Why did Virgin’s Richard Branson decide to invest in Hyperloop One, the futuristic transport system that seeks to shrink journey times (like LA to San Francisco, London to Glasgow) to less than one hour? On assignment for the BBC World Service, Alison van Diggelen sat down with Branson in San Francisco to explore his vision for the Hyperloop, as well as Virgin Galactic, One Web and supersonic travel around the world.
Branson is still reeling from the deadly hurricanes that destroyed his island paradise, and he’s calling for a Marshall Plan to aid sustainable recovery in the Caribbean region. He told me he’s energized by the “climate skeptic in the White House.”
“When you’ve got 99% of scientists saying the world is heating up, the world is heating up. Yes, you’ve got a climate skeptic in the White House but most sane people – most rational people – know that we have a problem. It’s sad to have someone like that in such a position of power and therefore all of us have just to work that much harder to rectify any damage that he does.” Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group
My report aired on the BBC World Service’s tech program, Click. You can listen to the BBC podcast here (Branson segment starts at 0:35)
Photo: Richard Branson in conversation with Alison van Diggelen for the BBC World Service. San Francisco, October, 2017. Credit: Lewis van Diggelen
Here’s a transcript of the segment (plus some bonus material), edited for length and clarity:
The BBC’s Gareth Mitchell: First, a futuristic plan to transport us in supersonic tube trains. This is a concept called the Hyperloop and now one of the world’s richest people is investing in it. Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson has just done a deal with one of the companies developing the technology, Hyperloop One. Alison van Diggelen, our reporter in Silicon Valley has been speaking to Richard Branson. The conversation begins with Branson’s other great interest: space. Not just Virgin Galactic, but plans to improve connectivity for citizens back here on earth.
Alison van Diggelen: What makes Virgin Galactic distinct from what Jeff Bezos is doing with Blue Origin and Elon Musk with SpaceX?
Richard Branson: With Virgin Galactic our principal reason for being is to help this beautiful earth that we live on. Space can help people back here on earth…One of the things we’re going to be doing through a company we’re involved in called One Web is put an array of 2,000 satellites around the earth. That’ll be the biggest array of satellites in space and they can help connect the 4 Billion people who’re not connected today. If you’re not connected, and you can’t get Internet or wifi; it’s difficult for you to start businesses and help your children get educated in remote places….
Alison van Diggelen: What’s the timeline on that?
Richard Branson: One Web should be up and running in about 2 ½ years time (first launches are due to start in 2-3 months). Virgin Galactic’s mission is taking people into space, making them astronauts, and giving them an incredible experience and a chance to look back on this beautiful earth. Next year (2018) should be the year for Virgin Galactic, the year that VSS Unity goes into space, the year I go into space and we start taking people into space. Because Virgin Galactic – unlike what Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk’s are doing – is shaped like an airplane, like a spaceship (they’ve gone for big rockets) – it can go into space, it can come back, it can land again and we can grow it. So one day we can do point to point travel…
Photo: Richard Branson shows off Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity. Credit: Jack Brockway
Alison van Diggelen: What does that mean? Rocket speeds around earth?
Richard Branson: We could potentially (laughter) send people into orbit at 18,500 mph which would mean you could go anywhere on earth in 45 minutes. Realistically, our bodies won’t cope with that so we most likely would send people into sub-orbital flight, traveling at more like 4,000 mph which would mean London to Australia in 3-4 hours, instead of 18 hours currently, so still a big step forward: much faster than Concorde was and still tremendously exciting.
Alison van Diggelen: What are the tech challenges to making that happen?
Richard Branson: The advantage we have today is something called carbon fiber and that is an awful lot lighter than metal – which is what Concorde was built with. That can also be used in the building of engines. A plane can be an awful lot lighter. The technology on supersonic engine power has moved ahead dramatically since Concorde. Unlike Concorde, which was built by British and French governments, and really never made any money, we think we can actually build planes to go supersonically that would be economically viable as well. Of course, as a private company they have to be economically viable…
Alison van Diggelen: Is that a Virgin Galactic project or the Boom supersonic jet project?
