Elon Musk Answers Qs About Tesla In 2010: Rate His Responses

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Elon Musk isn't a man who minces his words--few people in his position get to where they are by being shy and retiring.

That means the Paypal, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] and SpaceX executive is always good for a soundbite, and there are quite a few in this Time interview from 2010.

Such a great deal has changed in the last three years, particularly at Tesla, so it's interesting seeing whether Elon's views from a few years back correlate with his companies' success today.

The questions, picked by Time readers around the world, cover a variety of topics, but Tesla is at the top of the bill.

Back in 2010 the company only sold the Tesla Roadster, but today it's very much another stage up from that--selling a car developed completely in-house, in impressive numbers, and having achieved the first profitable quarter in Tesla's history.

The interview leads in with a hard-hitter, asking Elon whether Tesla should accept government loans given his libertarian views--in other words, whether it's right using taxpayer money to fund a private company.

Musk answers in the affirmative, citing the current economic climate, but a few years down the line it's looking much better for Tesla than it has for companies that have failed and dragged taxpayer money down with them--Tesla expects to repay its loan in 2017, five years ahead of schedule.

The next question asks whether electric vehicles will really replace combustion-engined ones.

Again Musk is positive, suggesting that in 20 years, the majority of new cars manufactured will be electric.

Three years on we're no clearer to knowing how true that statement will be--it's unlikely, but difficult to say with any certainty--but things certainly look rosier for electric vehicles today than they did a few years ago. There are more on the market, for a start, and even more on the horizon.

Other questions quiz Musk's SpaceX project and his business accumen--but we want to hear what you think of his answers, given a few more years to reflect on them.

Leave your thoughts on the progress of Tesla and SpaceX below--and anything else you'd like to comment on.

[Hat tip: Brian Henderson]


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Comments (44)
  1. Is it true that Tesla Motors is subsidized by the US taxpayer for every vehicle they build to the tune of $45, 000USD per unit sold? If this is true then everyone should be in one this, get a loan from the government(chk), get subsidies for building a "ZEV" (chk), pay back loan with subsides money...Better than winning the lottery, because you don't have to pay the tax.

  2. ZEVs aren't subsidies, nice try though.

  3. @George: No, it's not true. Tesla has received a low-interest loan of $465 million from the Department of Energy, meaning it has to be paid back with interest.

    The problem with your calculation--even if you assumed it were a "subsidy" rather than a loan--is that it uses a denominator of about 10,000 cars. That may be the company's total production thus far, but it could be as high as 25,000 by the end of this year.

    That amount would have to be divided by the TOTAL # of cars over the life of the loan. See here for a similar critique of another such error:

  4. @ John Voelcker: I think he is referring to the maximum value of $35K per unit sold in ZEV credits+$10K in federal and local tax breaks/subsidies.

    Of course the $35K is only a theoretical maximum based on the penalty per failed credit ($5K) and the number of credits (7) the sale of a Model S in the states with the CARB mandate generates.

    Tesla is already factoring in a value that approaches zero over the next few quarters presumable because the ZEV credit market gets saturated and demand drops because carmakers come up with their own (compliance) ZE vehicles.

  5. Spot on Chris O

  6. ...So I hope you realise that the ZEV credits only apply to cars sold in the ZEV mandate states and that their value is fast approaching zero.

    I'm sure Tesla would gladly trade in this beneficial government interference for all the harmful government interference like the way dealer organisations increasingly manage to bribe state committees into changing the law to outlaw Tesla's most important marketing tool : the Tesla stores. That's currently happening in N.Carolina.

    You see, life is really not that easy for those trying to do something new. You might find some support but you will definitely also find a lot of resistance from the old regime and their cronies in government. Let the ZEV credit boon be a small compensation for that.

  7. Still a lot of profiteering going on in California, a bankrupt state.

  8. Tesla doesn't get 7 ZEV credits for each model S sold though. The most they can get is 4. They can't get more because the car in question needs to recharge 100 miles in 15 minutes or something ridiculous like that.

  9. This article couldn't be wrong, or could it? http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1083988_tesla-makes-money-on-model-s-35k-per-car-selling-zev-credits

  10. Here is one of the articles I read about what I was asking about.http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1083988_tesla-makes-money-on-model-s-35k-per-car-selling-zev-credits

  11. Just thought you might use this in one of your articles John, "Subsidies can also be in the form of low-interest loans."

  12. @Tyrone: Indeed. You may find our most recent article to be of interest:

  13. I think what Mr. Voll wants to point out is that there is really no such thing as a ZEV. To suggest that there is such a thing must require the cooperation of those wishing to sell a ZEV, those telling each other that a ZEV really exists, and a government willing to tax something that is non-existent. With the cooperation of these 3 parties the charade can continue and someone, enter Elon Musk, stands to make some money. Therefore, the seller is happy, he makes money. His employees are happy, they are employed. The State and Federal governments and the would-be buyers are happy because ignorance is bliss and they have been led to believe that a zero-emissions-vehicle really exists. i.e. tax it and save the Planet simultaneously.

