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This is the Kodak Moment for the Auto Industry

Plug-In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance is currently small but growing...

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

EVs Enter The Sweet Spot

An idea whose time has come is unstoppable. 

For a product to go viral, it has to work reliably, be affordable, and bring you joy.  

EVs are entering this sweet spot. They have all three of the major requirements. Battery technology has advanced to allow for long-range driving. The cost for EVs continues to decline even as new features, more range, and performance are added. And EVs are fun! The "EV grin" is a common response to pressing on that accelerator for the first time (or the 1000th time).

In the 2020s, EV will cross the chasm to the mainstream. 

This is the decade of the EV! 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Se7en Ways Legacy Automakers Need To Be Like Tesla To Survive in the 21st Century

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Let's say you are the CEO of a car company (big or small). How can you lead your company to play a pivotal role in the next evolution of personal transportation? How can you take advantage of your existing strengths while developing the prowess and skills that you need in this new age? How do you augment the acumen and managerial skills you already have to become a market leader? How can you help not just your company, but the broader society meet the challenges posed by this massive transition? How do you address issues related to climate, privacy, employment, income equality, and general well-being, among others — while still ensuring success for your enterprise? We'll explore this and more in our list of seven things leaders should think about. 

  1. Become accustomed to disruption - The auto industry has always been competitive, but disruption means that plans that have been years in the work may become irrelevant. Automakers are going to have to become agile. Don't fall into the sunk cost fallacy (I'm looking at you hydrogen). 

  2. Software is eating the world - Automobiles are/will be software-driven, whether it's the anti-lock brakes, motors controllers, battery management system, entertainment, or the user interface, it's software-controlled. And you need a full-time dedicated software development team to add more features, fix bugs, and improve things. Today, software is almost an afterthought for most auto OEMs. It is sadly apparent that the software in most cars is piecemeal and outsourced. This needs to be completely flipped on its head. The components of the car need to exist to serve the software and the user experience. Use software-first design! 

  3. Raise your technological acumen - Software is just one of the technologies that legacy automakers are sorely missing. It's time to grow a battery chemistry team, a battery management team, an energy efficiency HVAC team... Just depending on suppliers for these advancements means you'll have no competitive advantage. P.S. If you haven't partnered with an autonomous drive company already (or started your own), you're behind. 

  4. Innovate rapidly and openly - Traditionally automakers build behind closed doors until the big reveal day. This limits the ability to receive feedback. It leads to years of secretive work on a product that no one is interested in unless you spend millions on marketing to create demand. Instead, see which ideas capture customer/public interest and drive their own buzz. These are the products that will have word-of-mouth marketing. Your budget is better spent on engineering (items 2 and 3) than marketing yesterday's products!

  5. Collect data and learn from it - Your products need to become connected and you need to collect the wealth of data that they generate. How are your products being used, how are they failing, how can they be improved... everything from the most commonly used features and how many user actions (clicks, words, gestures...) are needed to (en/de) activate them. It's time to open an Amazon AWS account. Tap into the telemetry stream!

  6. Adopt innovative capital models - Get creative. Maybe, rather than just starting an internal EV line, spin out an EV start-up. Maintain a controlling interest and supplier sharing contracts, but give them the freedom to operate outside of your overbearing corporate governance. Something like Saturn (but with a better ending). An IPO could help kick start or accelerate the EV effort. You might even end up owning a cool new brand. 

  7. Focus on purpose and people, not product - A mission-driven company is something that people can fall in love with. Don't talk about what you will do, instead talk about what you have done and how this lays the foundation for better days ahead for all. This gets you fans, not just customers. The clean slate that #6 provides might be required to wash off that oily past. Sure you must drive to be a profitable company, but profits should be the secondary effect to fulling the bigger purpose, not the first-order goal.  
The world is not the slow-moving place that it once was. It's adapt or die time. We still take photos, just not with a Kodak camera. We still watch movies, just not from Blockbuster. During this transportation transition, which brands or companies that we know today, that seem indelible, will fall to Death's scythe and fade into the annals of history?

Major transitions are not easy:
How many typewriter companies are now making laptops? 
How many flip phone companies are now making smartphones? 
How many movie rental stores launched successful streaming services?
How many legacy automakers will master EVs, software, connected cars, and AI?
How many legacy automakers will exist in 2040? 

Monday, November 1, 2021

15 Years Electric

We started our journey to move to a renewably-powered life 15 years ago. We've made great strides and still have more to go. Here's our journey so far.

Part I: The Wake Up Call - You Will Be Held To Account

2007 was my "wake up" year. This was the year that our then-toddler started talking. It dawned on me that one day I'd be asked what I did to prevent the climate calamity that would likely be the harsh reality of their young adult life. Sadly, with the heat waves and wildfires of 2021, which have become an annual event, this prediction has apparently come to be, but let's get back to 2007.

Considering the political leaders that we had in the White House in 2007, it was clear that no political solution was forthcoming. I had to do something. So, what did that leave me with? I would have to do what I could within my own nexus of control*. 

Part II: Tailpipe-Ectomy 

The first step was to get an EV. This was not easy to do in 2007. I was lucky and found an electric truck (yes, there were electric trucks before Rivian R1T and the Tesla Cybertruck). 

This was not a conversion. It was a factory-made EV from General Motors; a rare find at that time. This truck was one of just 492 built in 1997 and 1998. Like its cousin, the GM EV1 from the same era, most of these trucks were taken from their owners (lessees) and crushed. Luckily a few of the trucks (about 60) were saved from the crusher because some fleet managers insisted on buying the vehicle instead of leasing them. Mine was one of these lucky few survivors.

This little electric truck only had about 40 miles of range at this stage of its life with 18-year-old batteries, but this was perfect for commuting and errands. I was amazed at how much of my driving fit within this limited range. And we still had our Prius for longer drives.

Plugging in to "fuel up," caused me to start looking upstream.

Part III: Driving on Sunshine 

Now that my daily commute was fueled electrically, I suddenly became much more concerned with how that energy was generated. Perhaps I should have been concerned before this point since we use electricity for so much in our daily life, but, for me, when the energy use was directly attached to how heavy my right foot was feeling that day, this peaked my awareness. So it was time to get renewable electricity.

My local utility has a "green source" option where you pay a little more and you get electricity from the wind farm. If you use this, you are helping the utility fund future green projects, but it was not direct enough for me. Programs like this don't change the grid mix that comes to your house. Apparently, that mattered to me; so we started shopping for solar.

In 2007, solar was significantly more expensive than it is today, and the few incentives that were available back then were capped at a low level. So solar was expensive but worth it.
Solar Panel Installation

We found a local company called Mr. Sun Solar and discussed options. At that time most solar panels were in the 165 to 185 Watt range. There was a new 200 Watt panel but it was back-ordered. We wanted a 4kW system, so twenty of these new panels meant that we'd use less roof space, leaving more room for future expansion, so we waited. Eventually, the panels arrived and before 2007 ended, we were generating enough solar energy to drive our little EV about 16,000 miles per year (we drive far less than that (then and now)). The solar panels were ensuring that our driving and even part of our home energy use was now powered by the sun. 