Richard Branson: We’re helping “Boom” but we’ve also got our own Virgin Galactic project.
Alison van Diggelen: Your latest big project is Virgin Hyperloop One. Tell me about that and your vision for that? You know (Hyperloop One board member) Shervin Pishevar, but what was it about the project that you thought: this is one for Virgin?
Richard Branson: 20 years ago, BR existed in Britain and it was pretty dire to say the least…most government run companies are not great, so we said to the government we’d be willing to take over the West coast main line and we also promised we’d transform it. There were 8.5 million ppl using it then. We brought in the Pendolino train and this year we’ll have approx. 40 m people using it, but we’re restricted to ~130 mph – whereas our trains could be going 160 mph – because the track isn’t good enough. So we’ve been looking for technology that will transport people at much greater speeds. The exciting thing about Hyperloop is that if we could get a straight line between London and Edinburgh or London and Glasgow, we could transport people in about 45 minutes. That would open up the cities more than anything and the idea of being able to get into a pod…the pod could literally come to your office or your home, pick you up, go down a tunnel…the pod will connect to our system and then it takes off and 45 minutes later, a grandmother in Glasgow could find herself in London, the pod carrying on and taking her to see her grandchildren somewhere in London: A lot easier than the 4.5 hours it takes currently on trains.
Photo: Virgin Hyperloop One team: Giegel, Branson, Pishevar. Credit: Virgin.com
Alison van Diggelen: What’s your timeline on that? My mother is 85 and she has grandchildren in London…
Richard Branson: I’m a little younger than her and am determined that it will happen in my lifetime. I will try to make sure it happens in her lifetime. Obviously we have got to have discussions with the government, they are building a high speed line but I think this could be compatible with that – and could be separate from that: Great Britain needs a lot more capacity. Obviously it’s not just for Great Britain…We are talking to countries all over the world…
Gareth Mitchell: That’s Richard Branson, talking to countries all over the world, and also to Alison van Diggelen. Let’s talk to Bill Thompson.
Bill Thompson: I really wish I could believe the Hyperloop is something I’ll see in my lifetime. The idea is a very interesting one: vacuum tube, high acceleration, low friction. There are enormous engineering challenges. I do think that talking it up as if it’s just around the corner is too much of a distraction from solving the real problems of urban transportation. Getting permissions…sorting out the safety problems will take a lot more work. What happens if the power goes down when you’re traveling at several hundred kilometers per hour in a steel tube? I’m pleased to see it being talked about but I’m certainly not holding my breath.
Continue listening to the BBC World Service Click podcast
Note: Virgin Hyperloop One was previously known as Hyperloop One and before that: Hyperloop Technologies. It’s distinct from rival: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies or HTT. Confused? Don’t be! Find out more here.
The new partnership was announced October 12 2017, and aims to offer passenger and cargo deliveries. Today it announced more strategic expansions to its team.
Are you being heard? Alison van Diggelen reports for the BBC World Service on a project that offers free listening to people in the street. How is Sidewalk Talk helping to change lives?
“When I first learned of Sidewalk Talk, I was having a depressive episode…I was struggling in my business…online marketing: it’s lonely, it’s isolating and I saw this beautiful project on Facebook and I just lit up! It’s been a year now…I find myself being more articulate, connecting with people, being more compassionate, I’m a better mother, daughter, friend. I’m less reactive…It’s truly been life changing.” Myisha T, Oakland team leader for Sidewalk Talk
Right now, there’s a lot happening to increase our anxiety levels: The mass shooting in Las Vegas; devastating tropical storms, growing terrorism in Europe, Brexit fears…. Plus, the Trump administration seems intent on ratcheting up the conflict with North Korea; clamping down on immigration; and attempting to roll back action on climate change and rights to contraception. Here in Silicon Valley, the California fires on our doorstep are clogging the air with smoke and fear.
With reasons for mental distress growing, support can sometimes seem elusive. In Silicon Valley, there’s a critical shortage of qualified therapists and getting an appointment can take weeks or even months. Calling a helpline might seem daunting – but imagine pulling up a chair on the street where you live and sharing your anxieties with an empathetic listener?
