, now and moving forward.

In order to make all of this content accessible to a large audience, and given that usually my thoughts are expressed in pretty long articles — editors like you, Zach, said they tried to shorten but couldn’t really — and while Twitter does limit me to a poor 280 characters, I will make all my content accessible on Patreon.com, where I welcome everybody interested to join if you feel what I offer is of any value to you.

Having said that, everything did start with you asking me to write an article on CleanTechnica back in 2018 and everything unfolded from there in a chain reaction without me even asking for it, and I want to Thank you for doing what you are doing, as I am delighted to see what’s happening not only in my life but with many others too.

It feels great to be a part of this and I hope I could express thoughts I believe many others are having but did not have an opportunity to express.

Thanks again and keep going.
Cheers, Alex 
 

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About the Author

Alex Voigt has been a supporter of the mission to transform the world to sustainable carbon free energy for 40 years. As an engineer, he is fascinated with the ability of humankind to develop a better future via the use of technology. With 30 years of experience in the stock market, he is invested in Tesla [TSLA], as well as some other tech companies, for the long term.



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