A month ago, Tesla was a startup car company that had gotten a bit boring. The days of the thrilling Roadster, the automaker’s first car, were behind it. It was selling the Model S, a 4-door that could serve up blistering acceleration. But still, a 4-door.
On the horizon was an SUV. Then some kind of high-volume, mass-market vehicle, the Model 3.
Tesla had – and has – a great story. And it’s the most technology driven car maker to come along … possibly ever. It’s Silicon Valley, through and through.
Then on April 30, CEO Elon Musk took to a stage outside Los Angeles an announced that Tesla was entering a side business, Tesla Energy, and would sell home and utility-scale batteries: the Powerwall and Powerpack, respectively.
On a conference call with analysts on Wednesday, after Tesla’s reported first-quarter earnings, Musk dealt with far more questions about Tesla Energy than about Tesla Tesla. I think I heard the word “inverter” at least a dozen times.
This is important, potentially world-changing stuff: Musk really does want to save the planet from global warming and an addiction to fossil fuels.
But it didn’t make for a very exciting earnings call (it made for very earnest call). The most awesome company around, the one that uses giant robots to show off its new cars and has captivated millions of people, was talking about something you hang from the wall of your garage rather than use to take on the glorious open roads with style.
I guess this is just what happens when a car company that wants to sell 500,000 vehicles a year grows up. But I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Tesla. It was a red Roadster, blasting down a street in downtown Los Angeles with a couple of other exotic sports cars. It was a film shoot of some sort.
“What was THAT?” I immediately wanted to know.
Later, I drove the Roadster and described it, if memory serves, as “hot orange electric sex.” (The car I drove was orange).
The same feeling of sci-fi speed, Warp drive, is present in the Model S, particularly the P85D version when switched to “Insane” mode. But you’re in a sedan. Not a roadster – and not a true sports car.
On the earnings call, Musk also said that Tesla would be managing its business differently going forward. He said that Tesla would be “optimizing for the operational efficiency of company, rather than for specific quarters.”
He noted that in the past, Tesla had “scrambled” at the end of quarters, which did not translate into a good customer experience. In the future, the company will be managed to achieve what he called “steady state efficiency.”
That’s wonderful news for the company, long-term. But it sure isn’t sexy!
Obviously, Tesla has been an exciting company for quite a while now. But some of that excitement has come from near-death experiences and rampant speculation about the company’s business and financials every three months. This isn’t helping anyone to have confidence in Tesla’s future, so it does have to go.
I would like some of the sexy back, however. Maybe after the Model 3 mass-market vehicle arrives in 2017, I’ll get my way. Then Tesla can build an exotic, low-volume supercar that actually looks as fast as it is (Sorry, P85D!) and get us drooling about the right things.