This week, my report aired on the BBC’s Health Check
Listen to the BBC podcast (Sidewalk Talk segment starts at 9:37)
Here’s a transcript of the program, featuring a longer version of my report (edited for length and clarity):
BBC Health Check Host, Claudia Hammond: In today’s world, it can sometimes feel difficult to connect with people….Social media means that technically, we’re better connected than ever, but even if we’re surrounded by people – real or virtual – it can feel as if no one is really listening. In Oakland, near San Francisco, a group has come up with a solution, and a low tech one at that. You don’t even have to call a helpline. Instead you see the sign in the street that says “free listening” and you pull up a chair and share your anxieties about the world with an empathetic listener. Alison van Diggelen reports from California on a project that offers free listening.
Atmos: Street sounds of Oakland’s First Friday
Alison van Diggelen: I’m here on Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland where Sidewalk Talk volunteers are setting up chairs on the sidewalk. They’re inviting passers-by to take a seat and just talk. The aim is simply to share their story, feel a human connection and perhaps find power in their voice…
Myisha T (Oakland team leader): Hey…free listening…would you like to be listened to today? Come on over, I want to talk to you about something. We’re Sidewalk Talk…we’re a community listening project.
First Friday in downtown Oakland offers an excellent opportunity for Sidewalk Talk volunteers to connect with the community.
Alison van Diggelen: About one in eight of the people she approaches agrees to sit down and talk…Tonight she has two volunteers to help out with deep, active listening.
Myisha, the Beatles sang about “All the lonely people.” Do you see that in the streets here in Oakland?
Myisha T: Yes, absolutely. A lot of people are lonely and when they find out you just want to listen to them are actually shocked. They’re like: wait, what? You really want to connect, no strings attached, no money, it’s not therapy?
There’s a lot of loneliness on the streets, a lot of disconnection..as soon as you sit down…two minutes in you just get connected and you can see the whole body language change, it gets more relaxed…you’ll lean into one another and it’s almost like that loneliness subsides.
Alison van Diggelen: Jessica Anderson, who’s a student advisor at Stanford University, is intrigued and takes a seat opposite a volunteer, Aaron Culich. How does she feel after 10 minutes of talking, with reflective listening by Aaron?
Jessica Anderson talks with Sidewalk Talk volunteer, Aaron Culich on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.
Jessica Anderson: It added a new color to my happiness. Now there’s the presence of gratefulness. That reflection piece, helping me think about how things are better than I thought they were. There’s more room for introspection and connectedness. Those hormones that go off in your brain when you feel connected? That, that, that’s what just happened. (laughter)
Alison van Diggelen: so you’d recommend this to others?
Jessica Anderson: Yes absolutely…
Alison van Diggelen: About an hour later, I speak with 25 year old Amy Jones (not her real name) who tells me she experienced sexual and physical abuse in her childhood and was suicidal last year. The posters catch her eye, but she doesn’t sit down…
Amy Jones: A year ago, I wasn’t feeling heard and feeling supported by my peers, by my family, by anybody…it’s a really isolating thing and it’s hard to reach out. When there’s an opportunity to just sit down and talk anonymously, it’s a lot less threatening and if I had this a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have considered suicide….
Alison van Diggelen: Amy takes one of Myisha’s fliers and the two women talk intensely for a few minutes…
Amy Jones: I know what it feels like to be in that situation of being unheard…it just kinda builds inside you…you feel like you’re going to be shamed for talking about it. People veer away from it. If you’re happy, people want to be around you. So you put on the face but then you go home and you feel so empty inside. Having an opportunity to get things off of your chest releases that pressure. Because when you don’t, that’s when you explode and that’s when bad things happen…
Alison van Diggelen: Although 50% of volunteers have a background in therapy, Sidewalk Talk is all about deep listening and doesn’t involve therapy or offering solutions. Here’s Myisha:
Myisha T: Sometimes solutions aren’t the solution. Sometimes someone being heard is the solution. Fixing it can stop them finding who they really are.
