Elon Musk and his Twitter feed strike again! Early on Sunday morning, when vast swaths of the journalistic establishment were nursing their first cup of Folgers, the Tesla CEO tweeted that the company would hold a press conference on Thursday morning to address the pressing issue of “range anxiety” and the Model S sedan.
Tesla press conf at 9am on Thurs. About to end range anxiety … via OTA software update. Affects entire Model S fleet.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 15, 2015
“Range anxiety” is what happens to an electric-vehicle owner when he or she considers the distance of a journey and figures that the car won’t be able to make it without a lengthy battery recharging session. It also confronts wannabe EV buyers who know that they can refuel a gas-powered car in about five minutes and get another 300 miles of range, at vast network of filling stations. Why get an EV when you have that level of convenience and security?
Musk indicated in his tweet that Model S owners’ range anxiety would be alleviated via an over-the-air software update.
This is weird — and probably something of a bait-and-switch on Musk’s part. It also continues a pattern he’s established of tweeting out potentially market-moving Tesla news at odd hours and at times when many of the journalists who cover the company could reasonably be expected to be tending to non-Tesla business, such as sleeping, eating waffles, or preparing to take children to soccer practice.
It’s an @elonmusk world, and we just live in it!
Anyway, why was the tweet so weird?
The Model S comes in four variations, delivering ranges of between 208 and 270 miles per charge, according to Tesla. That’s far better than the other EVs on the market, most of which deliver less than 100.
In fact, the Model S is pretty much the only EV around that can assure its customers that they won’t suffer from range anxiety. Plus, Tesla continues to expand its extensive network of Supercharger stations, providing free high-speed recharging to Tesla owners for life. In the places where a lot of people own Teslas, there’s a lot of places to recharge. And Tesla is steadily filling in what limited Supercharger gaps exist, at least in the US.
I’ve experienced range anxiety in non-Tesla EVs. In a Tesla, however, I’ve laughed at range anxiety — even when I drove the high-performance Roadster and drove it hard.
Maybe Tesla will announce that a software update will improve charging for higher-performance Model S variants. It’s easy to run down the battery when you’re cooking around at less than modest speeds.
Who knows? Obviously, we’ll all be watching on Thursday when Tesla reveals the news behind Musk’s tweet. But the focus has already been shifted, to Tesla’s expertise at being a technology company, not a car company, something that Morgan Stanley lead auto analyst Adam Jonas highlighted in a short video he recently made about the company: Jonas noted that 60% of Tesla employees are involved in software, versus a meager 2% for traditional car makers.
This is critical. At the moment, Wall Street is deeply confused about Tesla. Analysts’ price targets for the high-flying company range from the $US65 to $US400 (it’s trading about $US191 on Monday). The stock story — Tesla is up over 1,000% from its 2010 IPO price — has turned into a manufacturing story, as the company struggles to scale up from a 35,000-per-year carmaker to one that says it can build half a million vehicles annually.
That’s a huge gulf to cross.
I would ‘t bet that Tesla can’t do it. But it does force those who follow the company’s financials to concentrate on the thorny questions that arise from placing big wagers on an automaker currently building one car at one factory.
I can’t help but suspect — in the most genial way possible — that Musk is trying to divert some scrutiny from Tesla’s manufacturing challenges and bolster the case that Tesla is of Silicon Valley, not of the rest of the paleolithic car business. Apps and code, people, not wheels and axles! Just in case you forgot.
Importantly, however, he is not trying to shore up a flagging stock! In a tweet on Monday, he said so:
Musk doesn’t have to tweet to cheerlead for Tesla stock. In fact, he has a history of criticising Tesla’s valuations. In a sense, he’s the wisest Tesla investor on all. He knows it’s very, very hard to build a completely innovative car company, almost from scratch.
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