Model 3

Tesla is building an empire with Model 3 drive units, custom chips, and loyal customers

[Credit: Harbles/Twitter]

When the Tesla Semi and the next-generation Roadster were unveiled last year, Elon Musk pointed out that the whole company was built on the original Roadster, an electric car which proved that EVs could be exciting, fun, and quick. Tesla is now at a point where it could become a threat to established premium automakers; and just like how Apple built a trillion-dollar empire on the back of the iPhone, Tesla seems poised to establish its own empire through its Model 3 drive units, its custom-made chips, and its passionate consumer base.

The brilliance of the Model 3’s drive unit was recognized by Detroit veteran Sandy Munro, whose company conducted a thorough teardown and analysis of the electric sedan. While Munro noted some points for improvement with regards to the vehicle’s chassis, he was incredibly impressed with the car’s suspension, batteries, and electric motor. Recently relating his findings to Bloomberg, Munro noted that the Model 3’s electric motor is a “game changer,” and that “everyone should be benchmarking (it).” The entire subframe where the drive unit is housed even detaches cleanly from the Model 3, seemingly allowing DIY enthusiasts in the future to resurrect drive units from damaged vehicles by using them for electric car conversions.

Tesla recently shared images of the Model 3’s drive system after being tested for over 1 million miles. Images of the drive system’s gears suggest that there was very little wear and tear despite extensive testing. With this in mind, Tesla’s idea of using the Model 3’s drive unit to power upcoming vehicles like the Semi and the Model Y, or possibly even the Tesla Truck and the upcoming compact car, could pay off in spades for the company. If teardowns of the Model 3 are any indication, after all, the electric car’s drive unit could very well be reliable, easy to manufacture, and even swappable if the need arises. It could, in a way, be a building block in Tesla’s emerging empire.

Beyond the Model 3’s drive units, Tesla is also starting to dip its feet into creating its custom chip. Such a strategy is very much in line with Tesla’s character, considering that the company already manufactures many of its vehicles’ components in-house. In an interview with Yahoo Finance last week, ARK Invest CEO and CIO Cathie Wood noted that the electric car maker’s initiatives towards the creation of its own hardware are a “replay of Apple.” Wood notes that in the same way Apple’s innovations with the iPhone pushed the tech giant to create its own silicon, Tesla’s progress with the intelligent tech in its vehicles are driving the electric car maker to design and build its own chips.

“This is a replay of Apple. Apple was moving so fast with the smartphone that it had to design its own chip to move that fast. This is what has happened to Tesla. Nvidia chips will be in mostly every other autonomous vehicle to hit the market. But Musk has a vision for this market that needs (a) faster, better, cheaper, sooner (solution) – and so he designed it himself,” Wood noted

Elon Musk is optimistic about the potential of Tesla’s custom silicon. Designed by a team led by Pete Bannon, who used to work for Apple, Musk noted that Tesla’s custom hardware would be ” the world’s most advanced computer designed specifically for autonomous operation.” This custom chip, which would be included in Tesla’s Hardware 3, will be rolled out to all production cars in around six months; and if Tesla’s other in-house solutions are any indication, the introduction of its upcoming silicon would likely allow the company to establish a lead against rival automakers who are also dabbling in self-driving initiatives.

Tesla’s volunteer owners help out during the company’s end-of-quarter push in Q3. [Credit: Sean M Mitchell/Twitter]

While Tesla’s vehicles and their components make the company a formidable player in the car industry, it is perhaps its dedicated consumer base that makes Tesla downright threatening to traditional auto. It is quite rare to see a car company command such a devoted following, though considering Tesla’s stance in the auto industry today, the strong brand loyalty displayed by Tesla owners is not very surprising at all. As Tesla grew over the years, after all, the company has practically transformed itself into an entity that is far more than a carmaker or a battery storage provider. Tesla has become a movement of sorts, populated by electric car owners who are willing to pay it forward when needed. This was shown in the final weeks of Q3, when owners mobilized to help the company deliver as many vehicles as it could before September ended.

The Tesla community’s dedication to the company’s mission and vision were in full force earlier this month as well, as 36 Tesla Owner’s Clubs from nine countries convened in Fremont, CA to meet and strategize initiatives that can help support the growing number of electric car owners across the globe. Denver Tesla Club President Sean M. Mitchell, who attended the meeting, believes that the source of enthusiasm among electric car owners is multifold. For one, the company was able to integrate technology in a way that made even something as ordinary as driving exciting once more. Sean also notes that the company’s grass-roots marketing approach, which relies primarily on word-of-mouth, fosters a very authentic and honest relationship among owners. 

It remains to be seen if Tesla would be succeed in its mission to accelerate the world’s transition to renewable energy. That said, the company’s strategy in its electric vehicle business seems to be working, as legacy carmakers such as Porsche and Jaguar are starting to fully embrace the idea of a zero-emissions fleet. Companies such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz have also begun offering premium electric vehicles of their own. In South Australia, Tesla’s big battery is also triggering a clean energy movement, with similar renewable projects now underway after the Powerpack farm proved to be effective. Ultimately, Tesla’s empire might not be as tangible or evident today, but the components that would make it are already there, steadily growing.

Tesla is building an empire with Model 3 drive units, custom chips, and loyal customers
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