Future tech gazing with the boss of Tesla Motors

Published: 24 June 2016

► We interview Tesla boss Elon Musk
► The next big things in the world of tech
► Musk discusses the Tesla model range 

‘Tesla’s goal is to change the world and accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. It is important for business to make more money than it spends, but there’s a higher purpose here. We need to make sure the future’s going to be good, otherwise a [bulging company] bank account doesn’t mean anything. 

> In the short to medium term, all our cash resources are focused on how do we increase volume and lower the price long term. It’s a huge investment and risk, in the [Nevada battery] gigafactory and the Model 3 [small car, below]. Ultimately we need to make a profit but that’ll take a while. Our aspiration for next year is to break even.

> What I imagine has happened with VW [in the diesel emissions scandal]: engineers were under a lot of pressure to make improvements, they ran into a wall of what’s possible, and after that trickery was the only option. What we really need is a fundamental change of system, like going electric. I hope the result will be to push car companies to accelerate their zero-emission vehicles. If I was taking over VW, I’d say we’re going to be the EV leader. That’s how you restore public faith. 

> If it were possible to build a long-range, affordable electric car right now, we would. Even after government subsidies, the Model S is still fairly expensive, so well-off people are paying for the mass-market car’s R&D. The money we’re making – or not making – is going towards the affordable car. But we need the gigafactory running to make an affordable, long-range, electric car. 

Tesla Model 3: the new, more affordable kind of Tesla EV

> I’m not aware of any battery that’s better than what we’ll be producing in the gigafactory. If a company thinks it has [a breakthrough], they’ll usually call Tesla first because we have more battery volume than anyone else. We expect to be producing the first batteries around spring 2016, but very large-scale production would only happen around the end of 2017, with the Model 3 (above).

> Technologically a fully autonomous Tesla will be possible in about three years. Then it will be up to regulators. They will want to see a lot of statistical evidence that in autonomous mode it’s safer than a car driven by a person. A new rule takes at least a year, sometimes three or five years, it depends on the region. 

> We want to have both engineering and production activity in Europe. It’s a fairly good likelihood we’ll have an engineering centre in the UK. Our focus right now is on Model S and X, we’ll probably start thinking about UK locations next year.

> Eventually the public will insist on a fair CO2 price: the environmental situation will be too serious for people to let it go. But inertia is so high: by the time it’s obvious in daily life, [there will have been] an enormous amount of damage.’ 

Tesla Model S

By Phil McNamara

Group editor-in-chief of CAR magazine