Tesla CEO* Elon Musk has tweeted more than 3,000 times this year. We at CleanTechnica follow his tweets closely, since he provides much insight on Tesla via tweet and even breaks much news via Twitter. Additionally, I interacted with Elon several times this year on Twitter regarding a variety of Tesla topics (Autopilot, solar, and gigafactories, for example) — a privilege we may not have again. From following his tweets closely, as well as benefiting from this semi-personal interaction on several topics, I collected three core messages from Elon this year. Take a look below and tell us in the comments below the article if you agree or not.
1. It’s the team, not him.
Several times before this year, of course, Elon has given big thanks to the team of core Tesla executives and tens of thousands of people across the company who have made Tesla what it is today. Tesla is not one man — it is a vast network of men and women working hard on a daily basis. In fact, I’d say it’s well beyond that — it fits the description of a social movement in many regards. The more critical among us like to call it a cult, but I think that Tesla’s mission, vision for how to achieve that mission, and methods make it a social movement more than a “cult.” And the fun thing about the Tesla social movement is that even many kids are enthusiastically involved and do indeed advance the mission by looping their parents into the fun.
Getting back to the company itself, though, while Elon has given profuse thanks to the whole Tesla team in the past (including at annual shareholder meetings), he seemed especially quick to direct thanks and praise to them this year. And it wasn’t just in several public tweets, but also in DM on Twitter a few times. Whether referring to Autopilot, manufacturing, factory construction, or something else, Elon’s message was clear: thanks goes to the tremendous team of amazing people who are making things happen at a lightning pace and superior quality.
When I dove in to try to better understand the Autopilot team and process, after finding out there were nearly 200 Tesla Autopilot software engineers, a bit more than 100 hardware engineers “on the chip side,” and 500 highly skilled labelers (expanding to 1,000), I was on the verge of publishing an article about these “Autopilot Jedi engineers” (as I called them). Elon’s final point echoed comments that started the whole thread. He wanted to be extra sure that I wasn’t giving him too much of the praise. He wrote:
“But please put in bold letters my quote that what people experience in the cars is the result of a large number of extremely talented engineers working very hard. Please give me the least credit.” (emphasis added, by request)
Even in response a few months later to a comment of praise about the “Full Self-Driving” progress Tesla was making, he responded, “Thanks, team has done great work” — instead of just “Thanks” or a Twitter heart. Over and over this year, Elon’s emphasis has been on giving the Tesla team the praise.
2. Engineering, engineering, engineering.
Good explanation. 4D is essential for dynamically occluded objects, especially in large intersections with dense vehicle & pedestrian traffic. Frame rate & latency from frame to wheel vector change also important.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 8, 2020
In one note, Elon told me, “Yeah, vast majority of what I do everyday is hardcore engineering across many disciplines. I’m chief engineer at both SpaceX and Tesla. That would be a more accurate title than CEO.” (Technically, CEO would still work for Chief Engineering Officer, and I have used it from time to time since Elon wrote this.)
Interestingly, Elon gives credit for much of his engineering expertise and passion to his father. If you’ve followed his life story a bit, you know that mentions of his father are few and far between, and very seldom positive. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any positive comments about his father before this one. That’s a personal matter that I’m not planning to go into (here or ever), but it made this statement all the more surprising and impactful: “I had the advantage of growing up with a father who was a brilliant electrical and mechanical engineer, who effectively tutored me in engineering better than most professors before I even got to college.”
In fact, there were several times this year where Elon basically indicated that Tesla’s #1 bottleneck was in getting top-notch enginee
Luckily, Tesla (and SpaceX) have a track record of attracting many of the best engineers. This is perhaps its #1 ingredient for success.
3. Manufacturing will be Tesla’s strongest card.
While much love and emphasis is put on Tesla’s cars and consumer-facing tech, Elon has repeatedly emphasized in 2020 that Tesla’s strongest card, its top leadership value, is going to increasingly be in manufacturing.
In August, in response to some questioning, he messaged, “It is the machine that builds the machine. Tesla’s long-term competitive advantage will be manufacturing.” He has said similar things publicly over the years, but seemingly no more than in 2020. Overall, this plays out in a large package called a gigafactory.
That’s not to say Tesla is going to sell factories. It just means that Tesla’s factories are unique productions that are where Tesla puts much of its resources and does much of its innovating.
Clarifying for anyone who might have got the wrong impression, he wrote to me: “I just mean that we productize the factory as a giant machine that we design ourselves and improve each version, vs just copying other car companies who have contractors & suppliers do all the work (ie catalog engineering).”
As usual, a core element of this and why Tesla appears to be succeeding so much on this front, is that they try to use first principles as much as possible when developing the manufacturing systems and improving them, rather than just following a copy & paste approach. “Use physics first principles to design the car and the factory together,” Elon added.
Interestingly, one more big point, and one that I don’t see him routinely making, is that a huge part of Tesla’s manufacturing innovation is (as with the cars) actually on the software side of things. “The factory system already has more software than the car and will probably have an order of magnitude more long-term.”
That sums up what I found to be Elon Musk’s core points regarding Tesla in 2020. If you thought something else was emphasized much more, or had another big takeaway or two, chime in down below in the comments. One of our greatest contributions at CleanTechnica is providing a place for thoughtful and reasonable people to have genuine discussions about cleantech (and sometimes other matters).
*Chief Engineering Officer
Originally published on CleanTechnica