Tesla Motors: History, milestones and the Gigafactory with Tesla's JB Straubel

Mainly because Tesla is such an amazing team project. I feel there’s incredible privilege of going work every day with the smartest much of people that I’ve ever had the chance to encounter. So it’s a huge part of what makes it fun, what makes it possible to do all that we’ve done. And I also just it’s amazing to be here at the University of Nevada Reno and you know with a reception we gotten in Northern Nevada since we decided to move some of our manufacturing here as I think most you are where the GigaFactory has been incredible. And the other community has been so welcoming. It was so open and so enthusiastic for what we’re trying to achieve. It’s a far more than I think we’ve been expected. When we could have expected when we first came here.

>> Take a look at inside GigaFactory - Click here

Today I just want to give you a little bit of an overview of big-picture view of what Tesla has done. What we’ve trying to do and then also a bit of a view into how we relate to education. I think that’s an important part of this and especially being here at the University. It’s something I think that’s it’s critical to talk about and it will be a key part of how we plan to be successful and working both in Nevada but around the world, around the country.

So perhaps to get started, you know maybe a brief history and a reminder of what Tesla is all about. The company is incredibly young. It’s easy to forget that sometimes when you see the brand and you see all the sort of excitement about this. But the whole company is only about 12 years old. It’s only back in 2003 that we got started and we started with about five people. It was incredibly small team. It took us 5 years before we can even get the first product to market. It’s very quiet kind of anonymous time and that first product was a Tesla Roadster in 2008 and then it took us another 4 years of hard work before we could get the Model S to market.

 Tesla History & Milestones

Tesla History & Milestones

So there was a long history of building up before things started to really accelerate and this year has been probably our most exciting year. Today in 2015 we’ve had the launch of Tesla Energy early this year which will talk more about, the launch of Model X, much more recently and the company has grown to over 13,000 employees which again is amazing for me to imagine given that we were just twelve short years ago. And it’s incredible to pool of talent in it, that group of people are really making this all possible.

You can see some pictures of a few of the different sites, the Fremont factory, the GigaFactory.

I think the place to start when thinking about Tesla is what the history of batteries did. You know Tesla and batteries have been intimately linked together since the beginning of the company. And for almost a hundred years, the whole part of this century, Lead acid batteries, The people are pretty familiar with the same kinds in almost every vehicle on the road today to start it. Where the status quo that is what people experience with energy storage. And even in the late 1990s, Lead-acid batteries were the best batteries that people could find to make electric vehicles. You know General Motors making the EV1 – their best electric vehicle at that time. It was a phenomenal car, but had a really bad battery. And with Lead-acid the best you can do is perhaps around a 100 miles of range, usually less than that. You couldn’t get a good acceleration, you couldn’t get good handling because the battery was too heavy and fundamentally you couldn’t make a car that would compete with gasoline car head-to-head. The car was too expensive and had too little range. So it was in the early 2000 that Lithium-ion was a technology invented mainly for consumer electronics. And you know when people started carrying around cell phones and carrying around laptop that was when the desire for portable energy storage went to the roof.

 Industry First Lithium-Ion EV powertrain

Industry First Lithium-Ion EV powertrain

It wasn’t actually cars that created this sort of new desire, new pool for technology. So it was in about 2004 when Tesla first launched what became the very first Lithium-ion vehicle in the market. You know the Tesla Roadster was a brand new type of electric vehicle.

 Performance Electric cars

This was a car that nobody thought was really possible at the time. I can remember how many of my friends I would talk to and say: hey, we’re starting this electric vehicle company. It’s gonna be so exciting and they would come back to me and say oh you like a golf car or something like that. That sounds great.

