Musk's Focus on World Domination Is Getting in Tesla's Way

Screenshot:  Tesla on YouTube
Screenshot: Tesla on YouTube

Elon Musk has a plan. A Master Plan, as he calls it, to solve the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. It’s his biggest effort, alongside bringing humanity to Mars — he truly seems to see himself as the savior of the human species. But how does his plan to shift the world to an “electric economy” fit with the day-to-day realities of building and selling Tesla cars? At the company’s 2023 Investor Day, livestreamed on Wednesday night, members of the Tesla leadership team explained their innovations and efficiencies, and how those would benefit Musk’s dream for a fossil-fuel-free, Tesla-branded future.

As it was explained to investors this week, Musk’s dream future revolves around an energy grid entirely powered by renewable wind and solar energy. Energy demand would be cut in half, thanks to more efficient electronics developed by Musk’s companies. Every person drives a Tesla, which can be rented out for other drivers to use while the owner is at home or work. Current home HVAC systems would be replaced by efficient, electric heat pumps (like you’ll find in every new Tesla). Eventually, every cargo ship and airplane will switch to battery power. Musk seems to see the world holistically, and wants every part of it to move to sustainable electric systems bearing Tesla logos.

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Screenshot:  Tesla on YouTube
Screenshot: Tesla on YouTube

After that initial globe-spanning plan to change the entire energy economy was laid out, if you squinted, the rest of Tesla’s 2023 Investor Day presentation looked much like any other investor call. Company leaders took turns outlining their latest innovations and plans for the future, detailing the engineering updates and business efficiencies that will hopefully benefit Tesla in the coming months and years. Costs will be saved, new products will be introduced, and investors will see returns — all pretty standard.

These were the biggest takeaways:

  • A new concept for vehicle construction, where sub-assemblies are fully built before being merged into one vehicle. Doors get their door cards before they’re installed on the body; the structural battery pack gets carpet and seats laid atop it before it’s all inserted into the car.

  • New motors for the next generation of Tesla cars, designed to use fewer hard-to-get rare-earth elements.

  • Simplified wiring harnesses, using a network of switches within the car that connect over Ethernet.

  • A move to in-house production of electrical controllers, with a goal of 100-percent vertical integration for the company’s next platform.

  • Updates to fleetwide machine learning, with more refinements to Tesla Vision as a camera-only attempt at self-driving. This one is particularly odd, given that we know Tesla is reintroducing radar on its newest cars.

  • A system for mapping rough roads, allowing Teslas to adjust their suspensions when approaching potholes or uneven pavement based on data collected by other Teslas.

  • Further progress to the Optimus robot, which Tesla hopes to use as a replacement for human workers in its factories.

  • Improvements to the costs associated with Supercharger charging infrastructure, plus further confirmation that those chargers would be opened up to non-Tesla vehicles. The company said its goal is to make Superchargers, rather than home chargers, the primary way Tesla owners charge.

Some of these proposed innovations are pretty unconventional in the auto industry, but as a whole, this was mostly straightforward stuff: Improvements to Tesla’s vehicles and the way they’re built. But everything the company showed off seemed to come with an extra layer of justification — not to the investors, but to Musk himself. Each presentation seemed like it was written for the CEO as much as stockholders, working to convince Musk that reasonable business practices — like vertical integration and better supply-chain management — are for the good of mankind. “Elon, my liege,” each presenter seemed to say, “a 12-percent reduction in the weight of the Model 3's center display is going to help us save the world.”

tesla 2023 investor day
tesla 2023 investor day

I’m not kidding. Reduced weight of the dashboard touchscreen was part of Tesla’s 2023 Investor Day pitch.

Musk’s goal — or at least, the message Musk wants to pitch to investors and fans — is to create a singular ecosystem that saves the world. But the pitch only works if everyone on earth buys in. Interoperability seems to be a foreign concept to Musk; in Master Plan 3, Tesla products only interact with other Tesla products. Engineering solutions that cut costs on entry-level Tesla cars and SUVs aren’t just increasing profits — they’re democratizing Musk’s future, getting more people into his electric world.

Musk said as much himself on stage. “The desire for people to own a Tesla is extremely high,” he told investors. “The limiting factor is their ability to pay for it.” He seemingly can’t picture any reason not to get invested in this future, not to buy into the World of Tesla, because it’s the only future he seems to see. Only Musk can save the world, according to Investor Day 2023; only he can build a future for humanity, and only Tesla’s products can make it all work. Without Tesla, there’s no future for any of us.

Each section of the 2023 Investor Day presentation laddered up to this, Musk’s future. Improvements in vehicle design reduce the time it takes to build new cars, which gets more Teslas out into the world. Powertrain improvements and innovations in electric motors democratize the Tesla ecosystem, while improvements in battery tech will help Tesla Megapack installations fix our crumbling electrical grid. Self-driving cars reduce the number of vehicles on the roads; Optimus robots reduce labor costs in building new cars. Elon Musk wants you, yes you, to be a part of his Tesla-branded future.

It’s all a little hard to believe, and coming from Tesla and Musk, it’s hard to take any of it seriously. This is the company that promised an electric semi truck in 2019, a Cybertruck and a second-generation Roadster in 2021. Musk has envisioned Hyperloops and affordable space travel and given us Tesla-jammed tunnels. Master Plan 3 addresses none of the world’s largest polluters, instead pretending that a few small-scale choices will save the world. It’s too big for Tesla to pull off, and simultaneously, too small to meet its own goals. Given that Tesla’s stock price fell by nearly 7 percent the morning after the Investor Day call, it seems even Tesla shareholders aren’t buying it.

The engineers and business leaders at Tesla seem smart, driven, and interested in solving difficult problems. But every move they make, every innovation or improvement, is forced to fit Musk’s plan for world domination. At Investor Day 2023, it seemed like every member of Tesla’s leadership team had to appeal to this fantasy — while trying to do the regular work of scaling up a startup car company. One begins to wonder what these folks could pull off if they didn’t need to spend their time catering to Musk’s Master Plan.

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