Part IV: A New LEAF 

In 2011, something exciting happened, an affordable family car electric vehicle came to market. This was the Nissan Leaf! 

Proud owner of a new Nissan Leaf

The Leaf was undoubtedly a breakthrough product at this time. It had twice the range of my EV truck. This was great. I pre-ordered it and received one of the first 2000 delivered to the US. It was a lot of fun the first few years, but ultimately, IMHO it turned out to have an inadequate battery thermal management system that resulted in battery degradation.

Part V: SolarCity 

In 2015 we added more solar onto our rooftop. We added 8kW; this tripled the size of our system. The cost difference for solar from 2007 to 2015 was astounding. Our new system was under a power purchase agreement. This meant that we paid zero out-of-pocket for the system, rather we'd buy the electricity that it generates for about 10% less than we were paying our local utility (and this price was guaranteed not to increase). In addition to zero out-of-pocket, we also qualified for the $6,000 state solar incentive. This means that we were getting paid to buy renewable electricity at a cheaper price! How could we say 'no'?

Part VI: Tesla Time

In 2016 our Prius was totaled. Our first choice to replace it was the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, as it turned out) this vehicle was not available in the US at that time. The Leaf experience made it clear that a pure electric vehicle was a viable option. However, we needed longer range and a better charging network. Tesla offered both of these.

We traded in our final gasoline-powered vehicle, a Honda Passport, and purchased a Tesla Model X. The X was a blast. It had all the fun of electric plus with the long-range and fast charging network, we could take it on road trips

Our Leaf's range continued to degrade. By this time, its usable range was nearly the same as the old Chevy S10 EV when we sold it. It had to be charged multiple times during the day to fulfill our needs. This meant if we had a mid-day emergency, it might not be up to the task. It was time to upgrade, so in 2018, we traded in the Leaf for a Tesla Model 3 long range. We were now a 100% Tesla household.

Proud Model 3 Owner


Part VII: Charged Up (Home Battery)

The next step in our journey happened on the last day of 2020. We had 3 Tesla Powerwalls installed. This allows us to better utilize our solar when it best helps the grid and reduces our electricity bill. Oh yeah, and it provides us with backup power.

Part IIX: Positive Feedback

One of the fun things that's happened is how well our various steps have all reinforced each other. The solar panels produce more than enough to power the cars. The EVs typically charge overnight, this is off-peak electricity rate time. The solar panels produce during peak rate time. This allowed us to shift to a Time-of-Use electricity rate schedule with our local utility. Instead of paying 10 cents per kWh any time during the day, we pay 4 cents at off-peak and 14 cents at peak. Since the EVs are a big part of our load, paying only 4 cents per kWh is a big saving. A kWh typically gets us about 4 miles of range, so we're paying about 1 cent per mile. You could pay ten times that much for fuel in a gas car. 

The only drawback is that part of the day we could be paying 14 cents per kWh. That's where the batteries kick in. During peak hours, we're not using the grid. Each morning from Sun up, the batteries charge from the solar. Then at 3 PM, when peak time starts, we drain the batteries. So we're not using the grid when it costs the most. Then when 8PM arrives, the prices drop and we go back to normal operation. Typically, the batteries still have a 40% charge after this, so we still have a reserve in case of a power outage. 

Part IX: The Numbers

Over these 15 years, we have gone from a hybrid and an ICE to two long-range EVs.  We've driven about 200,000 sun-powered electric miles. In the US, the typical vehicle is driven about 13,500 miles each year. The average fuel economy is 24.9 MPG. Putting these two together, the average household buys 480 gallons of gasoline each year (per vehicle). AAA says the current national gas price is $3.22. That means, on average, people are paying $1,500 per year (per vehicle) in fuel. 

Using the same 13,500 annual miles, in an EV charged off-peak (meaning 1 cent per mile) works out to just $135. Would you rather pay $1,500 per year or $135?

We have generated over 100,000 kWh of electricity from our roof. This is enough to drive a Model 3 around the planet 14 times. At 10 cents per kWh, that's $10,000 worth of electricity. 

The future will judge us; Mother Nature (and future generations) will hold us accountable. 

* Notes on personal responsibility 
There's an attempt to blame shift from the big polluters to individuals. Yes, we all have a role to play, but that does not mean they are off the hook for decades of polluting and deception.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Hoverboards Don't Hover, Sea Monkeys Aren't Monkeys, Tesla's Full Self-Driving Doesn't Fully Self Drive And It Doesn't Matter!

Disclosure: I'm long Tesla.

Let's talk about Beta software. This will be an important foundation for the rest of the discussion. Here are the basic stages of software development:

Pre-alpha - major sections of the software are incomplete and/or non-functional. Formal testing has not started.

Alpha - Most of the features have some level of functionality although they may have major known defects. Testing begins, but much of the test plan may be blocked (due to the known defects).

Beta - All of the features have some level of functionality. There are still known defects, but testing on all features can formally begin to uncover the unknown defects. There may be many beta releases, e.g., beta1, beta2...

Betas come in several flavors: 

Private beta - aka Closed beta. Software is kept internal to the development team and quality team. No one outside of this circle has access to the bits. 

Limited release beta - a select group of customers or development partners can run the software with the understanding that it still has known and unknown bugs. This software must not be used in a production environment without safeguards. The users must assume the software will do the worst possible thing, at the worst possible time (remember there are known and unknown defects). 

Open beta - aka Public beta. This is just like a limited beta except now anyone (with the minimum hardware requirements) can install and use the software with the understanding that it has defects, testing is still ongoing, and it is not yet approved for production release, safeguards must be in place.

Release Candidate (RC) - The known bugs are minor and the product could be released with these known documented defects. Testing is still ongoing and new defects are likely to be found. There may be many RC releases as defects are resolved and testing restarts to ensure that a "fix" didn't break something else (aka cause a regression).

Production Release - All verification tests are passed. The known defects are documented. The software is stable. Unknown defects may (likely) still exist (this is nearly always true in software development). 

Field Hardened - Software that's been deployed for a significant time. It's had multiple bug fix releases and security patches. The defect report rate had declined to near zero. No new features (that may bring new bugs and vulnerabilities) have been added recently... 

What Is FSD? (software lifecycle)

In the software lifecycle, Tesla's Full Self Driving (FSD) Beta is a limited release beta. The driver must maintain vigilance and assume it will do the worst possible thing at the worst possible time. The licensed driver behind the wheel is the safeguard. As Tesla rolls the beta out to more people, based on their safety score, FSD is still a limited release beta (just a little less limited). FSD is still years away from being considered Field Hardened. This is the level that it would need to be before the steering wheel could be removed. 

Levels Of Autonomy

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International has defined 5 levels of driving autonomy (6 levels if you count level 0, no autonomy). But they've made a major error in this scale in that it includes both human-piloted levels with various levels of assistance and it includes levels of fully autonomous systems where humans have no responsibility for driving. 

I think this has contributed to some of the confusion about autonomous driving. 