Well, it took a lot of effort to change people’s perception and with Lithium-ion batteries for the first time, we could make a car that could handle, it could accelerate and it had enough range to compete with gasoline. The Tesla Roadster could go over 200 miles, it has acceleration that was go 0-60 MPH under 4 seconds and it really blew people’s minds about what electric was capable of. It showed in sort of a new generation of electric vehicles.
But with Lithium-ion batteries, it wasn’t enough. For the Roadster had a lot of limitations. We had to build that car around a chassis that was made largely out of a Lotus Elise. We didn’t start the Roadster from the ground up. We had to start with a car that we could manage to convert with a very small team in a small budget. We had to start with the Lotus Elise chassis and convert it.

However, the next vehicle we did – the Model S. When we started that, we had a clean sheet of paper. We knew we couldn’t make a car that could compete with gasoline without really doing over the entire equation, we couldn’t convert something else. So with the Model S we started literally from the ground up. It was an absolutely clean sheet of paper. There was no sort of pre vehicle that was based on and we really built that car around the battery pack.

Model S: Ground-Up design as EV only

Model S: Ground-Up design as EV only

This picture was basically what the Model S architecture looks like. If you strip the entire chassis of the car away and just sort of look with like X-ray vision into the car. That shape on the bottom is battery pack. That battery is sort of foundation for the whole vehicle’s architecture. That’s where most of the weight in the car is. So you can see that. If you have this car with all the weight far down, it sets up the whole equation for amazing handling, braking, all these vehicle parameters that you want to come naturally when you get this weight distribution right. It also let us have huge cargo volume and let us build a car that was much different than a converted gasoline car.

We also were able to address safety in a way that no other gasoline car could. The entire front of the car was free to become sort of the optimal crash structure. We didn’t have a big giant engines up front, we could make that entire front nose of the car absorb energy in a crash and that’s part of what helped us make the Model S the safest vehicle that had ever tested. It was a kind of amazing breakthrough in that regard.
Over all, we didn’t aim to just make the best electric car. With the Roadster, we had sort of making something that would shake up the market. But with the Model S, we knew to scale and to grow the company. We would have to do something that would be the best car out there. And we wanted to go and compete head-to-head with gasoline and be the best vehicle that the world had really ever seen in.

Tesla Model S

This was a pretty audacious goal here for a company that arguably had never built a car before. We were brand new team had no production capability and it was our first car. So there were plenty of people telling us this was an impossible challenge. This is too much to bite off in the first car and it probably wasn’t going to work.

But in the end, it actually did work and I think the ignorance of that team or maybe the inexperience of that team was incredibly helpful for us. We didn’t know what we didn’t know and we didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions and maybe electric car should be built or how car always have been built. Instead we just started it over and designed it from a clean sheet of paper in the best way that we thought it should be done. It ended up sitting most of the benchmarks. We won the motor Trend car of the year in 2013 which is very prestigious award. This sort of woke up Detroit’s and it woke up the manufacturers in Germany and they said well maybe that’s fluke and how do they do that.

And then this year with consumer reports, we were able to almost break the rating system: getting a 103 out of 100 points. Something that they had never been able to do before because every other vehicles on the road had some inherent compromises so their rating scale was set up around those inherent compromises. They never imagined something that could have acceleration in under 3 seconds 0-60 MHP – that is sort of Lamborghini and Ferrari acceleration. And then also we have almost a 100 miles per gallon of energy efficiency, on top of that the safest vehicles that they had never been tested. So it was sort of the string of superlatives the people didn’t expect could all get linked together. Fundamentally we’re able to do that by leveraging new technology. We didn’t have the limitations that gasoline vehicles had and we could start over into a break the mold.

The other key thing of course was range of the Model S move the bar even futher, on range – 270 miles is today the highest range of Model S we make. This is enough range where you can basssically do all of even a week’s driving without having to really worry too much about charging. This was a key factor and still today most of their electric vehicles in the market have under a hundred miles of range. So this has been one of the most important factors for adoption of electric vehicles and especially advanced electric vehicles. 

And to follow up the Model S, just a little over 2 weeks ago unveiled an announced the Model X SUV - the first SUV electric car in history, click here to continue reading about Tesla SUV electric car

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