For many Tesla followers, Battery Day was a mind-blowing event that was one of the highlights of the year, if not the decade. For others, it was not what they expected and was a letdown because no big new product was made immediately available and no new vehicles were revealed — no electric airplane, no Model 2, no electric boat. Most of the people I noticed complaining about Battery Day were people heavily focused on Tesla stock, and, in particular, the stock price dropping sharply the next day.
Although I found the question to be surprising, since I noticed a number of people asking why Tesla had the event, it made me reflect on their confusion and what I consider to be the answer. I also saw people questioning why Tesla revealed the Semi a few years ago when the company still isn’t even able to mass produce it. Tackling these together, I think the following are the four main reasons Tesla holds events like these. (Side note: I would also typically including overall company branding and product marketing here, since those may be the biggest benefits these events provide, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly expressed his disdain for branding — even the term itself — and corporate marketing, so I’m assuming those are not the things that stimulate such events.)
Going to be discovered anyway
In all of these cases, I think that if you look at what is revealed, much of it would trickle out to the public anyway, but perhaps not in a comprehensive way that tells the story or explains the product accurately.
Consider the Semi: Tesla needed to start road testing the Semi. If it did so without revealing the gigantic truck, there’d be all kinds of grassroots coverage of it anyway, all kinds of hype and rumors (some valid, some surely not), and a narrative that perhaps gets far away from reality.
In the case of Battery Day, Tesla is starting to ramp up production at a pilot battery factory. It also has a nascent (and unique) lithium mining operation planned or underway. And it’s getting into battery cathode production. Information about these things would surely leak out. That would lead to all kinds of speculation, some of which could very easily be harmful to Tesla and to its mission. Getting ahead of the leaks and breaking the news himself, Elon Musk was able to tell the story as broadly and with as much useful context as he wanted.
You could run the the various products Tesla has rolled out — whether that be the Cybertruck or the Model 3 — and see that Tesla generally started more public testing after the product reveal.
To show the industry where its headed in order to further its core mission
With many things Tesla, I think you have to remember Tesla’s mission. It is not a typical corporate mission, and it’s easy to forget about it and make incorrect assumptions that ignore it. Tesla’s core mission is to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. With the Battery Day presentation (and the Semi presentation), Tesla was pushing hard on the broader industry to encourage and pressure it to keep up, or to try to catch up. If Tesla runs away with some big advantages in battery production and raw mineral supply, sure, Tesla gets a competitive advantage in the market. However, the slower the overall market moves on these matters, the more Tesla fails at its core mission.
Elon Musk wants the auto industry to produce more electric vehicles, not just more Teslas. He wants the battery industry to produce more batteries in order to allow for the production of those electric vehicles. He wants the mining industry to mine more core minerals for EV batteries so that those batteries can be produced and put into more electric vehicles. If the world needs to urgently move to clean, sustainable, electric transport, all portions of the industry need to pick up the pace. Sometimes they need to be pushed. Sometimes they need to be pulled. Sometimes they need to be kicked in the buttocks. I think that Battery Day served that purpose, and I hope (and assume) Elon Musk consciously intended for the event to serve that purpose.
To attract the engineers and supplies Tesla needs
Elon Musk has repeatedly emphasized the need for more good or great engineers. There are only so many great engineers in the world. Tesla needs a ton of them. While Tesla and SpaceX are routinely identified as top workplace destinations for engineers, with Tesla’s growth and the many, many challenges it is facing, the company needs a constant flow of high-quality engineers to join the company.
I assume that events like this stimulate a large influx of applications from engineers — and other necessary professionals (we shouldn’t forget about them either) — and inspire an even larger number to start thinking about applying, or even to go into an engineering program at a university or elsewhere. Heck, these events make many people who really had little interest in engineering beforehand get interested in the field!
I said above that Elon isn’t that big into branding or marketing. It’s ironic, though, because he’s one of the best branders and marketers of the past century. I would say there is no question about that. Even critics will often claim that’s all he’s good at, that that’s his whole role. (I don’t think that’s an intelligent evaluation of the matter, but I think it does show how well he shapes the popular company brand.) One place that branding is especially valuable to Tesla and has been for a long time is that it puts Tesla at the top of the list of engineering dream jobs for many young engineers, and more seasoned ones too. Working for a company that is so focused on an engineering ethos is ridiculously appealing to driven, passionate, hard-working engineers — exactly the kind of people who make seemingly impossible things possible.
Because Elon is excited about it all and wants to share the excitement
Sometimes you have to consider the most basic of human desires. Sometimes it’s not about lofty goals or convoluted corporate strategies. Sometimes it’s just humans being humans. I think anyone who has followed Elon closely has seen that he loves sharing exciting, fun, inspiring things with others. When he gets excited, he wants to share the source of that excitement with others. I’ve seen it in so many cases that I think it’s beyond obvious. I rather strongly have this tendency myself (which is probably a good part of the reason I’m in the career I’m in), and it’s a typical human desire. We love sharing our favorite things with others.
When Tesla is building up a great product or manufacturing process, Elon gets increasingly excited about it. At some point, he has to go onto Twitter to tweet about it. At another point, I think he feels compelled to give a full presentation on the topic for the world to watch — or at least the millions of people who want to watch it. I would not be surprised if this was actually the sole reason that Tesla started doing these technical events (Autonomy Day and Battery Day). Maybe there are more nuanced objectives, like the ones I noted above, or maybe it’s just that Elon wanted to share exciting Tesla developments with more people. Perhaps Elon will comment on this article and let us know. I assume he will if it happens to run across his Twitter feed.
- The Secret of Tesla Battery Day
- Elon Musk: “Tesla’s Long-Term Competitive Advantage Will Be Manufacturing”
- Tesla Autopilot Innovation Comes From Team Of ~300 Jedi Engineers — Interview With Elon Musk
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