In Levels 0 - 2, the human is responsible for everything. Levels 1 and 2 may include assistance systems such as ABS, cruise control, lane following, traffic-aware cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane change assist, traffic light indication, sign recognition, and more. However, even with all of these assists, the driver must maintain awareness of their surroundings and they are responsible for the vehicle's actions. 

Let's come back to level 3 in a moment. 

Level 4 - 5: in these levels, the vehicle does all of the driving. There may not even be a steering wheel. Level 4 would be geo-fenced (or otherwise limited), such as an airport shuttle to/from long-term parking. Whereas Level 5 would be able to drive to any location that a typical person could drive, think robo taxi.

Part of the problem is that these have radically different levels of human responsibility, yet they are on the same scale. 

Level 1-2 should be called Driver Assistance (DA) levels and it could be expanded far beyond 2 levels based on how many assistance features are offered. 

Level 4 and 5 should be called Autonomous Drive (AD) levels. 

Creating independent categories, based on who's responsible (human-piloted or machine-piloted) removes any confusion as to who is responsible for piloting the vehicle. You have either a driver assistance system or an autonomous system. The responsibility is clearly defined. 

Level 3 - I promised we'd come back this one. Level 3 is not really a separate level, it's a level that operates at Level 4 some of the time and Level 2 at other times. This level operates autonomously in some areas but requires a human driver when it leaves this well-defined geofenced zone. The human is given adequate warning before the vehicle leaves the geofenced zone and there's a clear hand-off protocol from machine-pilot to human-driver. An example could be a semi-truck that can drive on the freeways with no human supervision; however, once it leaves the freeway, it can no longer pilot itself, and a human pilot is required. When the human is driving, it may have driver assistance features. This is a DA-AD hybrid system. 

Geofencing is the simplest example, but other operational domain parameters (such as time-of-day or weather) may also require the human to take over.

What Is FSD? (Level of Autonomy)

In the levels of autonomy, Tesla's FSD Beta is a driver assistance (DA) feature. The aspirational plan is for this software to evolve into an autonomous drive (AD) system, but it is far from there now. Tesla has bright minds working on the problem and enthusiastic drivers providing them with the data they need to continuously improve the system, but right now, it is still a DA system and the person behind the wheel is fully responsible for the actions of the vehicle. 

Tesla has not announced plans for a Level 3 or Level 4* product. They plan to go from Level 2 (driver assist) to Level 5 (robotaxi).

* Level 4 would be perfect for The Boring Company tunnels. This controlled environment would be much easier for an AI pilot to master than the above-ground real world. This could likely be deployed years before a Level 5 system.

If It Doesn't Drive Itself, Why Is It Called FSD? 

If you really still need this question answered, you must have skipped ahead; the answer is there above, but that's okay; I'll summarize it here. Tesla has a goal of making a robotaxi. This is an early version of that software, it does not fully work yet. This early version works some of the time, under some circumstances. This is a beta version of the software. 

What About the Sea Monkeys?! (I only came here to talk about them)

I hear you saying, "Sure, hoverboards don't hover and sea monkeys are not monkeys, but I don't put my life in their hands! I don't let them drive on city streets where pedestrians are crossing. Other drivers have not opted-in to allow Tesla test beta software on them." That's true, but you didn't opt-in for the distracted driver, the drunk driver, the person with broken taillights. So rather than fear-mongering, let's look at the data. Tesla's are the safest vehicles on the road; they have fewer crashes per million miles than the average vehicle and their statistics in Autopilot mode is even better than when they are solely human-driven. They are not accident-free, but if that's the standard, there wouldn't be any cars on the road.  


Saturday, October 9, 2021

5 Years Of Tesla Ownership

I bought my first Tesla, a Model X, in 2016; it was one of the first 20 thousand Model Xes off the line. We were not as early to Tesla as the original Roadster buyers but ahead of the swarm of Model 3 buyers.

Five years in and I still love to drive it. Each year that I've owned it, I've written an annual report of the adventures we've had and our ownership experience. You can see years 1 through 4 here: 1, 2, 3, 4. 

At the end of year 5, we have just under 43 thousand miles on the vehicle. 

Battery Degradation

Normally, I start these reports by talking about our various road trips for the past year and that fun we've had getting there in our Tesla, but I don't want to bury the lead for this year. The big breakthrough in year 5 is that the battery degradation has leveled off. This is great news! As you can see in the graph below, there was notable degradation in years 1 through 4.  

When new, our 90D had an EPA-rated range of 257 miles. In the first year, it was down to 250 miles. The end of year 2 saw 246 miles. The range was 240 miles at the end of year 3. Year 4 knocked another seven miles off, bringing the range to 233 miles. I was starting to get worried. The range seemed to be dropping 4 to 7 miles each year with no sign of slowing. I knew that battery range degradation is to be expected in the first few years, but the degradation rate should slow after that and I was seeing no signs of slowing since year 4 lost as much range as year 1 (seven miles).  

Year 5, is when we finally had the leveling off that I've been waiting for. As we exit year 5, I'm happy to say the reported range is now 237 miles (up a bit from the end of year 4).  

I'm not sure why more range is now being reported. We have had several over-the-air software upgrades. It's possible that one of them has changed the way the battery is managed or this data is reported. There's also "noise" in the readings from various things like battery-balancing, temperature... 

Another possibility is that with the pandemic, we've cut most of our road trips and I've been working from home for the last ~19 months, so the vehicle is not driven as much as years 1-4. This year+ of light use may have contributed to the reduced degradation too. Whatever the cause, I'm happy to see this leveling at 8% degradation. 

If you're EV shopping, and you plan to keep the EV for 5 plus years, make sure you account for this and buy at least 10% more range than you need to allow for some level of degradation and a worry-free drive.

To the Dunes

Quad on the dunes (via jmaboy)

Now on to the fun stuff. The one notable road trip we did take this year was to the Oregon dunes. Our timing was perfect as a heatwave hit the Portland area, we headed to the coast where it was much cooler. 

The drive was easy, we drove from Portland to Florence, Oregon on a single charge. The Florence hotel we stayed in had a Tesla destination charger. This allowed us to charge up as we strolled on the beach and ate dinner, giving us plenty of charge for our fun the next day. 

The dunes were fun; I can't wait till we can rent a Cyberquad or the like and tool-around on electrically powered sand riders.

On To Another Year

I plan on keeping this Model X until 2025. However, my 2016 vehicle is an Autopilot 1 vehicle and all the Full Self Driving Beta hype is getting my attention and giving me a case of fomo. The refreshed Model Xs have recently been spotted, I might have to go and test drive one soon. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Next Industrial Revolution

It has taken an extra decade or three, but it looks like we're finally moving into the 21st century: COVID-19 vaccines were developed with messenger RNA rather than 1900s techniques, rockets are able to land rather than just splashdown into the ocean*, cars will soon drive themselves, renewable energy is dominating new deployments, energy storage is reaching industrial scale, AI can understand human speech, by 2030 the majority of new passenger vehicle sales will be electric...

Times they are a-changin'.

We recently looked at Moore's Law, Wright's Law, Swanson's Law, & Jevons Paradox. These are and will continue to accelerate the advancement of technology. This got me thinking, what will the next big revolution be? 

