There are only seven shopping days until Christmas and we’re less than two weeks away from the New Year. So where are those battery-swapping stations Tesla promised? Or its big push into the energy storage biz? Didn’t we hear something about the Roadster being upgraded? Are we seeing a pattern here?
Cut through the hype and the accolades and the endless profiles couching Elon Musk as Tony Stark, and you’re met with a long string of Tesla over-promising, under-delivering, or delivering late. From the first Roadster to the delayed and initially buggy Model S to the even more delayed Model X, Tesla – and Musk, in particular – err on the side of promotion and spectacle rather than reality. And it’s getting tiresome.
Back in the September of 2012, Tesla announced its Supercharger network, which it’s expanded across the country to let Model S owners charge up at no cost (assuming they take a circuitous route). At the time, Tesla touted its partnership with SolarCity – headed up by Musk’s cousin – saying:
Each solar power system is designed to generate more energy from the sun over the course of a year than is consumed by Tesla vehicles using the Supercharger. This results in a slight net positive transfer of sunlight generated power back to the electricity grid.
Two years in and Tesla has massively expanded its Supercharger network across the country and around the world. There are 140 stations in the U.S., over 100 in Europe, and more than 40 in the Asia Pacific region. In the second half of the year Tesla was opening on average one station a day.
It’s impressive. But only two of those sites are powered by solar, and according to Tesla, none of it is being sent back into the grid.
Fast forward to Tesla’s 2013 Q4 earnings statement and we hear about plans “to start selling stationary energy storage products for use in homes, commercial sites, and utilities” to provide back-up power and ease demand during peak hours.
The focus was originally set on commercial systems and the plan was to “ramp sales of these products in 2014.” Tesla claims it will have produced 3 GWh worth of stationary energy storage systems by the end of the year and touts “major partners from utilities to school districts, small businesses and big box stores.” But it hasn’t provided a number of how many units have been sold, delivered, or installed, and it’s now saying residential units will begin “rolling out in mid-2015.”
Then there’s the 90-second battery swap that was live-streamed to the world back in June of 2013. Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s VP of Corporate Development, said a year later that it was forced to “diverted most of our team and resources” to the Supercharger network and to expect something in the third quarter of this year. Nothing. When I sat down with Musk at the Big D reveal, he said we’ll see the first functioning battery-swapping station in December. Still nothing, despite rumors of construction at a facility in Harris Ranch (between San Francisco and Los Angeles).
It goes on. There are little things like the CHAdeMO adapters that have been “coming soon” since 2013; big things like the Model X, which is now delayed until the end of next year, if even then; the release of its patents for anyone to use, although no automaker has officially said it’s using them; the Gigafactory, which will take years and billions to prove itself; and don’t even get started on the Hyperloop, which, while not a product of Tesla, was birthed out of Musk’s mind and is still hosted on the automaker’s website.
So what’s the next promise? Autopilot.
The introduction of the dual-motor Model S was a no-brainer. Tesla had been developing that drivetrain for years to be fitted to the Model X. But just making it all-wheel-drive wasn’t enough. Tesla had to take it a step further with the announcement of Autopilot, a variation of radar-assisted cruise control that other automakers have offered for over a decade, but with the stand-out feature of hands-free lane-changing.
Reading over the press release two months later (which wasn’t available to reporters at the event) and one line sticks out:
It will take several months for all Autopilot features to be completed and uploaded to the cars.
Even with every new Model S rolling out of the factory with the requisite hardware and all the publicity it garnered at launch, “several months” is a lot of hedging on Tesla’s part, particularly given its history.
But I rode in it. I got a demo. It works (on a closed course). And that still wasn’t enough for Tesla:
Imagine having your car check your calendar in the morning, calculate travel time to your first appointment based on real time traffic data, automatically open the garage door with Homelink, carefully back out of a tight garage, and pull up to your door ready for your commute. Of course, it could also warm or cool your car to your preferences and select your favorite morning news stream.
None of those features will be coming to a Model S near you anytime soon, but that’s not the point.
Enough is never enough for Tesla. There always has to be MORE. Bigger, better, splashier, sexier. Sometimes it’s cute (see: the stereo that goes to 11 and the Insane mode on the P85D), but the act is wearing thin. Tesla feels like a kid with the keys to the toy factory, hopped up on caffeine and Adderall, darting in every direction to make something – anything – to suit their latest flight of fancy.
And that doesn’t just go for its current product (the Model S) or what’s in the pipeline (Model X, Model 3), it goes for things that have been dead for years.
Remember that Roadster upgrade Tesla’s early adopters were told to expect? The one Musk talked about in June at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting?
…yes we are planning on I think a fairly exciting upgrade to the Roadster. I’m hoping we can get it done later this year. I did say it would be this year and I’m I trying not to sort of — I mean yes, we will get it done this year. There will be cool thing, but [inaudible]. But we said we’d do it, we’re going to do it. So, we’re going to do something cool with Roadster before the end of this year.
We’re 13 days away from chugging champagne and watching the Times Square ball drop and Tesla spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean tells me, “We are absolutely working on the upgrade to the Roadster battery, have made progress and will have an update to our Roadster customers by the end of the year.” But that “update” will be just that, an announcement, another proclamation of intent.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that Tesla is a bit unhinged. But if we’re honest, it’s not Tesla – it’s Musk. He’s brilliant. Manically motivated. A charismatic showman. His vision and quest for perfection helped birth a phenomenal car and the first EV people aspire to own.
But he’s a man on fire, his mind spinning at a million RPM while racing between his duties at Tesla and Space X. Looking over all of the promises, all of the moonshots (Mars-shots?), all of the ideas either brought to life or collecting dust on the shelf, it’s clear the bundle of energy that is Elon Musk could go supernova at any time. It’s fun to watch and its fun to cover, but Tesla needs to put away the toys, get serious, and execute. The real question isn’t whether Tesla can do it, it’s whether Musk can allow it.