Over his 16-year tenure at Tesla, Elon Musk went from knowing very little about the automotive business to being the CEO of the world’s most valuable carmaker by market cap. The journey towards Tesla’s current place in the electric vehicle sector, together with the numerous small milestones that the company has achieved over the years, is partly due to Musk’s style. Without the “Elon Musk Method,” Tesla’s successes would likely have been not as notable, and most certainly not as radical.
As noted in a Reuters article, Elon Musk’s record has shown that beyond the rockstar bravado that he displays on social media platforms like Twitter at times, the Tesla CEO is a quick learner who is smart and strategic enough to forge alliances with companies that had tech that Tesla lacked. Musk would then follow this up by hiring the smartest people available in the industry, before powering through boundaries that limited companies that are more risk-averse.
Under Musk’s leadership, Tesla flourished as a vertically-integrated electric car maker. From computers to car seats and now to battery cells, Musk is intent on making Tesla more and more independent. Speaking with the news agency, a former senior executive at Tesla noted that Musk is consistently set on pursuing improvements that would make something better, faster, and cheaper. “Elon doesn’t want any part of his business to be dependent on someone else. And for better or worse – sometimes better, sometimes worse – he thinks he can do it better, faster and cheaper,” the executive said.
According to people familiar with Tesla’s strategy in its early days, Musk has always been looking to learn more about the auto industry. He accomplishes this through several means such as strategic partnerships and aggressive talent recruitment. Back then, the goal of Tesla was reportedly to create a digital version of Ford’s iron-ore-to-Model-A production system, which was developed in the late 1920s. Former Tesla supply chain executive Tom Wessner noted that during these times, “Elon thought he could improve on everything the suppliers did – everything. He wanted to make everything.”
Among these components, of course, were the battery cells that are used for Tesla’s electric cars. Musk’s subordinates have reportedly argued against the idea of developing proprietary battery cells, but the CEO has been adamant about his goal. A former Tesla veteran who spoke to Reuters added that such a reaction from Musk is well within character. “Tell him ‘No’ and then he really wants to do it,” the veteran said. This is something that has happened in the past, as Musk was reportedly looking into battery cell manufacturing since 2011, well before going into a close partnership with Panasonic in 2013.
Tesla’s relationship with Panasonic could be described as a roller coaster ride. Tesla’s demands during the Model 3 ramp appeared to have strained the capabilities of its Japanese partner, and last year, reports emerged alleging that the two companies were growing apart. Yet even with the upcoming debut of Tesla’s Roadrunner cells, Panasonic maintains that it has a strong relationship with Tesla. “There has been no change in our relationship with Tesla. Our relationship, both past and present has been sound. Panasonic is not a supplier to Tesla; we are partners. There’s no doubt our partnership will continue to innovate and contribute to the betterment of society,” a Panasonic spokesperson stated.
It appears that Tesla’s long partnership with Panasonic is part of the building blocks of the Roadrunner project. True to form, Musk likely used the knowledge he learned from the veteran Japanese firm to help create an in-house battery cell production line that could be perfectly designed for Tesla’s electric vehicles and energy products. This, in a way, echoes much of Tesla’s development alliance with Daimler in the past. Daimler was an early investor in Tesla, and during the time, Musk reportedly became very interested in sensors that could help keep cars within lane lines. As noted by a senior Daimler engineer, the Tesla Model S lacked the necessary cameras and driver-assistance sensors to match the flagship features of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class then. Musk and the Tesla team then went to work, and the result was history.
“He learned about that and took it a step further. We asked our engineers to shoot for the moon. He went straight for Mars,” the Daimler executive said.