Alison van Diggelen: So they need to find their own solution?
Myisha T: When you really start to hear yourself, you really do find your own solution. And get your inner conflicts resolved.
Alison van Diggelen: Myisha describes a gay man she listened to here in Oakland. He told her:
Myisha T: Wow, I’ve never had anyone listen to me. I’m always the listener…I’m never sharing how I feel with other people. Just by sitting here and having you listen to me, I hear the power in my own voice…I’m empowered now because I can hear myself…
Alison van Diggelen: Before their conversation he was focused on listening and “fixing” his friends and not asking for the support he needed. SideWalk Talk volunteers find that when people feel heard they move hopelessness to opportunity. It happened to Myisha herself.
Myisha T: When I first learned of Sidewalk Talk, I was having a depressive episode…I was struggling in my business…online marketing it’s lonely, it’s isolating and I saw this beautiful project on FB and I just lit up! It’s been a year now…I find myself being more articulate, connecting with people, being more compassionate, I’m a better mother, daughter, friend. I’m less reactive…It’s truly been life changing…
Alison van Diggelen: Psychotherapist, Traci Ruble feels SideWalk Talk has changed her life too. She launched the nonprofit in 2015 after seeing an uptick in gun violence in the United States …I visited her at her office in Palo Alto.
Traci Ruble: I felt a real pull to want to know what’s happening in our society. I kept having fantasies of putting my psychotherapy chair on the sidewalk as a different kind of protest, to say: what’s going on?
Traci Ruble (left) was concerned at the uptick in gun violence and fantasized about setting up her therapist chair in the street. She founded Sidewalk Talk in 2015
Alison van Diggelen: Traci persuaded 28 colleagues to set up “listening chairs” all over San Francisco…In almost three years, the project has expanded to 29 cities in 10 countries. Their global team of 1000 listeners has reached over 10,000 people to date and referred over 300 people to low cost or free mental health services. Although she’s convinced it’s making a difference, Traci laments that our so called “social media” can make people even more lonely and deprived.
Ruble Ruble: We need to have a daily dose of face to face human contact. We need this as much as we need air! We need to be touched, hear someone’s tone of voice, see the reflection of their face in their own eyes, and really feel someone. It’s very hard to do in text. We’re not getting the nutrients we need ….
Would a text message be enough to soothe a baby? Would a Facebook post be enough to soothe a baby? We have all those same biological impulses inside of us. We need all that to be well, to be healthy.
Alison van Diggelen: Traci believes that with anxiety levels and disconnection growing, this kind of contact is more important than ever.
Traci Ruble: When you think about mass shootings. I do think when we can de-humanize anybody then that sets us up to be able to engage in aggressive behavior. Everything about SideWalk talk is humanizing ppl again. It’s hard to aggress against humanity when you know that every single person passing you by on the sidewalk has this beautiful, amazing story inside of them.
Fade in atmos of Oakland street scene, drumming…
Alison van Diggelen: Back in Oakland, Amy Jones says she’s serious about volunteering for Sidewalk Talk and Myisha T couldn’t be more delighted. This listening project is incredibly infectious: Those who feel helped are inspired to get involved…
Myisha T: My number one reason for being here is just connecting…genuine human connection.
Fade out: street atmos…drumming….
Want to get involved? Find out more about Sidewalk Talk
In San Francisco, the tech community continues to face an angry backlash for pushing out locals, artists and the elderly. Meanwhile, 50 miles south, Google has announced plans to partner with the City of San Jose to build a tech village dubbed “The Grand Central Station of the West.” Experts see this South Bay development as a way for Google to “do it right” and build an inclusive development around a transport hub with lots of public open space and affordable housing.
Why are some people calling it a new template for the tech campus? Alison van Diggelen reports on a tale of tech in two cities for the BBC World Service…
Photo caption: Google plans to rethink office space in Silicon Valley and use large translucent canopies to blur the distinction between buildings and nature. Source: Google (Charleston Rendering)
Listen to the podcast at the BBC World Service
Or listen to the segment below, introduced by the BBC’s Bill Thompson (report starts at 0:40):
Here’s a transcript of the report. It aired today on the BBC’s program, Click
[Atmos: Train, bus atmos at Diridon station, in downtown San Jose]
Glen Abbott: If the same tech gentrification happens in Santa Clara, which it is…’cos Google just bought up what’s available in Santa Clara, it just sends the housing prices up… people can’t afford to live here..
