(Image from VCG/Getty Images)
I’d like to make a statement here. I like Elon Musk. And I respect him deeply (although not deep enough to be his die-hard supporter or a fan club member).
What do I like about him? For one, he’s not afraid of taking risks and willing to bet his own money (or reputation) to make his visions a reality. Just Google yourself his story after he sold PayPal and what he did with those money. Instead of travel around the world or investing in some social networking sites, he invested almost all of those proceeds to invest in SpaceX and Tesla, to an extent he almost broke and had to borrow money to pay for his rent. And he invested (and running) both companies at the same time, dedicating more than 100 hours a week mostly on thinking and tinkering on how to send a rocket to Mars or how to build an electric vehicles that one day would be affordable to the masses.
Yes, he might be a zealous workaholic. Yes, he might be a demanding boss. Yes, he may not totally good example as corporate leader by keep bashing short-sellers (and occasionally SEC as well) and smoked weed during a live interview, but you can’t deny that he’s trying hard to change the world. Before Tesla launched their electric vehicle lineup, how many of us or even vehicle manufacturers looked at EV as nothing more than nice-to-have moving fridge or just produce it for the sake of winning some tree-huggers?
Elon managed not only to give us an EV that has the range, but an EV that has the speed and great look as well (well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as I’m not really fond of Tesla’s design. Only the technology beneath). How many would have thought that one day there would be a startup that could sent rocket to ISS (and soon even further), an achievement usually reserved either to NASA or some defense companies like Boeing or Lockheed Martin (or that Russian’s Korolev Design Bureau)?
It’s safe to say Elon doesn’t like to think about mediocre stuff and mediocre vision. It’s clear that for him that if his vision is not disruptive or world-changing enough, it’s not worth considering and pursuing. A vision that gave us a rocket, a car, SUV and soon a semi truck.
But somehow, Tesla didn’t have a concrete plan to develop one more vehicle lineup that I think would be beneficial and no less-disruptive for the rest of us.
A bus. Yes, that movable thing that can fit 20-30 people at one time, where large companies like Google and Apple shuttle their employees from their various pickup points to their fancy offices. The one that millions use it everyday to run their daily lives.
Someone Is Leaving The Money On The Table
When Elon announced Tesla Semi, I was a bit surprised. It’s not that I don’t think it’s beneficial to cut down a diesel (read:carbon) consumption while delivering whatever we had ordered online from Amazon, Alibaba or whatever-companies-under-Rocket Internet-portfolio. It’s just that I’m surprised that Tesla didn’t launch a bus or coach first before launching a semi truck. Even Elon doesn’t have any plan for Tesla to actually produce a full-fledged bus like the shuttle buses or coaches, only an ‘extended’ version of Tesla Model X as a base for a Tesla’s future minibus instead of new platform altogether.
And it’s not like there are no demand for electric shuttle buses. Let’s see.
- New York City has more than 5,700 buses and planned to convert it all to an EV buses by 2040 (article here).
- Los Angeles will convert all their more than 2,300 buses to electric by 2030 (article here). And they already ordered 25 of them of Proterra last year.
- San Francisco will have all-electric bus by 2035. How many is their current busses? 1,100 (article here).
And what about BYD, the electric bus manufacturer from China?
- More than 100 buses sold in Scandinavia (article here).
- Together with Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL), 36 buses delivered to London’s public transport operator RATP (article here).
- Although the number was not disclosed, BYD has won a bid to supply an electric buses from Georgia (the state in USA, not the country in Europe) (article here).
So with those kind of demands, I wonder why Tesla still relatively quiet about their plan with buses, especially it could be an easy win (or at least a competitive bid) for Tesla if they have an electric bus ready (or soon-to-be-ready) within their portfolio. Not all people can afford to buy Model S or Model X, and places like Singapore or Hong Kong are not really a good friend for any car manufacturers to sell their cars on a cheap.
Plus, it would be a good opportunity for the masses to see and experience themselves on taking a ride on Tesla busses rather than waiting for Tesla car-sharing network to be up and running. How many Tesla-lovers can Tesla cars fulfil at one time anyway even when that kind of network is available? Plus, with plenty of local governments ready to throw their subsidies and incentives at electric public transportation (public stunt or otherwise), Tesla should take this opportunity to show what they could do with public transportation arena.
Tesla Semi Could Be Tesla’s A380. And Their Future Buses Could Be Their A350.
Did Tesla late to the market? Perhaps, especially if they announced their new lineup like in 5 years time. By that time, BYD could already a big giant and Proterra (or other electric bus manufacturers like Yutong) could be close behind while Tesla will be fighting with to make it just relevant enough to be noticed. Whatever it is, I think it’s a missed opportunity for Tesla and Elon to stamp their authority and leadership in area where it matters more. The public transportation.
Yes, it’s cool to have an Tesla-branded EV on your garage or the one you can summon at your whim. But a Tesla car is still a car, albeit with different power plant inside. Removing a carbon-based car and replace it with EV car should theoretically reduce the carbon emission, but it wouldn’t reduce the number of cars on the road. It’s similar like rearranging a deck chairs on the Titanic, only in this case you change the chairs with a better ones, environmentally speaking. But it’s still a chair.
If Tesla concentrates too much on commercial transportation (semi truck) and ‘forgot’ about the public transportation (busses), it could throw them into the similar scenario with Airbus’ A380 and A350 (a bit early for A380 to make a dent and a bit late for A350 to fight with Boeing’s 777). And Airbus still reeling from their $25 billion A380 program, only saved by Emirates order. And their A350 will have to fight 777x soon. But in Tesla’s case, who will be their Emirates? UPS?
Yes, this article is my personal opinion, and I have no insight into Elon’s brain or Tesla’s strategic discussion. But I strongly suggest that Tesla started to pay some serious attention on how to really prove that their vision to replace carbon-based vehicles translated in the area where it matters most.
Yes, it’s not like they don’t have competitors other than Proterra or BYD if they start to build an electric buses, but Tesla could make a much cooler and sleeker buses with Supercharger that can charge in shorter time than the rest of the pack. Or maybe they could put some Powerwall onto the buses as well. You know, just because they could.
Yes Elon, it’s might be fun to make the life of short-sellers miserable every quarter, but it’s more fun to see more of your products lineup on the road and make a real impact to the planet and to the rest of us. So stop smoking that weed and start giving us some sleek buses and coaches. You may have million of critics if you move into that direction, but you have one big fan over here.
Plus several public transportation agencies and cities as well.