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Monday, June 22, 2020

Elon's Estimates - Mistaking A Clear View For A Short Distance


Elon Musk is known for many things: Zip2, PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, Boring Co...
But he is also known for his over-enthusiastic estimates of when a technology can be delivered. Other than Model Y, every one of Tesla's vehicles has been late to market. In December of 2015, Musk said that full self-driving would be available in 2 years; it has made progress, but it is still not here. And more recently on the Joe Rogan podcast, Musk predicted that within 5 to 10 years people will be able to directly communicate thoughts via brain implants rather than using the slow analog process of speech or writing.

For followers of Musk (fans and detractors alike), this is known as MST or Musk Standard Time. Converting from MST to a Gregorian calendar is not an easy task. It involves leap years and slide rules and it is not possible in all instances.

I don't point this out for ridicule; rather it is to ask the question: Why does Musk continue to make bold predictions on unrealistic timelines?

In short, I think that he is falling into the trap that Paul Saffo warned against:

       Never mistake a clear view for a short distance. ~Paul Saffo

Musk has a clear view of his plan. He's well aware that there will be challenges, but he has built teams and achieved many things that were deemed previously impossible. Create a door-to-door driving directions website - Check; Create an internet payment system - Check; Make sexy fast electric cars that blow away gas cars costing 10 times as much - Check; Create giant energy storage systems that change the way energy is bought and sold - Check; Land rockets on autonomous drones ships at sea - Check; Launch the largest network of low Earth orbit satellites that has ever existed to bring internet access to every square millimeter of the planet - Now underway and looking for Beta customers.

Class ½ Impossibilities

So it is not naiveté that brings Musk to these optimistic timelines. Rather, it's a series of successes. You look at the problem and ask yourself if engineering and innovation can achieve it, or would it require magic. If the answer is the former, then it can be accomplished. Cars will be self-driving, the only question is when. Humans will land on Mars, the question is will it be in this generation or another. When done, these will be incredible feats, but it will not be magic that brought them into existence. These accomplishments will be the product of hard-fought breakthroughs. If you have a vision, a roadmap, the ability to raise capital, the ability to attract great talent, and the ability to adapt based on feedback and learnings, the 'impossible' can be achieved. And maybe, just maybe, the people that accomplish it will be called sorcerers.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is when someone has little skill or expertise in an area and assumes it will be easy for them. Their lack of knowledge gives them undeserved overconfidence. What Musk 'suffers' from is almost the opposite of this effect. He knows it will be Hell; it's just that he's been on the trail through Hell so many times that he could be a tour guide. And the one sure way to fail is to assume it's not achievable.

Musk has been on the trail through Hell so many times that he could be a tour guide.

What is the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger Effect? Would it be The Kruger-Dunning Effect or perhaps the Regurk-Gninnud Effect? 😃 Knowing something will be hard and doing it anyway is how great things are achieved.

The future will not be bound to a timeline. It is fickle and does not give up its secrets easily, but this should never stop the quest for a better tomorrow.

This post started off with a quote from Paul Saffo and I'll end it here with a quote from one of his contemporaries:

        "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." ~Alan Kay 

For more on Musk's Moonshot management style, check out this article.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Prius vs Model 3

The Toyota Prius was a landmark vehicle. At its introduction, it was the biggest advancement in car tech in decades. Worldwide sales of the Prius passed the 1 million milestone in May 2008, jumped the 2 million mark in September 2010, and reached 3 million in June 2013. It was selling well, it was a halo brand for Toyota and branched off many variants: Prius V, Prius C, Prius-Plug-In, and most recently Prius Prime.

Hybrid Technology Never Crossed the Chasm

Prius was the flagbearer hybrid brand in the industry. A hybrid vehicle from any manufacturer was compared to the industry benchmark, Prius. Toyota put hybrid tech into many of their other vehicles too including Lexus brands for a total of 44 different hybrid models sold around the globe.

As I write this in 2020, Toyota has sold over 15 million hybrid electric vehicles. Despite this success, hybrid vehicles have remained a niche product. Hybrid tech has a loyal following, but it has not crossed the chasm to become mainstream.