San Jose resident (retired union organizer): I am in support of anything that will bring jobs with dignity and a living wage … and we don’t just import a bunch of high dollar, high tech electronic gurus into our area…
Alison van Diggelen: These are just two of San Jose’s residents who have concerns at the proposed development benefiting rich techies, to the detriment of the wider community. One lives in a trailer park, one has been homeless.
This summer, Google announced a plan to create a massive campus for up to 20,000 employees in San Jose’s city center, the South Bay city that calls itself “The capital of Silicon Valley.” Google’s vice president of real estate outlined the company’s vision for the Diridon Station development at a council meeting…
Mark Golan: South Bay has been Google’s home for over 20 years now. We have thousands of Googlers who’re residents of San Jose. Google shares the City’s vision for the development of the Diridon area. …we are excited about the possibility of bringing a state of the art office, housing, retail, amenities, civic plazas, parks, and open spaces to the downtown San Jose area, all connected via an incredible mass transit system and integrated with the surrounding community.
Kim Walesh is the Director of Economic Development at the city. She laments that the tech boom means Silicon Valley’s roads are often gridlocked and sees a solution in public transport.
Photo: Visualization of HSR San Jose by California High Speed Rail Authority (image is preliminary and subject to change)
Kim Walesh: Google will be the first major tech company to consciously decide to grow near transit. It’s an opportunity to get it right…a counterpoint to traditional Silicon Valley campus development – a human scale, urban place….we’re not even calling it a campus. That can connote inward looking like Facebook or Apple.
This is a totally different concept it says: Let’s put our innovation employees right in the heart of downtown in an open campus environment with well designed parks and plazas for all sorts of people to enjoy and interact. That’s where innovation comes from…
Bob Staedler of Silicon Valley Synergy is an expert in tech developments and a frequent advisor to the City Council. He describes this Grand Central Station vision…
Staedler: You’re going to have a multi-modal transport hub that could be 150 feet up in the air, having four separate modes of transportation from bus to high speed rail, to light rail to Uber drop-off to traditional cars, and a campus integrated in there…
technology integrated into it like you’ve never seen before: you walk in and you see where exactly is the train on a map; and you see with technology where you go with light up boards, similar to what you see in Singapore and Tokyo….a 21st century transit station …
Staedler contrasts the open nature of Google’s proposed campus to that of Facebook’s Headquarters which is a high security island. As for Apple’s brand new campus, 10 miles north?
Staedler: Apple has created the spaceship as they call it, it’s really more of a fortress monument, a monument to Steve Jobs. What we’re looking at with Google is creating an urban fabric with employees and the population and the transit station all integrated into one.
San Jose’s Mayor, Sam Liccardo insists this proposed Google campus is critical to the future of Silicon Valley and the city…
Mayor Sam Liccardo: Silicon Valley has developed on the suburban model a lot of tilt up, one and two story tech campuses surrounded by a sea of parking – there are inherent challenges in the sustainability of that model. We’re running out of land and God’s not building any more. We have horrible congestion on freeways and it’s not an affordable place to live.
We need to develop differently – we’re trying to retrofit a city built for automobile into a city built for people. We need to attract Silicon Valley’s talented, creative people…if we cannot attract the 20-30 year olds to live here, they will be somewhere else…We’ve got a vision for the Grand Central Station of the West… We’ve seen what they’re doing in London…it doesn’t hurt that they have a few bucks.
Alison van Diggelen: So what have they learned from San Francisco’s tech experience?
Sam Liccardo: We’ve seen how intense the tech backlash has been in San Francisco. We’ve got a strong focus on building affordable housing… address concerns about displacement, pressure on the cost of living.