Here are several of the past revolutions: 

Historical Revolutions

Textile manufacturing 
Steam engine
Steele production
Electrification, electric lighting 
Transatlantic communications
Home appliances
The Internet / broadband 
Datacenter / cloud

Rarely does a revolution come out of nowhere. Rather, the innovation exists, it is just constrained by something such as cost or producibility. So to see what's coming, let's look at the things that exist, but are somewhat nascent.

The Next Wave 

Using this lens, the things to watch include:
3D Printing
Energy Storage 
Renewable Energy 
"Affordable" Space Access
Artificial General Inteligence (AGI)
Autonomous Robots / Self Driving Cars 
Cryptocurrency / Fin-tech
Biotech / Genomics 
Human Brain Interfacing 

Certainly, all of the items on this Next Wave list are here to some extent today. The question is which one(s) will find the killer app? Which one (or more) will become ubiquitous? 
What do you think is missing from the list and which ones do you think will be the next big thing?

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tesla Will Make EVs In Texas but Can They Sell Them In Texas?

Tesla has announced that their next factory will be in Texas and construction is well underway. You can call it Giga Austin or Tera Texas, either way, this is great news. The Cybertruck and Semi are both expected to enter production from this site and it will mean jobs and revenue for the region. Tesla and the state of Texas seem to have a budding new friendship. Elon Musk has sold his California homes, moved to Boca Chica, Texas (or is that Starship, TX?) Speaking of Boca Chica, we can't forget about all the SpaceX activity in the state too. The Boring Company has even opened an office in the area. Musk is clearly all-in on Texas, but it is unclear if this will be a two-way relationship. 

The Lone Star State has named Giga Austin as The Manufacturing Project of the Year. And the state of Texas was given the 'Gold Shovel Award' by Area Development magazine for their business-friendly policies. 

Texas governor, Greg Abbott said, “The Lone Star State offers innovative businesses, the freedom to flourish with our pro-growth economic policies, a predictable regulatory environment, and our young, growing, and diverse workforce."

So with this mutual love-fest and pro-economics policies, certainly Texans will be able to buy the products that Tesla makes in the factories in Texas, right? Well, not directly. 

Currently, Texas state law does *not* allow Tesla to sell vehicles in the state. If you're a Texan and you want a Tesla, it has to be registered in another state and then transferred into Texas. When Giga Austin is online, it will be even more ridiculous. The vehicles will be legally required to be shipped out of the state before they can be delivered to someone that lives in Texas. You will not be able to go to the factory, take a tour, and drive home in your new just-off-the-line vehicle.

That's right, if you live in Texas, your vehicle will need to be loaded onto a truck and carried across the state line to New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Louisiana. Then the car carrier can turn around and take your vehicle to a Tesla service center where you can pick it up after you've paid for it online via a server that's outside the state. Note the loophole, this vehicle pick up is now not a "deliver", it's just an existing owner picking up their vehicle.

Why is this? As in many states, the auto dealership association has a significant amount of local political power. Tesla is not a member of their club. Tesla does not sell cars to dealerships, where dealerships add their mark-up, haggle on prices, sell you rust-proof undercoating, sell you service contracts, check with the backroom three times while you wait... Since they are not getting their cut, they want to do all they can to slow Tesla down in their region and they are using all of their political clout to do just that.

They say "everything is bigger in Texas," I guess that applies to cronyism and protectionism too. Maybe that saying doesn't apply to free markets and direct competition.

Oh, and if you thought, at least this means you won't have to pay Texas vehicle sales tax, I have bad news for you. Texas still requires their pound of flesh. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

For Electric Vehicles, There's No Reverse


Globally, plug-in vehicles were only about 4% of automotive sales in 2020. That's a small portion of the market. What difference does a 4% change make? Well, it's a growing percentage and unlike the 1990s EV movement, this time it looks unstoppable. This time, it won't be crushed, it won't be put into reverse. 
This trend looks like it will only increase. Many automakers are vowing to only sell zero-emission vehicles by 2030, '35, or '40 and many states and regions are banning the sale of new gas-powered cars along the same timeframe. 

There would be a major uproar against these initiatives if not for the fact that many consumers now expect their next vehicle will be a plug-in hybrid or an EV. Forbes reports that "consumer interest in purchasing an electric vehicle has doubled in the past three years." The 2020s are the decade of the EV.

Welcome to the electric generation! 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Tesla Network's Underground Advantage

Elon Musk knows how to cross-promote. The Boring Company uses Tesla vehicles in its Loop service. Space X uses Tesla Model X vehicles to transport astronauts to the launch pad. And who could forget when Space X launched a Tesla Roadster into space. It wouldn't be surprising to someday see a Lunar (or Mars) rover based on the Cybertruck with a large Space X logo on the side of the vehicle.

With this cross-pollination in mind, let's conjecture about the, yet to be deployed, Tesla Network. The Tesla Network is Tesla's planned robotaxi service. Of course, Full Self Driving is needed before there could be a robotaxi service. However, Tesla could launch a preliminary version of the Tesla Network that uses human drivers. This version of the network would be similar to Uber or Lyft, but with a 100% Tesla pure electric fleet.

Let's add one more component before putting the pieces together. The Boring Company Loop system is currently deployed in Vegas and under development in other cities. In this controlled environment, it will be much easier to achieve full self-driving.

Now, let's put this together. Imagine if the Tesla Network had access to the Loop tunnels. If the Tesla Network cars were human-piloted, they would drop into fully automated mode as they enter the Loop, they'd then navigate the tunnels, upon reaching the other end they'd return control to the human pilot as the car exits the Loop system. 

Consider a city that has a Loop tunnel system under the most congested portions of the city. In this example, there are Loop entry and exit points at the airport, the convention center, the multimodal park-and-ride, the stadium, and any other major attractions in the city. 

The Loop system would only be available to Tesla Network vehicles since they have the needed autonomous system to navigate the tunnels with high speed and to coordinate access with the other vehicles in the system.

This would be a major advantage that other ride-hail providers could not match. Image pulling out your phone, opening the "Tesla Hail" app, tapping in your destination; two minutes later a Tesla pulls up to the curb in front of you. You're in a westside suburb and you want to go to an event on the other side of town. It's rush hour (because it's always rush hour nowadays). You hop in the Tesla and head toward the crosstown highway. Instead of getting on the gridlocked highway, the car diverts to a corkscrew, you spiral down a level or two as the steering wheel tucks away, you enter a well-lit tunnel and accelerate to freeway speeds. The few other cars that you see are all engaged in a well-choreographed autonomous ballet. This is not a collection of rude and distracted drivers; this is an orchestrated, efficient system. 

After passing under the congestion of the city, you resurface on the eastside. The steering wheel redeploys and flashes for the driver to take control once again. The trip continues and you are dropped off with door-to-door service in half the time it would've taken on surface streets.

If this were available, why would you use any other service? 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Living In 2030

A friend was complaining about his electricity bill. He said, "With all this the heat this summer, I've been running the air conditioner a lot and the electricity bill is through the roof." 

