As our natural ecosystem edges ever closer to disaster, and even as some scientists are warning us that it’s already too late, ideas about responsible energy use and conservation are finally edging their way into the mainstream. More and more, our political leaders are making big statements about green issues, if they remain a disappointingly fringe policy for all but the most dedicated groups; but small pieces of legislation to protect our environment are sneaking through in the States and beyond.
Whilst many of the big industrial businesses are directly affected by such legislation, most tend to view it as an exercise in clipping their wings. Rather than an opportunity to be embraced, green policies are endured unwillingly by many big businesses, while others make token gestures to create a meaningless sense of good publicity. Conversely, if some small start-ups and independent entrepreneurs are working hard for a better future for our planet, one of the few ‘big boys’ to stand out in this field is the electric car designer and manufacturer Tesla Motors.
If humankind and the various species with whom we share the planet are to prevail, we’re going to need a lot more of Tesla’s kind of inventive, proactive thinking. Elon Musk and his team are providing a great model to other business leaders, but the journey hasn’t been easy. Let’s take a look at some of the elements of Tesla’s game that have helped them achieve a $4bn annual turnover while making serious headway in the efforts to curb our misuse of natural resources.
Elon Musk doesn’t quit. As he has stated himself, when he promises something, he delivers, even if it’s not always on time. The early days of Tesla Motors were fraught with false starts – some of them quite literally. In a review of their Roadster model – the first electric ‘supercar’ – the vehicle was shown to apparently run out of juice after just 55 miles and was pushed to its garage. Tesla claimed this was a set-up, sued the BBC for libel – and lost.
The Roadster was not a success. Every car sold before the midpoint of 2009 cost more to make than its asking price. “This car, even though it met all regulatory requirements, it was completely unsafe, broke down all the time and really didn’t work,” Musk later reflected. All the same, Tesla kept their eye on the long game, invested, innovated, and even managed to pay off a $465m government loan nine years early.
Before Tesla, even the most environmentally aware of drivers would be forgiven for turning their nose up at the prospect of driving an electric car. You would not have been faulted for thinking of electric cars as slow, expensive and inconvenient. Since 2012, the cars that have followed Tesla’s retired Roadster have silenced these doubts one-by-one. The Model S can hit 0-60mph in just two and half seconds. It takes just half an hour to charge it up at one of Tesla’s Superchargers – which can now be found on well over 600 sites across the world.
And it now costs something like six times as much to top up an old-fashioned gasoline-powered car as it does to fully charge a Tesla. Frills such as the ‘Summon’ mode on the Model S – the facility to order the car to drive itself to your door from your smart phone – are not strictly necessary, but add a futuristic feel to the cars that will help them edge fossil fuel vehicles out of the market.
Now they’re such a big deal, you might expect Musk and his team to sit back and enjoy the ride. But every success from Tesla Motors only drives them on to innovate further. They tell us we’ll have driverless Tesla cars by 2018, which is another excellent sign that they plan to stay ahead of the traditional motor industry. They also have a minibus on the way, and we can only hope this is the start of a similar revolution in road transit for bigger groups. Imagine all those fume-chugging school buses and, eventually, regular buses that might be taken off the road. Their Powerwall is a solar-powered home battery that can be used to charge their cars too. Which brings us to their peerless investment in…
Responsible energy is at the heart of what Tesla Motors do. They are currently in the process of building what Musk terms their ‘Gigafactory’ – a 5.8m square feet lithium ion cell manufacturing plant that will bring 6,500 new jobs to the Nevada area. By 2018, the Gigafactory is expected to be making enough batteries to power half a million electric cars, and in 2020 they will make more lithium ion cells than were produced in the entire world in 2013. This level of production should bring battery prices down by 30%, which means producing a lot more cars for much better prices – which we can only hope will help bully some of the hazardous old dinosaurs we currently live with off the road.
Impressively, this mammoth set-up will be powered entirely by renewable energy and will have its own recycling system, which will not only have a facility for recycling old battery packs but will enable the plant to make batteries out of recycled materials (such as entire trains) to begin with. It’s no wonder the thing comes at a cost of $5bn – but other investors have been happy to step forward and become a part of Tesla’s vision.
You will be hard-pressed to find a business investing in responsible energy so exclusively and at such a scale as Musk’s Tesla. They don’t expect to turn a profit until the end of the decade, but their tenacity, vision and energy have seen their stocks rise by 1000% since 2010, earning a market value of over $30bn. As the story of our obsession with motor vehicles finally turns an important corner, let’s hope that Tesla’s rivals are paying serious attention to the effect of making energy-friendly innovation a core business ethos.
Infographic via Jennings Motor Group Click Image to Enlarge.