  14. Are you claiming that when Tesla S is being driven, there is emission at its tailpipe?

    Do you know that ZEV, AT-PZEV, ULEV, LEV designation are all directed at tailpipe level?

    If you don't know it, then please refresh your knowledge base.

  15. More appropriate for me to refresh your database instead, Li. Just because the CARB and others have called something a ZEV doesn't mean it exists. The tailpipe for your would-be ZEV is simply off site. It is a lie of gigantic proportions to call a vehicle a ZEV when it's actually responsible for emitting more pollution than anything else on the road, including diesel semi-trucks. Show me the zero emissions source of your charging station electricity. Once you have that you will almost have a ZEV. Until then its more of a scam than Bernie Madoff's Ponzi Scheme. What is really disappointing though, is that reasonable people actually believe there is such a thing as a ZEV and are willing to trade in carbon credits. Absolutely ridiculous!

  16. @Tyrone: Are you familiar with the 2007 EPRI-NRDC two-volume study or the 2012 UCS study, both of which carefully analyzed the wells-to-wheels carbon impact of driving 1 mile on grid power versus burning gasoline in cars of differing fuel efficiencies?

    Those studies clearly disprove your statement that a ZEV is "responsible for emitting more pollution than anything else on the road, including diesel semi-trucks."

    I'd be curious to see the analyses you used to support your claim. Please provide links. Thanks.

  17. Hi Tyrone,

    "It is a lie of gigantic proportions to call a vehicle a ZEV when it's actually responsible for emitting more pollution than anything else on the road, including diesel semi-trucks."

    Do you have a reputable source for this information? We're always willing to look into claims like this in more detail if they turn out to be true, but equally we've seen plenty of similar claims in the past which turned out to be anything but.

    An electric vehicle producing more pollution at source than a semi truck does from its tailpipe seems to fall more into the "anything but" category, unless you can prove otherwise.

  18. @John & Antony, It is pleasing to find journalists who are willing to tread new ground in this discussion.

    The web is rife with information on various studies proving or disproving whatever those researchers wish. But, I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here. All we need do is find some generalized figures for pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants and then proceed in a logical manner. Environmental impacts of coal power, per The Union of Concerned Scientists are found here: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02c.html They have a pretty good handle on the pollution emitted by the average coal-fired power plant.

  19. There are more comments in this thread
  20. Continued,

    2. whether a "ZEV" is truly ZEV or not if you include its upstream electricity source depending on where you live and how you charge. I have 1MW solar at work and 3.3KW solar at home. I uses about 14 KWh of electricity per day charging my Volt, most of that are from work's 1MW solar power. My county's power is completely geothermal. I would call those source ZEV. So, you don't have a clue on what you are talking about.

    3. According to EIA, No new additional coal plant has been built since the 1970s and more are being taken off line. Currently, all additional electricity capacity are natural gas based. Until recently, EVs aren't even impacting the grid usage at all. More renewable power are added to the grid each year

  21. Cont. If you have 1 Million EVs driving on average 40 miles per day, you will add only about 0.38% to the Electricity grid per day. We are NOT even at 100,000 mark yet. Each year, we are adding more than 0.5% of renewable power to our grid each year. So, you can easily consider the additional EV load to be offset by the renewable.

    4. Whether the upstream emission or not depending on YOU!!! and how you charge. But at the point of vehicle, it is ZERO. Apparently, you don't understand that. Personally, I don't want to smell the stuff coming out your vehicle exhaust.

  22. XL, You were doing pretty good, especially with the geothermal, until you mentioned owning a Volt and lost all credibility. This one statement caused all your points to be forfeited. Did you do that homework I assigned to you? Test is coming up.

  23. Some dude wrote: "Here is another geared specifically toward those plants supplying California's energy needs: http://blogs.kqed.org/climatewatch/2011/10/19/californias-dirty-secret-the-five-coal-plants-supplying-our-electricity/"

    1. It would be smart to check your own source, 2/5 of those are out of date since we are in 2013 today. Maybe re-reading your own source would help.

    2. It includes Eddison power only. With the 2/5 coal going off line, its coal % will drop to less than 25%. So, as we are adding the EVs, the grid is getting cleaner.

    3. PG&E serves Northern California which has less than 10% of its power from coal. Where I live is ZERO!!!!!

  24. "What we have with a so-called ZEV is a vehicle for which the key may be off but the power source is still spewing out pollutants 24/7 "

    Those power plants are ON, regardless whether you use the power or NOT, especially coal plants. Most of them are so called backbone plants which hardly vary the load whether EVs are charging or NOT. In fact, during off peak (typically night time), many of those plants are idling. So, EVs are picking up additional slack in the grid actually helping the grid.