He knows me well and before I could even say it, he said, "I know, speaking of my roof, I should put solar panels up there, right?" 

"Well, yeah," I said. "It makes more energy during the sunny summer months, so production scales up and down well with AC use; keeping the electric bill pretty flat with even a modestly sized solar system."

Him: "I might do it someday. Last time I looked, it was too expensive."

Me: "I'd check again. The prices have been dropping and there are incentives that can help pay for it. I'd get a quote from Tesla, Sunrun, and at least one other installer."

Him: "It would be cool to get home batteries too. We don't lose power often, but last winter we did and we had to go stay with my in-laws for a couple of days. I'd pay a lot to avoid doing that again, haha."

This conversation made me think of an expression, “The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.” In a lot of ways, our home is part of that unevenly distributed future. We have 2 long-range EVs in the garage, we have solar panels on the roof, and batteries to time-shift our energy use and back up for grid outages. Each one is great on its own, but when you put them together, they have positive compounding effects that allow you do even more.

Batteries are the most expensive component in an EV. Solar and EVs will be the obvious choice by 2030 (if not sooner). Wright's Law and Swanson's Law provide positive feedback loops for these technologies. Prices will continue to drop for solar and batteries; opening a larger market for them; further increasing economies of scale, further reducing costs, rinse and repeat.

So in 2030, if your roof has sun exposure, you can be assured, you'll have solar up there and if you are shopping for a new car in 2030, an internal combustion vehicle will be harder to find than a stick shift transmission is today in 2021.

Disclosure: I'm long Tesla.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Musk vs Milton :: forthright vs fraud [allegedly]

Federal prosecutors recently indicted Nikola Motors founder Trevor Milton on three counts of fraud for statements that misled investors about the state of the electric truck startup's technology.

I was discussing this topic with a friend and he said, "Milton copied Musk's playbook and now Milton is likely going to jail. It won't be long before Musk shares a cell with him."

"Woah!", I said, "That's a big leap in logic."

His argument went something like this: 

"Musk has made (and still makes) big boisterous, obviously unrealistic, claims to get media attention and investments. Musk claimed that they'd have a "lights-out alien dreadnaught" factory; that never happened. The Roadster, Semi, and Cybertruck have been announced for years and are still not going to be delivered to customers anytime soon (if ever). Outside of a prototype or two, the Cybertruck. is. not. real! He's obviously trolling. Musk has even said the Roadster will fly or hover, this will *never* happen in a production version. It all just chum for the fanbois. Musk is the P.T. Barnum of our day, not the Edison nor the Tesla."

"Milton followed the same playbook. He even named his company after the same guy, Nikola Tesla. Here's the most telling dead giveaway, Milton said he was going to "Out Elon, Elon." Milton made big claims that they'd have a great factory, great products, a great fueling network, partnerships... The only difference is that Milton was not granted the "Elon Time" to deliver on fifty percent of what he promised and then declare victory."

Tesla's original battery factory --

"Gigafactory Nevada," I interjected. 

"I refuse to call them 'Gigafactories'," he said -- "As I was saying (he continued), Tesla's original battery factory is still not as big as Musk claimed it would be when he made the deal with the state of Nevada. It's been years. That's fraud [allegedly]. What about the solar covered charging stations, only a few of them even have solar panels. That's greenwashing and lying to the public. Then there's, the icing on the sham cake, Full Self Driving. It requires an attentive driver at all times. That's *not* self driving, "full" or any other level. It's a driver assist system, with relaxed operational domains and a chump behind the wheel to take the blame when something goes wrong. Musk has been selling this FSD scam for years, since 2016 in one form or another, with the promise that it will be here "soon." All the while taking people's money while making them the beta testers for it, while endangering everyone around them on the roads."

"The system did what it should with Milton. I'm not sure why it has hesitated to do the same with Musk. He has been given "Elon Time" to deliver on these promises and they are still vapor."  

Those claims certainly don't paint a pretty picture of Musk (or Milton). Both men have certainly made incredible claims. There's, however, an important distinction. Musk makes claims about what they *will* do (forward-looking statements). Milton lied about what they *had* done. Let's deal with Milton first.

Milton [allegedly] had a semi-truck rolling down a hill and passed it off as being powered by their technology. Milton [allegedly] had a supplier's names taped over and then passed the component off as something they had developed. The Hindenburg Report detailed all of these allegations and more. So it's not that Milton wasn't given "Elon Time" to make good on promises. The charges against him are not for saying that they would have a great factory and great products. There are charges against him for misrepresenting things that he was showing to the public and claiming as accomplishments. 

Let's address each of the claims about Musk: 

  • Milton used Musk's playbook - Musk's playbook is to sell the idea of a better future. He is far from the first one to sell the vision of a bright future based on their products, but yes Milton did use Elon as a role model. Milton made similar fantastic claims, the difference was that (in my opinion) Milton didn't have the talent or resources to ever deliver on those blusterous claims. And, most importantly, Musk's playbook does not including showing non-working prototypes and claiming that they work. Musk's playbook does not include rolling vehicles down a hill and implying that it's operational.

  • Alien dreadnaught - Tesla's factories are highly automated (as are all modern auto factories), but it's not a lights-out (no humans) factory by any means. Musk admitted he was wrong about this and called humans "underrated." Being wrong about something, learning, and then admitting you were wrong is not the same as lying. Tesla still built factories, they just changed the plans when they found the current state-of-the-art in robotics to be lacking. 

  • Roadster, Semi, and Cybertruck - Every vehicle that Tesla has ever made (with one notable exception) has been late. Tesla does not just change a few tailfins and release a vehicle calling it a new model. Each one is a clean-sheet design to maximize safety, range, and manufacturability. When a product is not derivative, delays are common (if not inevitable). Tesla has delivered millions of vehicles, there's no reason to believe that these three will be any different. These will go to production. It doesn't matter if it's in 2022, '23, or '24. These vehicles will be the yardstick by which every electric entrant into that market space is measured. Saying things like 'the Cybertruck is fake' frankly makes you sound like you are hating on Tesla with no basis in facts.
  • Flying Roadster - The SpaceX edition of the next-gen Roadster will have cold gas thrusters. These are the same type that are used as maneuvering thrusters on rockets. I think Musk knows where to find a few engineers with experience designing these. Sure there may be legal restrictions about where they can be used, but, as wild as this claim is, there are no laws of physics that have to be suspended for this to occur. Just because no one has ever done it, doesn't make it impossible.

  • Gigafactory Nevada is not done - In 2020, the show Super Factories covered Gigafactory Nevada. They said that 13 million battery cells were produced per day. Panasonic later disputed this number but did confirm that in 2019 Gigafactory Nevada producing at a rate of 54 Gigawatt-hours annually. And by the way, this is why they are called 'Gigafactories' because they produce in the gigawatt-hour order of magnitude. So this is a massive factory by any measure. As for the incentives with Nevada, these were based on milestones that Tesla has to meet over a 20 year period to receive the tax incentives.  If Tesla does not meet the milestones, they don't receive the benefit. The contract even has clawback provisions that could allow the state to rescind prior-year incentives in some cases. 

