Editor’s note: Apologies for inadvertent insensitivity regarding Kazakhstan. This article was scheduled and published before I saw news of today’s tragic airplane crash in the country (moments ago).
Since its founding, Tesla has gradually expanded into more and more countries — the latest count is over 30. The newest frontier is Kazakhstan, where the company recently installed several Superchargers. To Americans, this Central Asian country may seem far from the beaten path, but in fact it’s a logical addition to the Tesla empire. It’s a relatively affluent nation with a highly strategic location — if you want to drive from Europe (or Russia) to China, you’ll almost certainly pass through Kazakhstan.
As electric vehicles circle the globe, Kazakhstan was bound to get charged before too long. However, Tesla’s decision to make Kazakhstan the next on its list is surely due to the enthusiasm of one man named Anuarbek Imanbaev.Kazakhstan’s first Superchargers are now up and running at the Talan Towers in the capital city of Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana). The station has 6 Superchargers — 4 in the parking lot near the Ritz-Carlton hotel, and 2 in the underground parking lot — with a charging rate of up to 120 kW.
|Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Anuarbek sharing a laugh.|
Mr. Imanbaev’s story is a classic immigrant tale that in some ways parallels that of Elon Musk. He was born in Kazakhstan, and came to the US as a child on a government program. “My father was in the oil and gas business,” he told me. “It was a two-year program. One year we were in Boston, the second year in Houston, basically learning English, and we were supposed to take all this knowledge and go back to Kazakhstan. [However] my dad saw the immense opportunity for his kids in the US, so we ended up staying.”
“I went to the University of Texas at Austin, and majored in Petroleum Engineering, because Kazakhstan has a lot of oil and gas,” said Anuarbek. “I thought at the time that I might go back and work in Kazakhstan, and help my people. My dad raised us to be patriotic and give back to our people and our country.”
Anuarbek worked in the petroleum field for over 12 years, traveling around the world and managing oil and gas exploration projects for Anadarko. Eventually his passion for sustainability clashed with his career. “It got to this point where I just didn’t believe in what I was doing anymore, so I up and quit one day. My wife and I traveled around the world for a year and a half.”
Anuarbek wasn’t ready for retirement, and he soon found a new career. “At a Tesla Leadership Summit, I happened to sit next to Matt Holm, the president of the Tesla Owners’ Club in Austin, Texas, [and] one of the top realtors in Austin,” Anuarbek told me. The two soon found they had a lot in common. “[Holm is] very committed to Tesla. He’s throwing all these parties in Austin for Tesla owners. I just loved his energy. So one day I told him, ‘I’m going to quit my job — I’m ultimately going to move to Austin [and] I’m going to be partners with you.’ And I actually followed through with it — earlier this year we moved to Austin. So now [Holm and I] are partners in real estate and we’re known as the Tesla Realtors of Austin, because we both drive our clients around in Teslas.”
|Anuarbek and Matt Holm with Starman at Tesla’s Fremont Factory.|
Anuarbek, who describes himself as a natural salesman, is a superstar of Tesla referrals — he’s responsible for well over 150 referrals, and has earned 3 free Teslas, including a fully loaded Model X and a Next Generation Roadster with the SpaceX package (with rockets!).
“Not only am I sharing the Gospel of Tesla because I love it, but I’m actually contributing to the company by converting these people,” Anuarbek told me. “To me it’s like a religious experience.” He convinced many of his colleagues in the oil industry to drive Teslas. “When I left Anadarko two years ago, there were 40 or 50 Tesla [owners] in this oil company, and almost all of them were referrals from me, because I would give my car to people and say, ‘Hey, go drive it. I promise you this will change your life.’”
“I was going to car shows, and I made a business card [that said] ‘If you have a question about owning a Tesla, contact an owner for my perspective,’” said Anuarbek. “On the back side was my referral code. I passed it out to thousands of people.”
Anuarbek is now the Vice President of the Austin Tesla Owners’ Club. He has a YouTube channel called Tesla Geeks, and together with Eli Burton (familiar to attendees of Tesla events as Starman), he produces a weekly podcast about all things Tesla called Tesla Geeks Show.
|Anuarbek and Eli Burton’s Weekly Podcast “Tesla Geeks Show.”|
Anuarbek’s date with destiny arrived when he attended the Model Y reveal event with a group of about 10 friends from Kazakhstan, one of whom is a journalist and social media star named Zaure Rozmat. “I’m standing right in front of Elon Musk, and he said, ‘My dream one day is to drive a Tesla from London to Beijing or Shanghai, across Europe and through Asia.’” That would almost certainly mean passing through Kazakhstan. “So when Elon said that, I yelled out, ‘Kazakhstan!’”