Liccardo points out that this development may be long in coming…a decade even…
Sam Liccardo: This is not going to happen tomorrow: We’re not going to have 20,000 Googlers descending from parachutes…
Last night, Donald Trump delivered his first address to Congress. For the first time, Trump actually appeared both presidential and optimistic as he delivered an upbeat message that called for unity and bipartisan action. But was it just a facade? Can Trump possibly deliver on his ambitious promises of generous tax cuts, massive infrastructure investment and immigration reform? After all, just hours before his speech promised “clean air and clear water” for all Americans, he signed an executive order dismantling EPA protections for lakes and waterways in the U.S. There are already cracks in the facade and many unanswered questions.
The BBC’s 5 Live asked me to share my perspective as Britain woke in sleepy amazement to this presidential performance.
Report by Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Listen to the BBC Podcast (starts at 21:36) or to the 4 minute clip below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Colletta Smith: In the last few hours, the U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to Congress. He covered some familiar themes like job creation and infrastructure investment….The Silicon Valley journalist Alison van Diggelen is on the line this morning. Good morning Alison!
Alison van Diggelen: Good morning, great to join you.
Colletta Smith: Thank you for joining us again. You’ve been helping us with this whole story over the last year of Trump’s (campaign and) election. This would not normally make the headlines: a president outlining potential budget negotiations. Yet it has with Trump, because we were expecting a surprise. And perhaps the surprise is that there wasn’t really a surprise in the speech that he gave?
Alison van Diggelen: His performance tonight was a sharp contrast to the chaotic first 40 days of the Trump presidency. He was very presidential tonight. He stuck to his script and he had a much softer approach. He had a lot of “gifts” for everyone. He’s proposing what he calls “massive” tax relief for the middle class, cuts to corporate tax; $1 Trillion in infrastructure spending and a military spending increase of $54 Billion, which to put in perspective is the entire annual budget for UK military.
Colletta Smith: When it comes to adding up those sums…do we have any more details as to how he plans to finance those extra boosts?
Alison van Diggelen: That is the big question. It’ll be interesting to see how the markets respond. There are so many outstanding questions:
- How is he going to pay for these tax cuts and infrastructure spending?
- Can he get these measures through Congress?
- Will the Federal Reserve undermine his actions by increasing interest rates?
- Will he start a trade war with his tariff plans and threats to renegotiate multilateral trade agreements like NAFTA?
There are so many questions unanswered, so many details unanswered. There’s a big question mark over what the future holds.
Colletta Smith: At what point does the electorate, his supporters demand that detail?
Alison van Diggelen: The stock market is on a roll right now. The market is up 10% in the ” Trump rally” since the election. Who knows if that can continue? As we all know, the stock market can turn on a dime. It depends on optimism and if the market keeps that optimism. One analyst said, “The market likes to trade on hope,” and all these issues – tax cuts, deregulation, infrastructure spending – they’re all boosts to economic growth, but at some point if he’s not able to push ahead and make progress in Congress, there may be an adjustment of that optimism and people will say: these wonderful (economic stimulus) “carrots” are not going to happen, and then things could take a nose dive.
Colletta Smith: Alison van Diggelen, Silicon Valley journalist. Thanks as ever for joining us and giving us your analysis this morning.
Read more on Trump’s speech from the BBC and The Guardian
“According to a CNN/ORC poll of about 500 speech watchers, 57% said they had had a very positive reaction to President Trump’s Congress address, with seven out of 10 saying they believed his policies would move the US in the right direction.
His popularity, however, has hit a historic low for modern presidents after a month in office – just 44% of Americans think he is doing a good job, according to RealClearPolitics.
Mr Trump’s young presidency has been overshadowed by missteps including a high-profile court defeat to his controversial travel ban and the firing of a top aide.” BBC News
Elon Musk continues to make ambitious plans for Tesla Motors, some even call them “ludicrous.” Not content to make a niche product for electric vehicle enthusiasts, he now wants to conquer the mass market, competing in the major leagues against GM, BMW, Ford et al. Musk is promising an annual production of 1 million cars by 2020, a staggering increase from last year’s paltry: 76,000. Is he insane?