  • Solar-powered charging stations - Tesla has installed charging stations around the world. They have more DC fast-charging stations than the next three providers combined. Most of these are leased areas on the parking lots of retailers like Target or Walmart. Installing a solar canopy would be up to the site owner, not Tesla. And many of those sites do have solar panels on their roofs (not as visible or sexy as a solar car cover canopy, but still there). At the sites that Tesla owns, like Kettleman City, they have solar canopies providing shade and energy. Additionally, Tesla has sold residential solar and commercial solar systems.

  • Full Self Driving - No one is required to buy FSD. It is an option. Tesla is not twisting people's arms to buy it. There's no high-pressure salesman trying to get you into an FSD system today. It's a checkbox on the website, if you think it's worth the money, get it; if not, don't. The people that have bought FSD are overwhelmingly satisfied with it. And, yes, right now FSD is just a driver assist system because it is in Beta. Yes, the people that are using it, are beta testing it because they want to. They are even willing to pay to use and test it. That's their prerogative. With the new subscription option, you could try it for a month or two and they decide if you want to buy it or not (or continue subscribing). 
  • Wild Claims - Musk has big ambitions. He wants to move humanity to sustainable energy production and consumption. He wants to make life multi-planetary... He leads with Moonshot aspirations. He is forthright with these goals. He puts them out there for scrutiny and feedback. So yeah, Musk often misses timeline estimates. If you don't fail occasionally, you are not thinking big enough.

Apparently, my friend is not the only one to draw a comparison between Musk and Milton. Forbes claimed that the indictment of Milton was a "veiled warning" to Musk. Although I didn't see anything in the article to support this claim.

Certainly, Musk does not need my little blog coming to his defense, but if you wind up in a similar conversation where someone equates Musk and Milton because they read something in Forbes or the like, now you understand how they are fundamentally different.

Disclosure: I'm long TSLA

Sunday, August 1, 2021

F-150 Lightning: A Threat To Rivian, Not Tesla

Big players and startups alike are jumping into the electric truck market: Tesla Cybertruck, Ford F-150 Lightning, GMC Hummer Electric, Chevy Silverado EV, Rivian R1T, Canoo Pickup, Nissan Titan Electric, Atlis XT, Lordstown Endurance, Bollinger B2, Hercules Alpha, Fisker Alaska, Alpha Wolf...

2021 is turning out to be the year of the electric truck, well... at least the electric truck hype. We'll see which ones come to market and which ones follow the Nikola Badger and disappear (looking at you Lordstown). 

Ford recently revealed their F-150 Lightning electric truck and the EV media is swimming with Cybertruck vs Lightning articles. I see the headline appeal :: America's best-selling truck goes electric to take on Tesla, the innovative electric up start.

Despite the headline narrative, this seems like the wrong comparison to me. If you are interested in the Cybertruck, then Ford's offering is not likely to sway you. Similarly, if you are interested in a normal-looking truck like the Lightning, you are not interested in the Cybertruck. The Cybertruck is a divisive love-it-or-hate-it wedge design. It literally looks like a wedge and the design acts as a figurative wedge. Certainly, you can compare them on price and range and other factors to pump a story out, but the actual cross-shopping audience is likely very small.

An overlooked aspect of Cybertruck's quirk design is that this allows Tesla to sidestep this head-to-head fight with the electric offerings from the legacy automakers.

The EV startups, not Tesla, are the ones that should really be frightened by the launch of the Ford Lightning. Let's look at one electric truck startup in particular, Rivian. Truck buyers are among the most loyal of brand shoppers, which puts Rivian in a tough spot. If buyers were dedicated to a brand (Ford, Chevy, Nissan...) but wanted an EV pickup, then they are likely to wait for an EV pickup in their favorite brand (F-150, Silverado, Tundra...). 

So this leaves Rivian only with the truck buyers that are not as brand loyal, the ones that are willing to take a chance on a start-up when purchasing the most expensive thing, other than a home, that most people ever buy. If Ford didn't have an EV pickup coming out soon, maybe this would have left the door open for Rivian to woo buyers as their current gas-powered trucks aged. This is how Tesla was able to move into the luxury car market, there was a void of EVs from the majors and Tesla was able to thrive in a space with little-to-no competition for nearly a decade until they eventually reached escape velocity.

This time, however, the majors don't want to allow a startup to take away their most profitable market. They are going to move in with products that will suck the oxygen out of the room, leaving startups gasping for air. 

I guarantee you that the list of EV trucks on the market in 2025 will not be the same list at the start of this article. Most of the start-ups will be acquired or go under. The Fisker Alaska might be Baked Alaska by then; Canoo might float away, Rivian might reach the river's end, the B2 might bomb, the Endurance might run out of steam, the sky may crash around Atlis, and Hercules might not complete the 12 labors. The well-funded startups (like Rivian) have a chance, but Ford and Chevy are not going to make it easy on them. 

Disclosure: I'm long TSLA

Friday, July 30, 2021

Sunrise Applies Heat to ODOT

The Oregon Transportation Commission held a meeting on July 15th. One of the items on the agenda was i205 improvements and expansion of 7 miles from West Linn to Oregon City including the Willamette River crossing. This work would add a third lane in each direction and reinforce the Abernethy Bridge and the eight other i205 bridges in the project area to be able to withstand a major earthquake.

The commission says the project will make the section of i205 "safer and allow more reliable travel to access work and critical services, even after an earthquake or other major disaster as well as address congestion."

This meeting included a public comment section. Several members of The Sunrise Movement made their voices heard.

From their website: The Sunrise Movement is a youth movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. We’re building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and wellbeing of all people.

The Sunrise members brought up several points:

  1. Expanding freeways increases traffic and does not reduce congestion (citing the Katy freeway in Huston with 26 lanes and yet it still has congestion)
  2. 40% of Oregon's emissions are from transportation
  3. Dollars spent on freeways are not available public transit (give people an option other than sitting in their car on a congested freeway)  
This commission meeting and testimony came right after Oregon's "once in a millennium" heatwave. At least 54 people died because of this global warming amplified heatwave. Other estimates put the number of deaths over 100. So there was a sense of urgency to do something to reverse this "global weirding" trend.

The Sunrise Movement is youth-led and one of the more galvanic testimonies came from a 15-year old that started by scolding the commission, saying that she should not have to wake up at 7AM to tell a bunch of adults things that they should already know. This same testimony ended by asking the commission how many people have to die before they take the climate crisis seriously. 

The commission handled this compelling and emotional testimony very professionally. 

So what do we do? What would you do? i205 is a primary path for goods moving up and down the west coast. I-5 runs through downtown Portland, so 205 is the bypass for freight heading north and south. This freight is typically on diesel semi-trucks. I don't want them stuck in traffic, polluting. Are the lanes the problem or the tailpipes of the vehicles that utilize them? If you allow this expansion, is it just one more slice in a death of 1000 cuts? 

The expansion takes this portion of 205 from 2 lanes to 3. This is far from the 26 lanes of the Katy freeway. Most of 205 is already 3 lanes, so it is not surprising that this stretch, where it's choked down to 2 lanes is a bottleneck. I think each action must be considered and, where reasonable, allowed. 

