The Mind Behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity – A Fireside Chat with Elon Musk (Transcript)

Chris Anderson: I mean, this is a beautiful but expensive car. Is there a roadmap where this becomes a mass-market vehicle?

Elon Musk: Yeah. The goal of Tesla has always been to have a sort of three-step process, where version one was an expensive car at low volume, version two is medium priced and medium volume, and then version three would be low price, high volume. So we’re at step two at this point. So we had a $100,000 sports car, which was the Roadster. Then we’ve got the Model S, which starts at around $50,000. And our third generation car, which should hopefully be out in about three or four years will be a $30,000 car. But whenever you’ve got really new technology, it generally takes about three major versions in order to make it a compelling mass-market product. And so I think we’re making progress in that direction, and I feel confident that we’ll get there.

Chris Anderson: I mean, right now, if you’ve got a short commute, you can drive, you can get back, you can charge it at home. There isn’t a huge nationwide network of charging stations now that are fast. Do you see that coming really truly, or just on a few key routes?

Elon Musk: There actually are far more charging stations than people realize, and at Tesla we developed something called a Supercharging technology, and we’re offering that if you buy a Model S for free, forever. And so this is something that maybe a lot of people don’t realize. We actually have California and Nevada covered, and we’ve got the Eastern seaboard from Boston to DC covered. By the end of this year, you’ll be able to drive from LA to New York just using the Supercharger network, which charges at five times the rate of anything else.

And the key thing is to have a ratio of drive to stop, to stop time, of about six or seven. So if you drive for three hours, you want to stop for 20 or 30 minutes, because that’s normally what people will stop for. So if you start a trip at 9 a.m., by noon you want to stop to have a bite to eat, hit the restroom, coffee, and keep going.

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Chris Anderson: So your proposition to consumers is, for the full charge, it could take an hour. So it’s common — don’t expect to be out of here in 10 minutes. Wait for an hour, but the good news is, you’re helping save the planet, and by the way, the electricity is free. You don’t pay anything.

Elon Musk: Actually, what we’re expecting is for people to stop for about 20 to 30 minutes, not for an hour. It’s actually better to drive for about maybe 160, 170 miles and then stop for half an hour and then keep going. That’s the natural cadence of a trip.

Chris Anderson: All right. So this is only one string to your energy bow. You’ve been working on this solar company SolarCity. What’s unusual about that?

Elon Musk: Well, as I mentioned earlier, we have to have a sustainable electricity production as well as consumption. So I’m quite confident that the primary means of power generation will be solar. I mean, it’s really indirect fusion, is what it is. We’ve got this giant fusion generator in the sky called the sun, and we just need to tap a little bit of that energy for purposes of human civilization. What most people know but don’t realize they know is that the world is almost entirely solar-powered already. If the sun wasn’t there, we’d be a frozen ice ball at three degrees Kelvin, and the sun powers the entire system of precipitation. The whole ecosystem is solar-powered.

Chris Anderson: But in a gallon of gasoline, you have effectively thousands of years of sun power compressed into a small space, so it’s hard to make the numbers work right now on solar, and to remotely compete with, for example, natural gas, fracked natural gas. How are you going to build a business here?

Elon Musk: Well actually, I’m confident that solar will beat everything, hands down, including natural gas.

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Chris Anderson: How?

Elon Musk: It must, actually. If it doesn’t, we’re in deep trouble.

Chris Anderson: But you’re not selling solar panels to consumers. What are you doing?

Elon Musk: No, we actually are. You can buy a solar system or you can lease a solar system. Most people choose to lease. And the thing about solar power is that it doesn’t have any feedstock or operational costs. So once it’s installed, it’s just there. It works for decades. It’ll work for probably a century. So therefore, the key thing to do is to get the cost of that initial installation low, and then get the cost of the financing low, because that interest — those are the two factors that drive the cost of solar. And we’ve made huge progress in that direction, and that’s why I’m confident we’ll actually beat natural gas.

Chris Anderson: So your current proposition to consumers is, don’t pay so much upfront.

Elon Musk: Zero.

Chris Anderson: Pay zero upfront. We will install panels on your roof. You will then pay, how long is a typical lease?

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