  25. " unlike diesel semi-trucks which can be turned off or on as the need exists."

    That is about the DUMBEST logic that I have ever heard. So, EVs are bad since power plants are on (regardless whether EVs are here or NOT?) But diesels are good since they can switched off? Stupid logic. EVs don't need charge if it doesn't go anyway either. You got some of the most twisted logic.

    "not what we will get when we add another 1.5 million “ZEV's” to the power grid by 2025 "

    Ok, Since you call yourself knowledgable (very questionable in my opinion), tell me how much additional power that 1.5 Million EV would need. I have done the math, have you? Here is a Hint, go to EIA.gov

    Now, look up how many coal plants have we built in the last 10 years

  26. Continued,

    After that, look up how many coal plants that we plant to build by 2025. Plus, how much renewable power we are going to add.

    Please do those "homework" before you come back and argue again. I am tired of "teaching" you...

  27. Okay, I am tired waiting for you.

    Here is the math:

    1.5 Million EV driving 40 miles per day (more than 80% of typical American daily driving or 14K miles per year) will
    require 12KWh energy per day. Assume 80% transmission efficiency and 85% charging efficiency (Very realistic and feel free to look up)
    1.5xE6 x1.2x1.15x12 = 25xE6 KWh per day (rounded up for you)

    25 Million KWh per day x 365 days = 9125 Million or 9.125 Billion KWh per year.

    Now, let us look it up in EIA.gov.

    Wind produced 119.7 Billion KWh per year in 2011. Solar produced 1.8 Billion KWh per year.

    That is a combined Zero emission production of 121.5 Billion KWh per year. 13 times more than what 1.5 Million EV would need.

    That is 2011 generation for 2025 EV.

  28. Now, let us look at trend:

    Between 2011 and 2007, Wind increased 119.7-33.4 = 86 Billion KWh in 4 years. Solar increased 1.2 Billion KWh in 4 year.
    In the same period, Coal decreased by 282 Billion KWh in 4 years. Not to mention that Geothermal increased by 4 Billion KWh in 4 years as well.
    Total renewable went from 352 Billion KWh to 520 Billion KWh.

    Now, if we even continue at 10% of the current rate (additional 21 Billion KWh Per year) in wind and solar alone, (That is 2.1 Billion KWh per year)

    By 2025, we would have added (2025-2013)x 2.1 = 25.2 Billion KWh per year in wind and solar energy alone and we only need 9.125 Billion KWh per year by then for EVs.

    You can cut that estimate by 60% and EV load is still covered.

  29. Why the condescending attitude? Everyone knows that 72% of statistics are made up.

  30. B/c anyone with internet access can do some quick math with EIA's data to come out with some "logical" conclusion.

    Or, I also hate ignorance. I believe that is the biggest threat to world peace.

  31. I don't like grammar errors but I tolerate it and hope that people will actually not belittle others aka bullying, which you seem to do on every comment.

  32. Bad grammer and bad spellings are way less damaging than lack of logical reasoning.

    We have beaten this ZEV/Coal power/EV/grid power topic to death on GCR. There is no reason why someone still "deny" the fact or use decades old reasoning.

    That person posted some link that has "expired" based on the content of the article...

    Lack of reasoning is far larger offense than bad grammer or bad spelling, at least in my opinion.

  33. There are more comments in this thread
  34. And you can rely on additional Geothermal trend alone to cover the 2025 goal.

    Now, to look it up yourself by source, try EIA's website.


    Doing some real research is better than making silly blank statement...

  35. Talk about a discussion that's jumped entirely off topic...

  36. You're right Keith. I suppose this article really struck a nerve with those both pro and con. It's only natural that, on this site, those in favor of EV's will outnumber those who do not favor EV's. Of course we've seen the majority wrong before and time will prove they are wrong this time. This link covers a bit on the original topic: http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/03/th-dirtly-little-secret-of-electric-cars-theyre-not-very-green/

  37. 1- Coal plants supply 32 percent of the nation’s electricity. http://goo.gl/tzKtl
    2 - Nissan Leaf cost $18,800, after $7,500 in federal tax credits, plus a $2,500 rebate in certain states.
    3 - Electric car 1000 miles http://goo.gl/lu8TJ
    4 - Electric Car Batteries Last 5 to 20 Years http://goo.gl/QoQ1H
    5 - Solar Prices Crash as New Super Thins Cells Use 95% Less Silicon http://goo.gl/07p6k
    6 - Model S achieves over 300 miles per charge, Tesla Supercharger refills over half the battery in about 30 minutes
    7 - Recycling Non-Toxic Battery Packs http://goo.gl/sgj49
    8 - Oil Subsidies & Natural Gas Subsidies — Subsidies For The Big Boys (Not For Society) http://cleantechnica.com/2013/02/07/oil-subsidies-natural-gas-subsidies/

  38. barely a week later and what does anyone have to say now about Tesla's loan?

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