Will EVs Suffer The Same Fate?

This made me wonder if EVs would suffer the same fate of being relegated to a niche market. As one (far from conclusive) indicator, I decided to compare the sales of the flagship EV (Tesla Model 3) to sales of the flagship hybrid (Toyota Prius). 

Model 3 has been on sale for 11 quarters now, so we put the first 11 quarters of cumulative Prius sales next to the first 11 quarters of cumulative Model 3 sales. Here's that chart:


As you can see, during this time window, Model 3 is selling significantly better than Prius had. This does not guarantee that EVs will go mainstream, but it looks like the technology has a shot and, as we wrote here, and this could be the decade that it happens.

In the final quarter of Model 3 sales, Model Y was included in the date. I would have preferred to have just Model 3, but Tesla lumped Model Y and Model 3 sales together in their Q1 2020 report. Although, Model Y sales have just begun their production ramp, so their volume is not yet significant.

I thought it was important to make this comparison now, since I expect Q2 2020 numbers to be skewed by the pandemic (for Tesla, the rest of the auto industry, and most of the economy).

Will EVs go mainstream? Magic 8-Ball says 'Signs Point To Yes!'

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Prius#Sales
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_Model_3#Deliveries

Thursday, June 4, 2020

2020s The Decade Of The EV


The decade* has not gotten off to a good start: a pandemic, giant killer hornets, racial strife, Ebola outbreak, Michigan dam breaches, Puerto Rico earthquakes, Australian bushfires, Cyclone Amphan, Cyclone Harold, Taal volcano eruption, Brazilian floods & mudslides...

Some of these disasters could leave an indelible mark on this decade; and while I hope that we learn our lessons from these tragedies and improve our society, that's a topic for another forum. This blog is about electric cars and EVs are sure to leave their mark on the 2020s.

Technologies frequently limp along for 10 or 20 years before the stars align and they suddenly become an "overnight success". This decade will be the one where EVs hit this overnight success tipping-point and become the norm. By the end of the decade, new car sales will be dominated by electric vehicles. When you are car shopping in 2029, considering a gas-powered car would be like considering a flip-phone in today's smartphone world.

Source: BloombergNEF
Why do I make this assertion?
  • First, EVs are more fun to drive (they are quieter, smoother, quicker) 
  • Gas prices are volatile and change with the whims of politics, saber-rattling, hurricane refinery outages... Electricity prices are far more stable and you can even generate it yourself from your own roof.
  • Battery prices have and will continue to drop. Batteries are the most expensive component in electric cars today and their price of manufacture has continued to drop. More battery factories are being built today than ever before in history.
  • EVs will be more affordable than gas cars by 2026. Today, if you consider fueling and maintenance, EVs are cheaper from the long term total cost of ownership perspective. However, for many people today, the initial sticker shock drives them away from an EV purchase. Following on the trend of battery costs, the sticker price for EVs will continue to drop. 
  • Charging speeds will increase. As battery tech improves, the causes of battery degradation will be mitigated and batteries will continue to toughen up and become tolerant to higher charging rates and more heat.
  • Ranges will increase. As battery tech improves, more energy will fit in the same space with less weight. This will be driven by both technology improvements and cost reductions.
  • Charging infrastructure will continue to proliferate. Unless you drive an EV, you are likely unaware of all of the charging infrastructure that already exists. Take a look at the map on plugshare.com, there are many places you can plug-in. And as more people start driving EVs, more infrastructure will be deployed at businesses that want to attract EV drivers and by utilities that want to sell electricity.
  • Electric fuel is cheaper. As I write this, gasoline prices are cheaper than they have been in decades. However, even at $1 per gallon, charging overnight at offpeak rates, I'm paying ~70% less per mile than a similar gas-powered car (25MPG @ $1 per gallon compared to $0.05 per kWh @ 4 miles per kWh). 
  • Update: @KennyBSAT pointed out that I forgot to mention the variety of vehicles that will become available during this decade with choices that can "carry more people or a bunch of stuff or tow, all while maintaining range." Good point!