On, Above and Under The Ground: Checking In With Elon Musk

Tesla Inc. — minus the word “Motors” in the middle since we last checked in — said yesterday that production of its critical Model 3 would begin in July, ramping up to 5,000 vehicles per week “at some point in the fourth quarter” and 10,000 vehicles per week “at some point in 2018.”

“The Model 3 rollout represents a big step for the company, as it will mark Tesla's transition — in the auto industry — from a small niche manufacturer of high-end electric vehicles to a mass market manufacturer,” points out Robert Ferris for CNBC.

“Launching the Model 3, with a $35,000 base price, on schedule is critical given Tesla’s track record of delays for previous new vehicles, most notably the Model X SUV that came out more than 18 months after an initial target date,” observes  Forbes’ Alan Ohnsman.

“The company has a waiting list for its first moderately priced vehicle of about 400,000 people, who in 2016 each paid $1,000 to reserve a Model 3. Musk declined to provide an updated figure for reservations during the call, ‘as people read too much into it,’” Ohnsman reports.

But “a final version of the vehicle for public view remains elusive, five months before production is apparently due to begin,” points out Liam Denning for Livemint. “The thing is, of course, it hardly matters.”

How so? 

“When it comes to Tesla bulls, the seriousness of Musk’s vision is what counts, not hitting those targets literally,” Denning writes.

Indeed, the billionaire’s “bold projections have ignited investors’ excitement, pushing the company’s market value to within reach of Ford Motor Co., which is 100 years older,” writes Tim Higgins for the Wall Street Journal.

“Tesla’s share price has risen about 50% since the company acquired solar panel maker SolarCity Corp., where Mr. Musk was also a major shareholder. The inflated market value could help the automaker raise as much as $2.5 billion, said Barclays analyst Brian Johnson,” Higgins continues.

Which it will probably need, Musk admitted during an analysts’ call, although he assured the digitally assembled there is “enough cash on hand to bring out the Model 3,” reports CNBC’s Ferris. But not doing so “would bring the company ‘close to the edge,’ which he said was ‘probably not the best thing for shareholders.’”

Tesla also announced “CFO Jason Wheeler, who joined the company in 2015, will leave in April for a job in public policy. Wheeler will be replaced by Tesla's first CFO, Deepak Ahuja, who held the position for seven years until retiring in 2015,” Kirsten Korosec reports for Fortune.

Tesla is now a “more diversified energy products company” since acquiring sibling SolarCity in a stock swap deal worth about $2 billion in November, as Reuters’ Subrat Patnaik reported earlier this month. Hence the name change to the more ambiguous — okay, ambitious — just-plain Tesla. 

So how could the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek’s most recent print edition run with a picture of Musk beaming from within a hole in a carless parking lot under the headline: “Elon Musk Is Really Boring”? 

It turns out that “for years he’s been thinking about tunnels — both out of a personal fascination and because they’d be an important component of the Hyperloop, the fanciful high-speed rail system he proposed in 2013,” as Bloomberg’s Max Chafin reports.

“He started digging as a spur-of-the-moment thing one weekend at the end of January. The idea came to him while sitting in a traffic jam early on a Saturday morning in December. ‘Traffic is driving me nuts,’ he tweeted. ‘Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging.’ Within an hour, the project had a name and a marketing platform. ‘It shall be called “The Boring Company,” he wrote. ‘Boring, it’s what we do.’”

In another move that has the potential to disrupt a rather settled industry, Tesla is packaging the cost of insurance and maintenance into the purchase price of its vehicles in Asia. 

“This is how they’d like to offer vehicles across their markets in the future, the carmaker says, and it’ll do so in partnership with external insurance providers — but it has also looked at handling insurance in-house as an option, too,” Darrell Etherington writes for TechCrunch. “The company does this in part because they believe their vehicles offer strong advantages in terms of safety record and maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle,” he continues.

Want more? The company is “considering building up to five Gigafactories” to produce batteries, Danielle Muoio reports for Business Insider. Musk says he doesn’t think Tesla unionization is “likely to occur,” according toTechCrunch’s Etherington. And Tesla is “ still looking to sell directly to consumers In Connecticut,” Cheyenne Haslett reports for the Hartford Courant.

Don’t get us started on Musk’s SpaceX ….

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