On a conference call with Musk and media colleagues this week, Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues learned that Musk is still calm and laser-focused on executing his “Tesla Master plan.” This year is crunch time for Tesla. The future of the company rests on the timely and efficient production of the Model 3, Tesla’s smaller, mass market car. Will demand stay strong, despite intense competition and reservation holders threatening to cancel due to his position on Trump’s economic advisory team? Musk seemed to flounder a bit on this question and refused to disclose the latest reservation numbers, for fear of analysts “reading too much into them.”
During the discussion of Tesla’s 2016 financial results, some anomalies arose. Despite continuing to make massive losses (due to capital investment in the Tesla Factory and the Gigafactories), its share price is still in the stratosphere. Tesla might produce a small fraction of GM and Ford’s output, but the company is valued on par with them. What gives?
“The recent run-up in Tesla stock has less to do, in our view, with anything around the near-term financials, and more to do with the nearly superhero status of Elon Musk,” Barclays analyst, Brian Johnson.
Superhero status? More ludicrousness…The superheroes Tesla is focused on are the mighty robots on the factory floor. Musk has named them after X-men superheroes, like Cyclops and Thunderbird (see photo above); and they’re the ones that’ll have to earn their superhero status as manufacturing goes into top gear in the next few month.
“Tesla is going to be hell-bent on becoming the best manufacturer on earth.” Elon Musk
The BBC’s Fergus Nicoll invited me on Business Matters to help explain more.
Listen to the full podcast on BBC World Service (starts at 37:30) or the 5 minute clip below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
BBC Host, Fergus Nicoll: Tesla stock has hit record highs, soaring 50% since December. With investor confidence growing that Tesla will deliver its Model 3 on time. Let’s explore this with Alison in Silicon Valley. Before we get into the nitty gritty of Model 3, and the other numbers, I know you watched Elon Musk do the webcast that go with the Q4 figures. What kind of presentation did he come up with?
Alison van Diggelen: I listened to the (live conference call) podcast. Elon Musk was on the podcast with his (retiring) CFO, answering questions from the media. They were generally upbeat. Elon Musk always over-promises how soon his vehicles will be delivered, but he is confident that they’re going to start deliveries of their Model 3 in July of this year, for employees first…beta testing for employees. He’s hoping for the mass rollout starting in September of this year. They’re pretty bullish about that.
Fergus Nicoll: Here’s the thing: Tesla has a valuation pretty close to Ford. But compared to Ford it makes about five cars! So what are we seeing? A massive future priced into that?
Alison van Diggelen: That’s right. Last year, Tesla delivered 76,000 vehicles (compared to Ford’s 2.5 million), but Elon Musk is very bullish. He’s aiming for the factory to produce 500,000 cars by the end of 2018, and one million a year by 2020. He’s ludicrously ambitious. Brian Johnson, who’s an analyst with Barclays, called this run up in the Tesla stock more “Elon Musk superhero status” than short term financials. What Elon Musk says, he often delivers….eventually.
Tesla merged with SolarCity, the rooftop solar provider, so that is also giving an upside. They’ll be able to cut costs: Tesla showrooms will also become showrooms for the SolarCity solar panels. They’re also doing the other side of the equation: energy storage….
Fergus Nicoll: The household and business batteries.
Alison van Diggelen: Exactly.
Fergus Nicoll: The thing is, Americans drive insane distances. Electric cars have to go a long way….the infrastructure has to catch up with the company?
Continue listening to the podcast clip above, or at BBC Business Matters for more about:
The ambitious supercharger network expansion
The fact that all cars will be equipped to be fully self-driving
Why the market continues to bet on Elon Musk
For Tesla to succeed in becoming “the best manufacturer on earth,” three big questions remain:
- Will the Tesla Model 3 be delivered on time and on budget this year?
- Will demand stay strong for Tesla, despite stiff competition from GM, Ford, BMW, Nissan, etc?
- Can Tesla make the huge capital investment required (for the Tesla Factory and Gigafactories expansion), without running out of money?
Read more about Tesla and Elon Musk from Fresh Dialogues archives