- SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday with a 2008 Tesla Roadster as its payload.
- The event featured a livestream of the Roadster flying through space – a brilliant car commercial that didn’t require Tesla to spend a dime.
- Elon Musk’s inclusion of the Roadster in the Falcon Heavy drew coverage of the launch from all kinds of publications.
SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space-exploration company, on Tuesday launched its largest rocket, Falcon Heavy, into space with a 2008 Tesla Roadster – from Musk’s electric-car company – as its payload.
The launch was designed to show that the company could transport cargo for future clients and eventually carry people and supplies to colonize Mars.
Launching a Roadster into space was a brilliant marketing move
But Musk’s inclusion of a Roadster in the rocket was not a coincidence. While Musk said he was using the Roadster because it would be less “boring” than traditional test payloads, there was most likely more to the decision.
In the months before Falcon Heavy’s launch, Musk and SpaceX posted several carefully arranged photos of the Roadster to imply that the car – and Tesla by extension – were symbols of human ambition and technological progress.
The photos also drew more media coverage of the Falcon Heavy launch, including from automotive publications that might not have covered it otherwise.
But the real payoff came once the rocket reached space and viewers of SpaceX’s livestream were treated to stunning views of Earth as the Roadster travelled toward Mars.
“It looks so ridiculous and impossible,” Musk told reporters in a press conference after the launch. “You can tell it’s real because it looks so fake, honestly.”
The livestream delivered on the hype and sent a message loud and clear: Elon Musk is thinking bigger than any other American in business.
While Tesla has had significant and prominent production delays when introducing new vehicles, the livestream reminded viewers of the company’s role in shifting the auto industry’s narrative toward a future of electric self-driving cars.
While Tesla has fallen behind other auto manufacturers in its efforts to mass produce electric cars and is competing with other self-driving technology like Waymo’s, it is hard to imagine any other car company pulling off a similar spectacle.
Musk has always had great marketing instincts
Of course, this wasn’t first great marketing stunt for Musk, whose instincts for showmanship are unparalleled among auto executives.
In November, he turned the launch of a Tesla big rig into an event that captivated Tesla fans and industry observers. It helped that the electric truck, the Semi, had impressive features. And it didn’t hurt that Musk also used the event to reveal the new Roadster, which surprised attendees as it was driven out of the back of a Semi.
Musk has also shown a gift for building excitement through social media. He is one of the few CEOs with a Twitter account that doesn’t feel as if it’s written by a public-relations team, and his candor is both endearing and effective. He responds to questions and concerns from Tesla customers, teases upcoming features, and cracks jokes, generating a significant amount of news coverage for his companies.
But Musk’s hype might not be what Tesla needs right now.
The company has had no problem creating demand for its vehicles, but it does need help in meeting that demand. After missing its production targets for the Model 3 by a large margin last year, Tesla’s challenge for 2018 will be to start fulfilling the more than 400,000 preorders for the car – a number that, after the Roadster’s space flight on Tuesday, is likely to continue to rise.
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