“Welcome,” he began, but a rousing round of applause forced him to halt his introductory remarks. “I feel welcome,” he smiled, looking around at the adoring masses.
Musk’s extemporaneous talk continued to be punctuated by applause from the Technoking Cult, which he reinforced by saying, “This is the best crowd.”
It was quickly evident that Musk relished the opportunity the annual meeting of stockholders provided. He intended to use the event not only to inspire the audience of investors who have become all-weather proponents of Tesla — he was securing his celebrity.
“The Tesla team has done amazing work,” he interjected as the audience calmed. Describing it as “an honor” to work with “such a talented team at Tesla,” he segued to announce a company milestone. “In the last few weeks, we made our 3 millionth car.” (Something CleanTechnica forecasted at right around that time.)
He projected that the company aims to hit a production run rate of 2 million vehicles per year by the end of 2022 and would continue building factories to meet those production goals.
The journey to get those factories up to peak production capacity, however, “tracks to mental pain, psychic damage” for him and others. The result of all the emotion and resilience has led the company to attract billions more in revenue than it has spent. “It’s very hard,” Musk revealed to the sympathetic audience. “This is a very big deal. I think this is going to go up from here,” referring to a mutual confluence of cumulative profits and investor satisfaction.
But the enthusiastic audience sought more of Musk love than vision. They yelled out that they, a Texas-based audience (the event was co-billed as Cyber Roundup 2022), must be his favorite of all audiences, right? He demurred with a shake of his head that he loved his bunch in California, too, and also complimented his teams in Germany, Shanghai, and elsewhere.
Full Self Driving — A Conversation amidst Controversy
He then turned to the topic most dear to his heart. Cash flow will rise by “solving autonomy,” he explained. “This year — I swear,” he laughed, catching himself in what has become a refrain of promises, as other Full Self Driving (FSD) release goals have come and gone.
Yes, significant architectural improvements will create more precision in complex left turns, he answered in response to a cat call from the audience regarding a well known YouTuber’s unprotected-left-turn adventures. Musk said he has “a lot of respect for valid criticism” of problems that have plagued the FSD research team. “I think we’re nearly at 90% success rate” for left turns, he remarked succinctly.
Overall, Musk was spontaneous in his speech and a bit halting, but nowhere was he more so than as he spoke about FSD. “I think it’s working well for me,” he stated. “We’re effectively solving some artificial intelligence” gaps, translating what is meant for human perception and eyes into a biological neural net and technological prowess. For the work to come to fruition, though, “we want talented people out there working on AI to work for Tesla.”
He analogized the progress of AI to the evolution of elevators, which initially required an operator to move between floors. But occasionally somebody would make a mistake and “saw somebody in half.” Eventually, the technology improved, to the point that they became automated and worked “flawlessly.” (Upon reflection, it’s likely Musk regretted admitting to deaths as a necessary component of innovation.)
The next day, the New York Times reported that California’s Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of falsely advertising its driver assistance technology in two complaints that could affect the company’s ability to sell cars in the state. The agency said Tesla had misled customers by claiming in advertisements that vehicles equipped with its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability programs were autonomous.
If the agency’s complaints to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings succeed, Tesla’s licenses to make and sell vehicles in California could be suspended or revoked.
Software & Hardware & Factories — Oh, My
Musk transitioned to discuss how Tesla has “the highest operating margin in the industry.” Largely, that is because it is “as much a hardware company as it is a software company,” he said, referring to Tesla as “an enormous cybernetic collective.” He reminded the audience that this is a perspective that few other companies take.
Musk used the annual meeting to celebrate the fact that “EVs take market share from” legacy car companies and gave a little dig to holdout automakers, who are now embracing EVs — “although, if you look back 5 years ago” that wasn’t the case. Tesla was different. Tesla knew if you made “compelling electric cars, people would buy them” in a kind of field-of-dreams for personal transportation.
The company is tracking to have the “Model Y be the highest vehicle by unit by revenue this year” and the highest by unit volume next year. The Model Y success is contingent on efficient factories. “These factories don’t just magically work,” he quipped, noting “we still have a lot of work to do” to spool up the two new gigafactories in Berlin and Austin.
“The rate of production is how fast you can solve the 10,000 problems” that arise with a new factory, Musk explained. Tesla’s rate of solution for such problems has historically been “fast.”
Playing to audience callouts about the location of the next Gigafactory, Musk laughed and took suggestions. Fremont is “already the highest output factory in North America,” he shared. “The Shanghai team is hard to beat,” he conceded to the Austin audience. “Ultimately, we will end up building, I don’t know, probably at least 10 or 12 gigafactories.” Musk envisioned that they will “really be gigafactories,” in that an output of between one and a half to two million units per factory is within reach.
The Tesla Triad: Electric Cars, Batteries, & Renewable Energy Generation/Storage
“Electric cars dramatically lower CO2,” he reminded the audience in a bit of a didactic turn. He described how battery recycling “starts off small but becomes” significant very quickly. When an audience member yelled about the need for enhanced battery recycling measures, Musk instructed that only about 50 batteries are recycled per week, as “the majority are still in use.”
The next steps for the company surround “scaling — what are all the things that are necessary for a fully sustainable economy?” Electronics and their specific elements need “articulating,” a Tesla quest that is being accomplished. “We just want it to be done as soon as possible.”
Getting a bit more reflective, Musk mused, “I meet a lot of people out there who have lost hope.” As had been the case through his remarks, he stopped to giggle. “Earth can and will be saved,” he assured the audience.
Recomposing himself, he returned to production successes. “We’ve also done a lot to simplify the structure” of auto castings, so that 171 pieces became two, and they became lighter and stiffer — “better in every way.”
Tesla has improved the layout of the factory, so that “the long term sustainable factor of Tesla will be manufacturing,” he explained. That high-speed, heavily-automated expertise will be “hard to duplicate” for other automakers, he smiled.
The Musk section of the annual meeting of stockholders ended soon afterward.
It was clear that celebrity is infused into his role as Tesla CEO. His role as influential executive swirls within a melange of unique engineering vision, polarizing public behavior, and zero emissions influence. He’s an icon who challenges the traditionally reserved voice of a CEO and, instead, sparks new versions of the American Dream.
His quest to save the world, though, is marked with controversy and questions, but angst about his leadership is often offset — as evidenced by his performance at the annual meeting/2022 Cyber Rodeo — by his charismatic eccentricity.
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