Tim Higgins — Power Play: Elon Musk, Tesla, and the Bet of the Century

As for Musk, he was given numerous opportunities to comment on the stories, facts, and characterizations presented in these pages. Without pointing to any specific inaccuracies, he offered simply this: “Most, but not all, of what you read in this book is nonsense.”

La lecture de Power Play fut pénible. Pas qu’il soit particulièrement mal écrit, malgré quelques longueurs, mais les frasques du milliardaire qui prétend combattre le réchauffement climatique au pied de son jet privé, les élucubrations cannabiques du grand adolescent qui assure résoudre des problèmes civilisationnels avec des bolides accélérant très rapidement entre deux bouchons, les divagations du pseudolibertarien qui agonit la SEC tout en empochant l’argent du contribuable américain, sont pénibles.

Elon Musk se présente comme un self-made man, tout à la fois fondateur de PayPal et de Tesla, mais Power Play rappelle ce qu’il doit aux véritables créateurs de ces entreprises. Voilà qui est insupportable aux chantres de la geste muskienne, qui ont organisé la riposte contre Tim Higgins, cible d’accusations que la solide documentation de son travail journalistique dissipe sans peine. Power Play est pénible, oui. Passionnant, aussi.

Notes

Comment Elon Musk est devenu « cofondateur » de Tesla :

In creating Tesla, Eberhard had gotten the broad strokes right: about the potential for lithium-ion batteries, and the untapped possibilities for a high-end electric sports car. But he made painful, naive mistakes, from minimizing the complexity of making a car to losing track of the growing organization’s finances. His biggest trip-up, though, the one that would gnaw at him for years to come: He lost control of the board. Each time Musk raised more money for the company, his grasp on the company grew tighter. Tesla was a game of control, and Eberhard had lost.

La vie de milliardaire est tellement difficile :

It was a perfectly aimed jab at his former partner. Musk was notoriously thin-skinned about his place in Silicon Valley history. When Valleywag suggested he didn’t deserve credit as a PayPal founder, Musk responded with a more-than-2,000-word rebuttal, complete with footnotes. Musk didn’t wait for his day in court with Eberhard; he responded on the company’s website with a massive recounting of Tesla’s history as seen through his eyes, noting that when he first met with Eberhard about Tesla, Eberhard “had no technology of his own, he did not have a prototype car and he owned no intellectual property relating to electric cars. All he had was a business plan to commercialize the AC Propulsion tzero electric sports car concept.”

A Tale of Two Carmakers :

While that kind of speed impressed Toyota, the executives weren’t happy with the quality of the product they were receiving. […] One big source of tension emerged over how Tesla validated its powertrains. To Toyota’s dismay, Tesla engineers told them that they took their suppliers’ word that parts were up to snuff, instead of conducting quality control tests to ensure durability for real-world use. That was a major no-no in the established world of car building. For all the headaches, Tesla’s team was getting a useful primer on how to develop a powertrain that could not only deliver muscle, but that could last in the real world. Toyota’s handholding with the RAV4 was having unintended benefits — Straubel and his colleagues took what they learned and poured it straight into the Model S.

Tesla réussit malgré Elon Musk :

At Tesla, it was becoming clear that the decider was Musk and Musk alone. He had flexed his muscles, in an early instance, when Martin Eberhard didn’t take him seriously about the quality of the dashboard. With the Model S, his personal preferences had likewise been written all over the car. Musk has a long torso, sitting higher in the seat than a typical driver. Consequently, he pushed the team to hang the sun visors in a way that, engineers worried, wouldn’t be useful for most drivers. He rarely carried anything but a phone, his assistant trailing him with whatever he might need. So he had no interest in cluttering a center console area with cubbies. Instead, the team laid a strip of carpet between the car’s two front seats, with little walls that formed a sort of gutter. Even the placement of the external charge port was influenced by Musk, specifically the layout of his garage. Most American drivers park nose first; the design team figured that placing the charge port at the front of the car made intuitive sense. But Musk wanted it at the rear of the car: that’s where it best aligned with his home charger. The cars were being built in Musk’s image. It remained to be seen whether car buyers would share that vision.

Une question de priorités :

It was the kind of story that would become legend, pointed to as an example of how Tesla was nimbler than its competitors. But it also illustrated that Tesla had yet to develop the kinds of systems to prevent such an error to begin with, as it prioritized the pace of development over process, sacrosanct at a traditional car company. Those painful, self-reflective investigations to reveal how an error was made were done not just to ferret out mistakes but to deter future ones.

Love for Sale :

It was just months earlier that Musk had, in a darker moment, considered handing away ownership of the company he’d bled for. He had quietly reached out to his friend, Google co-founder Larry Page, and offered to sell Tesla to Google — potentially for about $6 billion, plus another $5 billion in expenses. As part of the deal, Musk sought the $5 billion to expand the Fremont factory, and he would remain running the automaker for eight years, to ensure Tesla successfully turned out its third-generation, mass-market car. His role at Tesla after that would be anyone’s guess.

