CAR interviews Tesla boss Elon Musk: why fuel-cells suck and future plans

Published: 12 February 2015

► CAR meets Tesla chief Elon Musk
► ‘Hydrogen is not the answer’
► Model X news and what’s next

‘They’re just so f**king dumb.’ I’m pretty sure Elon Musk is talking about the new fuel-cell cars just unveiled by Toyota and Honda, but he might be referring to anyone who thinks hydrogen beats batteries. 

Either way, he plainly doesn’t regard them as a threat to his Model S. ‘Why is this even a debate? They are ridiculous.’

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Elon Musk: not a fan of fuel-cells

Musk’s point is that fuel-cell tech is ‘bad science’. Why? Because you have to use electricity to create hydrogen from water, then you use that hydrogen to create electricity to power a car. Why not just use the electricity directly?

Nor is Musk fazed by pure-electric rivals coming from Mercedes, Audi and Porsche, among others. Instead, he lambasts them for being so late. 

‘The crazy thing is that it’s seven years since we unveiled the Tesla Roadster, and there’s still not a single electric car that’s not from Tesla that has a 250-mile range,’ he tells CAR. ‘Seven years! That’s mind-blowing. The goal of Tesla is to accelerate sustainable transport, so I’d rather the other car makers would go fully electric as soon as possible. We’re still a minnow. Maybe if we take some market share they’ll get more active making their own EVs.’

Tesla is about to do that. I meet Musk in Berlin, where I’m driving the new twin-engined P85D version of the Model S. ‘Demand is off the charts,’ he says. ‘Around 70% of Model S will now be dual-motor.’ 

Click here for CAR’s Tesla Model S P85D review

Tesla future model plans

The Tesla Model X SUV with its ‘falcon-wing’ doors has been delayed to late summer 2015. ‘I blame it primarily on myself,’ Musk says. ‘I get OCD on the details.’

Then, in 2017, the Model III arrives, with an entry price half that of the Model S, and volumes in the hundreds of thousands. Its batteries will be made in the ‘gigafactory’ Tesla will open in Nevada in 2016, which which will eventually make more lithium-ion cells than every other producer combined. 

‘We’re aiming for at least a 30% cut in battery costs. If we can’t achieve that we should be shot.’ 

Two new models, a ten-fold leap in volumes and the imminent ‘over-the-air’ switch-on of Tesla’s Autopilot autonomous-driving system (every Model S now leaves the San Francisco factory with the required hardware) is enough to keep Musk and his team busy. ‘Zero effort is going into anything else,’ he says.

Revealed: the new Tesla Cybertruck electric pick-up

Why Tesla collaborates with other manufacturers

There is more. In an extraordinary move, Tesla ‘open-sourced’ all its patents in spring 2014, and Musk now reveals that ‘at least one major car company’ is using Tesla’s own data to catch up with it. It’s also working with Mercedes on the electric B-class. 

‘And there’s a good chance we’ll do something with Toyota again,’ he says. ‘They just need to get over this fuel-cell thing.’

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features