Jul 24, 2015


The wife picked up a Tesla this week. We're not a particularly flashy couple and this technically is a flashy car. Pricey. But I have to say both my wife and I were kind of sold from the get go on this car. There are a few key points about the car that are game changers.
  • Safety. Technically the car received a 5.0 on the NHTSA and Euro NCAP safety ratings. Unofficially it scored a 5.4 on the U.S. one. This is a car that has so little in it that it can be purpose built to be extremely safe. There's no engine block in front of you that the car has to stop becoming part of the passenger area in case of a crash. In addition since the batteries are installed low on the floor boards the car has a low center of gravity which makes flipping it extremely unlikely. The batteries also center the center of gravity rather than upfront in an internal combustion engine (ICE) which causes those cars to behave unpredictably in crashes.
  • Maintenance. Basically there isn't any. It's not even required to maintain the warranty. Why? Because there's nothing in the car. You think of a traditional car and you think carborateurs, spark plugs, radiators, pistons, pipes, exhaust systems, gears, transmissions, catalytic converters, oil pumps, oil, oil filters, etc. The Tesla has two things. A big battery. And two electric motors. While they wear down they don't wear down fast. A million things that can potentially go wrong in an ICE versus two in a Tesla. That's why the warranty is 8 years and unlimited miles on the battery and motor.
  • It's electric. It's clean. You drive this car and you think, "are we really still igniting flammable liquid fuel to propel ourselves along?". When did we ever think that was safe? It's like walking into someone's kitchen and they have a fire pit for cooking. The entire concept of an ICE seems archaic once you drive one of these cars. Some people will hang on to things like they like the rumble of their American V8 muscle car. But this is Pavlovian. People don't take you out back of their house to listen to the rumble of their AC unit. Rumbling meant power and that's why people like that sound. In reality almost nothing can beat the new Tesla off the line. Certainly nothing in its price range. Power now means silence. That Pavlovian response will disappear.
There are of course the 2 limitations. Limited range and no way to quickly "fill" up the car. But I think this is the sort of trade off that is like new phones lasting one day whereas old ones lasted for a week on one charge. It's only a tradeoff because you never had to plan for it. With a Tesla you do. 

I ultimately think Tesla becomes a battery and motor company. Ferrari buys the chassis, battery and motor and they build a luxurious facade around it. They almost can't compete on speed right now. 

But here's where I really want to go with this post. Autonomous Driving. This is going to change things in ways we can't even imagine. In a few months newer Teslas will get an over-the-air update to allow some level of autonomous driving. Mainly highway. But where is this going?

Imagine if we get autonomous driving figured out. And frankly we are very close. The only issue now really is the cost of the system components. Lidar is a necessity and it's still pricey but dropping in price precipitously. Once that happens things are going to change fast. There's quite a few bizarre outcomes of this.
  • There are no more crashes. At least ones caused by autonomous cars. Deaths drop over time as the installed base of cars becomes autonomous. Google's cars has been in 11 accidents (I think) and none of them were cause by Google's car. What's interesting about this is that there are 6 million crashes that are claimed in the US each year. The insurance industry predicted there were 6 million more that weren't claimed. Google's rate of getting hit suggests this number of unclaimed crashes is significantly higher. People are shitty drivers. We knew this. Google's data confirms it.
  • If crashes are no more, cars become much lighter. Much of the heft of a car is to make sure you don't die. If you know you aren't going to die cars can frankly be very flimsy. You certainly don't need a steering wheel and pedals any more. This improves efficiency and driving distance and thus adoption increases. It also opens up possibilities about what should be inside the car. 4 seats facing the front? How about a table with four seats facing each other. Or one seat?
  • People don't have to do things like drive kids to school and kids don't get drivers licenses any more. Your kids want to go to school? Just put them in the car and use your phone to tell the car to drive them to school, drop them off, and head back home. 
  • Why own a car anymore? There's not point in owning. Create a large hyper-specialized fleet to meet people's changing needs. Going to get groceries? A single person "car" shows up. Going to the airport with your family? Send a big car. If individuals are going to work, the car could be half as wide as a typical car. Make one lane into two lanes and increase throughput. You can now get work done as you drive to work. When the car is low on batteries it'll charge itself at some station. It doesn't mind waiting. Uber is already on this. They've said they'll buy a metric crapload of Tesla's once autonomous driving is figured out. 
  • Why have lanes at all? Or cats-eyes. Those are for humans? Speed limits and stop signs and yield signs and... Those are for humans. We don't need those anymore. Stop lights? We don't need those. Cars will just interweave through each other without stopping. 
  • Safe distance driving? We don't need that. Cars can ride each others asses because they'll also talk to each other. In fact this creates a drafting effect and improves efficiency even more and thus adoption speeds up.
  • One car hits a pothole or there actually is a crash and the relevant authorities can be alerted instantly whether that's a pothole fixing automaton or an ambulance.
It's happening.

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