Le culte de Musk :

That may have been Musk’s intention, but as Fossi watched the video from his Trump Tower office, his own skepticism grew. Maybe it was because, with the benefit of hindsight, he could watch that video knowing that Tesla’s boisterous plans for a battery swap had never panned out. Tesla found little interest from owners; some worried about their battery pack being replaced with a faulty one. The whole show seemed driven, as much as anything, by a desire to help the company qualify for regulatory credits. What really caught Fossi’s attention, though, was the crowd’s enthusiasm. “It struck me that this was like a religion,” Fossi recalled. He marveled at how Musk had forged a narrative of himself as a great tech visionary — landing rockets, disrupting industries, making the world cleaner. “This guy — he’s a prairie preacher,” Fossi said. “He’s got the revival tent up and these people are in it.”

Le passage le plus hallucinant du livre :

For all the sparring, Musk was interested to hear what Cook was thinking, and a call was arranged. According to people who heard Musk’s version of events, Cook tested the waters about an acquisition, and Musk showed some interest, but with a condition: He wanted to be CEO. Cook quickly agreed that Musk would remain CEO of Tesla under Apple. No, Musk allegedly responded. He wanted to be CEO of Apple. Cook, who since Steve Jobs’s death had shepherded Apple into the most valuable publicly traded company in the world, was gobsmacked by the request. “Fuck you,” Cook said, in Musk’s telling, before hanging up. (Apple declined to comment on the record.) Whether or not this was an accurate recounting, it’s hard to imagine Musk was serious about wanting to be CEO of Apple. Rather, the story played into Musk’s vision of Tesla becoming on par with Apple. It also served a more immediate purpose: It told those senior managers hoping for salvation from Apple to think again. They had to fix the mess at the Fremont factory or else.

Vers l’intégration verticale :

The idea took on a new, greater significance in early 2015, as the Tesla board visited the construction site for the Gigafactory in Sparks, where Musk and Straubel planned to work with Panasonic to build millions of battery cells and battery packs. As they looked at the massive site, the gravity of it hit many of them. If Tesla was positioning itself to build battery packs and sell them as part of solar panel systems, they should control the entire customer experience. To board members such as Gracias, it crystallized the understanding that they were moving into a new era for the company: the electricity storage business.

Il y a-t-il un autopilote dans la voiture :

It just wouldn’t be accurate to say that the system could possibly be capable of taking control of the car without a person sitting ready behind the wheel, watching the road as a backup. Tesla’s legal and PR departments had already been losing an uphill battle with Musk on messaging, according to those privy to the pushback. For the past year, they had stressed the importance of drivers keeping their hands on the wheel, working to ensure that any official Tesla communication demonstrated such use. But when Musk took TV reporters out for rides, he quickly demonstrated Autopilot — with his hands off the wheel.

Allumer le feu :

Perhaps sensing that he needed to bolster his team, Musk ordered up a party for some of the managers on the roof of the Gigafactory one night. He wanted a campfire and s’mores. Kassekert, director of infrastructure development, was aghast at the directive: Musk wanted to light a fire on the roof of a factory of highly flammable batteries? Dutifully, he figured out a way, laying a protective cloth over the roof. That night Musk drank whisky and sang songs. He posted a short video on Instagram after 2 a.m. That video, and a Rolling Stone cover story that dropped in November of him waxing on about his breakup with the actress Amber Heard, spooked some observers, who wondered about his stability.

Love for Sale (Reprise) :

The gravity of Tesla’s financial situation weighed on Musk. At one point, he thought aloud about how Apple and its war chest of $244 billion might help. By all accounts, the iPhone maker’s efforts to develop a car had been a struggle. Musk’s supposed bravado with CEO Tim Cook years earlier, when Tesla was last in trouble, may have ended a possible acquisition. This time, with his hat in his hand, Musk reached out to Cook about meeting for a possible deal. Perhaps Apple would be interested in acquiring Tesla for about $60 billion, or more than twice its value when Cook had originally inquired? A back and forth began between the two men’s camps to find a time to meet, but it quickly became clear that Cook’s side was dragging its feet, seemingly uninterested in finding an actual meeting time, a person familiar with the situation said. Instead, Apple hired back Doug Field, fresh from his work on the Model 3, to help guide its own car program.

Les usines « Gigafactory » comme produit :

Lessons learned from the first Gigafactory were also being applied to how the team designed and built the new factory. As Kevin Kassekert, Straubel’s deputy, worked on the final touches of the Nevada factory, he began building a team of construction experts that could be deployed around the world to open factories — taking the lessons they had learned and applying them globally. Much as the Model 3 had in many ways improved upon the Model S, they were trying to think of the factory as a product that could be enhanced with each iteration. The team in China convinced Musk not to do a total carbon copy of previous factories, but instead to use more typical Chinese industrial construction, which was less expensive and faster to raise, according to a construction manager briefed on the progress. The plants themselves were becoming a scalable product.