For me, I go back to the three ways to change the world. 
  1.  Pass laws to change/control behavior 
  2.  Set an example that some might follow 
  3.  Invent a better way that people will rush towards
Generally, I lean toward option three. I see electrified transportation as the better option. People want freedom of movement. People want things delivered to their houses. That means that we need freeways, highways, and roads that are kept up and maintained and yes, in some cases, expanded. I'd like to see a multimodal transit center and charging infrastructure added as part of the improvement plan. These would allow more public transportation options and electric vehicle charging. I wouldn't even mind seeing a few more tunnels to give people another option for personal transportation.

You can listen to the complete testimony (and the EV infrastructure presentation that immediately followed it) here.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Portland VPP Supporting The Grid During Heatwave

Portland is having *another* heatwave. And our local utility, Portland General, is dispatching our Virtual Power Plant (VPP) to help alleviate the grid strain that the additional air conditioner usage will cause. 

As I pointed out during the last time the VPP was dispatched, in our situation, this dispatch operation can actually increase our grid load. That's because we are load-shifting and reducing our electricity bill

The VPP control software will improve. Next summer, they'll likely be able to account for our use case. In the meantime, our minor increase in load will be more than made up for by others in the VPP. 

Alternatively, I might disable the VPP temporarily to stay "islanded" so that we don't increase our grid load. After all, I volunteered our batteries to help the grid, not increase the burden on it.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

It Takes Talent - How Tesla is different #95

Most companies advertise their products. Outside of a college recruiting event, most companies don't advertise much if at all to attract talent.

The small amount of advertising that Tesla has done, has primarily been to recruit talent, rather than to sell their products. This is true at Tesla's "Day" events (Battery Day, AI Day...) as well as in their social media. This philosophy extends into other Musk-run companies too. The Neurolink Launch Event did demo the product but they spent an equal amount of time talking about the roles in the company and how they need to hire animal caretakers, programmers, chip designers, signal integrity engineers...

One recent interesting example of Tesla "advertising for talent" was a video that starred Tesla's chief vehicle designer, Franz Von Hausen. The video looks more like a cyberpunk video game than real life. It starts with Franz spraypainting Chinese characters on a wall. Someone hands him a tablet, as the glow from the tablet illuminates his face, you can see that he is both impressed and intrigued by the design. He asks, "Who did this?" as the caption asks, "What will you design?" 

Certainly an enticing thought. If you are a designer, you'd want to work at a company that's trying new things, this might catch your attention. The Cybertruck is featured prominently in the ad as an example of something that likely would have never been attempted at another company. 

Tesla plans to design an affordable car for the worldwide market in the Chinese design center that they are beginning to staff with this ad

The specifics of this effort are part of the bigger picture. Tesla knows that to achieve things that have never been done before, you have to hire talented designers and engineers. You have to hire people that are going to push things too far (in a controlled environment), see where they break, learn from that, and use that knowledge to make something that not just a derivative product, but a disruption.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

100,000 kWh!

We installed our first solar photovoltaic (PV) system in November of 2007. We used a local PV installer company called Mr. Sun Solar. Other than a few down days when an inverter needed to be replaced, the system has been in operation for 4975 days. In 2015, we added a second PV system to our home. This time we used SolarCity (now Tesla). 

In the 8 years from 2007 to 2015, solar costs had dropped significantly and PV efficiency had improved. Meaning that our 2015 system was twice the size at half the cost of our older system.

Today, these two systems have each generated about 50 MWh; collectively generating just over 100,000 kWh (100 MWh) from the sunlight hitting our roof.

Solar energy production on our roof

Looking at the above chart, you can see that, despite the older system having an eight-year headstart, each system has generated ~50 MWh. The smaller system took 13 and a half years to reach this milestone. Whereas the larger PV system arrived in just 5 years, 10 months. I been watching for this crossover point, where the larger system would eclipse the smaller one, but I didn't know it would happen so close to this major milestone of production.

How Much Is 100MWh? 

Okay, we've made 100MWh, but how much energy is that? Let's look at it a few different ways.

The average US home uses 10,399 kWh annually. This means that our 100 MWh could power the average home for 9.6 years. 

The 2020 Tesla Model 3 SR+ is a highly efficient EV with a 239 Wh/mile consumption rate. At that rate, 100 MWh could propel this vehicle for more than 400,000 miles; enough to drive around the planet 16 times.

Looking at it one more way, the EPA says that a gallon of gasoline has 33.7 kWh of energy. This means that our 100 MWh is equivalent to nearly 3000 gallons of gas (however, with zero emissions from our solar).

From 2015 to today, solar's price has continued to drop. If you want solar on your home, you can use our referral code.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Reason The Boring Co Will Win (That No One Understands)

The Boring Company recently unveiled the Las Vegas Loop. Riders will use an app and select their destination. The app will direct them to a stall number and car; riders pile in and they are whisked off to their destination.

Currently, the cars are human-piloted and only driving at a max of 35 MPH. This, of course, was trumpeted by the Musk detractors. The criticism goes something like this: A car can only hold a few people; a train would hold many more. So, they conclude, tracks should be installed and this should be changed to a tried-and-true subway like so many other cities. This superficial deduction concludes that cars in tunnels is a flop and that trains would work much better.

I find this train-thinking to be stuck in the 1900s. You might even say, they have "tunnel-vision." I'll explain.

Centralized vs Decentralized

Long ago, my day job was as a network engineer. I worked at a company developing network infrastructure products. We analyzed traffic flows (network packets) and methods to reduce latency and optimize throughput. We had contracts with NASA, The Olympics, most of the hyperscaler datacenters, and most of the server OEMs. The network traffic analysis I did there was not the same as automobile traffic, but there were some important lessons. When I started Token Ring was the cash cow, but things changed quickly.

Token Ring

This type of network is not all that different from a train route. Without going into the technology, nodes on this type of network are logically organized into rings. A circulating token controls access. This is not all that different from a train going around a loop, you can only get on the network/tracks when the train/token arrives. The nodes in this type of network are even called stations. This type of network eventually failed because it was not scaleable. As more nodes were added to the network, the effective throughput of any given station slowed. 

Ethernet (Half Duplex)

The technology that succeeded Token Ring was half-duplex Ethernet. This type of network allowed many more stations to be added to the network without choking throughput (with caveats). During those half-duplex days, networks had limited uses. On half-duplex networks, all of the nodes share a common communications media called the bus. Half-duplex networks function well when there are just a few, short-lived, traffic flows; which is why they worked well back then when most network traffic was periodic client-server activity (like fetching email or printing a document). However, as network communication became more essential with the rise of the internet and streaming, this type of common bus network collapsed under the pressure. Half-duplex is like a walkie-talkie network with everyone on the same channel. You can have as many people as you want on that channel as long as most people are just listening most of the time; however, as soon as everyone wants to start talking frequently, you just have a jammed-up unusable channel. 

Switched Ethernet

We've looked at two network types (Token Ring and half-duplex Ethernet) that didn't scale (albeit for different reasons). Switched Ethernet will be our third and final network technology. Both of the previous network technologies had a centralized control (the ring or the bus). 