Anuarbek’s friends cheered loudly, and Elon got the impression that there was a Kazakhstan delegation in the audience. “Actually, we have some great supporters in Kazakhstan,” said Elon. “We will build Superchargers in Kazakhstan. You heard it right here.”
|Elon Musk commits to installing Tesla Superchargers in Kazakhstan.|
Musk made good on his promise. He put Anuarbek in touch with senior executives at Tesla to get the process moving forward. With the help of his friend Zaure Rozmat, Anuarbek enthusiastically agreed to use their local connections to facilitate Tesla’s entry into Kazakhstan.
“I told one of the Tesla execs, ‘If there’s one person out of the 7 billion in the world that should be doing this, it’s me.’ So he starts chuckling, he’s like, ‘Man, I love your energy.’ I don’t work for Tesla, I’m an investor, but as a friend to Elon and to Tesla, I flew out there to help them out. I actually flew out there pro bono, and spent two or three weeks out there trying to set all the stuff up. We explored two major cities in Kazakhstan and looked at site locations for the service center and Superchargers.”
Anuarbek met with the Prime Minister and other ministers, and gave a speech in Kazakh in which he reminded the officials that Kazakhstan is rich in minerals such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt — the raw materials of EV batteries. “They welcomed Tesla with open arms,” said Anuarbek. “I told them, this is step one, getting the Superchargers installed. Then next year we install a service center in Almaty, the former financial capital. By the end of 2020, we’ll have Supercharging in a few locations and a service center, so Kazakhstan will be put on the map and [Tesla will] start shipping cars there.”
|Anuarbek Imanbaev hosts the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Askar Mamin, Minister of Innovation and Technology, Askar Zhumagaliyev, and Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the US, Erzhan Kazykhanov, along with Zaure Rozmat, The Steppe.|
Like Elon, Anuarbek is a guy who thinks big, and his ultimate ambition is to make his homeland a global EV hub. “I’m hoping Gigafactory 5 or 6 is going to be in Kazakhstan. Elon’s dream is to have this giant mine that has an unlimited supply of lithium, nickel, cobalt, the main elements you need for a battery, and right next to the mine he builds a Gigafactory. So raw materials go in one end, cars and products come out the other. You minimize the transportation costs.”
“Kazakhstan has the supply of all of these minerals,” Anuarbek told me. “Most people don’t know how rich Kazakhstan is when it comes to resources. That’s what I’m trying to explain to Tesla. The other part of it is that Kazakhstan used to be part of the Soviet Union, so the infrastructure for shipping cars, rail, and all that, is very robust.”
Imanbaev is currently working on bringing some high-ranking officials from Kazakhstan to meet with Musk in San Francisco. “You know how in Saudi Arabia they’ve been investing in tech companies like Uber, Lyft, and Lucid Motors. I’m trying to convince Kazakhstan to do the same — don’t just sit on your high horse right now because oil and gas prices are good. In 10 years, 15 years, if you want prosperity for your people, you have to be thinking about … sustainability — solar power and EVs.”
“Kazakhstan is a very rich country,” said Anuarbek. “There are people with money there. There are close to a hundred Teslas in Kazakhstan. And that’s with zero support, zero service, zero charging infrastructure. People are still buying these vehicles and importing them to Kazakhstan.”
Anuarbek pitches the Tesla connection to the Kazakh government as Silk Road 2.0. “They’re working on upgrading the roads between Europe and China, and it’s all going through Kazakhstan. I’m trying to motivate my country to really get into the EV space and sustainability in a big way. It’s not only electric vehicles. I really want Kazakhstan to commit to green energy, because ultimately, in 10 or 15 years, if the EV revolution takes place the way I think it’s going to, it’s going to affect the demand for oil in a big way. I can speak to it from experience, because this was my job.”
“And they love Elon and Tesla — as soon as you mention Elon in Kazakhstan, everybody gets excited!” says Anuarbek. “His celebrity is actually a huge benefit in this regard — he is highly regarded all over the world, for what he is doing. And I don’t know a lot of companies who have people that are that dedicated, that don’t even work for the company. I know a lot of people that work at Tesla, and they all believe in the mission and they’re there to help Elon do this. You also have owners and enthusiasts who are adamant about [supporting] Tesla — there are owners around the world, and that’s only going to expand and grow.”
|Tesla’s new Superchargers at Talan Towers in Kazakhstan — the history, people, and process that made it all happen.|
“So we installed the superchargers at the Ritz Carlton at the Talan Tower,” Anuarbek told me. “It’s the only LEED-certified building in all of central Asia. I heard that this was one of the fastest projects Tesla has done. In less than six weeks from signing a piece of paper, they shipped the equipment from Europe, and installed it. The Superchargers were live and operational November 13th, 2019. And again, this all started when Elon made a promise on stage at the Model Y event, and six months later it’s a done deal.”
Video and photos courtesy of Anuarbek Imanbaev / Tesla Geeks