Switched (full-duplex) Ethernet quickly replaced half-duplex Ethernet. With switched Ethernet, there was no bus, no shared walkie-talkie channel, every node has its own dedicated channel. When node A is talking to node B the traffic flows from A to B. If C and D are on the same network, the conversation between A and B generally does not interfere with the traffic between C and D. This is the technology that is used today in everything from your home network to massive datacenters around the world. It is far more scalable and has much less congestion.  

If switched networking is so great, why didn't we just start here? The idea of switched networks has been around since the 1960s. The problem was the technology. At the heart of a packet-switched network is a switch that must look at every packet that comes in, determine the packet's destination, and then send it out of the switch via the exact right port for that destination. Multiply this by every port on the switch that is both and sending and receiving and you have a complex forwarding table that has to dynamically update. Then grow the network by layering (attaching switches to other switches), and things (path discovery, forwarding tables...) get very complicated. The switches that allow this type of network to be possible have to be very advanced.

During the era of Token Ring and half-duplex, these full-duplex switches would have been prohibitively expensive (if even technically possible); whereas today, you buy a low-end one for less than $10.

Comparing Network Topologies to People Mover Topologies

So let's tie this back to the topic at hand, The Boring Company Loop system. 

Token Ring is like the train or subway. It has a fixed route; as more stops are added, more people can access it, but each stop lowers the overall speed. More throughput means more latency (longer travel time).

Half-duplex is like a bus. If you charter a bus and your whole party is going to the same place, it works great. But if you have a bunch of people boarding, all with different agendas, things fall apart quickly.  

The Boring Company's Loop design is a switched network. Riders select their destination and are assigned a dedicated car. That car goes to their selected destination directly. They don't stop at all the points in between to allow people in and out of the car. The Loop system computes the most effective route for your car to your destination. There's no stopping along the way.

The Boring Company's topology allows new routes and stations to be added to the network without adding interim stations at which all passengers must stop even when this is not their destination. 

Loop is a scalable transportation network. And it will get faster. 


Switched Ethernet started out at a speed of 10 megabits per second (Mbps). This grew to 100 Mbps, then 1000 Mbps or 1 gigabits per second (1 Gbps), then 10 Gbps, 100 Gbps, and now 800 Gbps is under development. I'm not saying that the vehicles in these tunnels will be 80 thousand times faster than their current 35 MPH speed, but they can get 3 or 4 times faster in long straightaways. To be fair, even at 35 MPH, this is far faster than city street traffic. With the stop and go of traffic lights and congestion, city traffic averages about 14 MPH door to door. So even the initial Loop speed is more than twice the speed a taxi / ride-share could offer (although with more limited destination options). 

Today, the cars in the narrow Loop tunnels are piloted by humans. This will change soon. Solving autonomous driving in this controlled environment will be far easier than solving it in city street driving. As regular readers know, our prediction is that Level 5 driving will not be solved until 2027. These tunnels, on the other hand, are the best case for self-driving cars. They don't have to deal with rain, snow, sun directly in the lens, cross-traffic... This Level 4 solution could launch as soon as next year. 

Scale-out vs Scale-up - How TBC Wins

Trains scale by going faster, adding more train cars, and/or more stations/stops. This is scaling up. There are limits to increasing the speed and limits to adding more cars. As the number of stations increases, it increases capacity and access at the expense of increasing the average travel time for everyone using the platform. Scaling up trains quickly hits real physical limits.

The Boring Company scales by adding more destinations, more tunnels, and more cars. This is scaling out and it allows for more parallel operation. It means that stations, routes, and cars can be added to increase capacity without impacting the throughput or latency of the existing routes. It also means that popular stops can increase capacity by adding more ingress/egress tunnels to/from that station, thereby forming superstations. Alternatively, popular locations could have multiple standard-sized stations (e.g., Convention Center North Station and Convention Center South Station). This is easy to do with the Loop system since additional stations don't burden the system. More capacity, means more stations, more tunnels, more route options, resulting in a better overall system.

With trains, more capacity decreases performance; whereas, with Loop, more capacity improves performance. This is the fundamental difference.

Scalability Adds Flexibility

If you add a stop on a train route that has low utilization, then you've slowed down everyone for the benefit of a few, if any, passengers. Similarly, if you add a bus stop in an out-of-the-way place, you add cost for the bus to periodically drive past this location, even if no one is getting on or off the bus. 

This is different with Loop. All rides are point to point. If a hotel or casino that has low traffic pays for a station, then the network has grown and no one has been slowed down and there is no on-going fuel cost to drive to this out-of-the-way low-utilization location unless it is actually needed. 

I've avoided diving into the network analysis (graph theory) math for this article; instead, trying to articulate the common sense case. If you view each station as a vertex and each tunnel as an edge, there's a vast amount of analysis that can be done to understand the traffic flow within the system. The Boring Company will know every ride that occurs within the system. They'll be able to use graph theory and congestion information to determine the best paths for vehicles to take and which areas need additional capacity. 

If you have n number of stations, the possible number of station-to-station connections is n * (n-1). They'll be able to use historical information to determine the best path for each new tunnel that they add to the network. According to the Vegas Unzipped image above, there are 17 stations currently planned for the Vegas Loop. That's a possible 272 tunnels that could be dug for full-mesh connectivity. This would, of course, be overkill at the start of the system, but it demonstrates their ability to scale capacity as needed.

The Time Is Right

If this is clearly the best method for public transportation, why hasn't it always worked this way? The first answer is the same as it was for Switched Ethernet: technology. Imagine if everyone that got on a train told the engineer where they wanted to go and then the route was computed and the tracks were switched in real-time. That wouldn't have been possible with last century technology. Today, however, route planning is trivial. 

The second technology that makes this the right time is EVs. When a tunnel is designed exclusively for EVs, it doesn't need an elaborate ventilation system. This allows the tunnels to be smaller (therefore cheaper and faster to dig). The other reason that EVs tech is ready is range. Tesla's EVs will have all the range they need for a full day's service. And they have the performance to whisk you at speed quickly to your destination.

Our third item on this "this is the right time" list is Apps. Today, nearly everyone has a smartphone, with the LV Loop app, you'll be able to schedule your ride and pay on your own phone. The route will be calculated before you even click your seatbelt. There's no need to queue up to buy tickets... this is just another way that Loop systems will allow parallel operation.


Loop is in its beta phase, it will improve greatly over the next few years. As it matures, it will become the most efficient public transportation system humanity has ever built. This is not simply because it uses electric vehicles, it's because they have a significant technological advantage over the competing legacy technologies.

This is the same formula that other Musk Co. endeavors use. SpaceX's reusable rockets have a massive cost advantage over "disposable" rocket companies. Tesla's electric cars have a massive efficiency and performance advantage over their fossil-burning competition. 

The Boring Co. has "packetized" transportation and made a scalable "switched" network. This gives them a technological advantage over their last-century-based train competition. 

If you want an incredible transportation system, it's time to change from tunnel-vision to visions of tunnels.