The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity ... | Elon Musk | Summary and Q&A

March 19, 2013
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The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity ... | Elon Musk


In this TED Talk interview, Elon Musk discusses his motivations for building all-electric cars, the future of sustainable energy production, the innovation behind Tesla cars, the potential of solar power, and his vision for humanity as a space-faring civilization.

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Key Insights

  • 🌍 Sustainable transport and energy production are key problems that need to be solved in this century, regardless of environmental concerns.
  • 💡 Electric cars are more efficient than internal combustion engine cars, even when powered by fossil fuels.
  • ⚡ Electric cars are a logical choice if sustainable means of electricity generation need to be developed.
  • 🏎️ Tesla focuses on energy efficiency by using all-aluminum bodies and chassis and reducing drag coefficient, resulting in a longer range.
  • 🔋 The weight of the battery pack is offset by making the rest of the car light and aerodynamic.
  • 🔌 Tesla's Supercharging technology and network aims to create a convenient and fast charging solution for electric cars.
  • ☀️ Solar power has the potential to surpass other energy sources, including natural gas, due to low operational costs and long-term stability.
  • 🚀 SpaceX's goal is to develop fully reusable rockets to reduce the cost of spaceflight and ultimately establish a sustainable human presence on Mars.


Translator: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Morton Bast Chris Anderson: Elon, what kind of crazy dream would persuade you to think of trying to take on the auto industry and build an all-electric car? Elon Musk: Well, it goes back to when I was in university. I thought about, what are the problems that are most likely to affect the future of the world or the... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What motivated Elon Musk to take on the auto industry and build an all-electric car?

Elon Musk was motivated by the problems that he believed would affect the future of the world and humanity. He believed that sustainable transport and energy production were extremely important, regardless of environmental concerns.


Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, discusses his motivations for building all-electric cars and his belief in sustainable energy. He explains the benefits of electric cars over traditional combustion engine vehicles and how they can help reduce carbon emissions. Musk also discusses the innovations and advancements made in the manufacturing of Tesla vehicles, including lightweight materials and battery technology. He touches on the future of electric cars becoming more affordable and accessible to the mass market. Additionally, Musk talks about his solar company, SolarCity, and the importance of sustainable electricity production and consumption. He explains how solar power can be cost-effective and how SolarCity leases solar systems to homeowners and businesses. Musk also discusses his vision for space exploration and the development of reusable rockets, ultimately aiming to establish a human presence on Mars.

Questions & Answers

Q: Why did Elon Musk decide to take on the auto industry and build an all-electric car?

Musk believes that sustainable transport and energy production are crucial problems to solve for the future of humanity. He sees the overall sustainable energy problem as the biggest challenge of the century, independent of environmental concerns. Musk argues that even if CO2 emissions were beneficial for the environment, the need for sustainable means of operating due to the finite availability of hydrocarbons makes it important to develop all-electric cars.

Q: How does using electricity from burning fossil fuels help in the case of electric cars?

Musk explains that even if electric cars are powered by the same fossil fuels that are used in combustion engine cars, using electricity from power plants is still more efficient. For example, burning natural gas in a modern power plant and using it to charge an electric car provides twice the efficiency compared to using the same natural gas in an internal combustion engine car. Power plants can afford to be more efficient because they can take advantage of waste heat to generate secondary power sources.

Q: What makes Tesla's manufacturing process and vehicle innovative?

Tesla's manufacturing process focuses on building lightweight, energy-efficient cars. Musk highlights that Tesla is the only car manufacturer in North America that produces an all-aluminum body and chassis car, which helps offset the weight of the battery pack. Additionally, Tesla's vehicles have the lowest drag coefficient among cars of their size, further optimizing energy usage. The company also utilizes advanced battery technology, enabling a competitive range of around 250 miles on a single charge.

Q: How does the responsiveness of electric cars compare to gasoline cars?

Musk describes the responsiveness of electric cars as incredible. With electric cars, he says people can experience a feeling of being connected to the vehicle, as though they are one with it. Electric cars can instantly accelerate and corner with precision due to the immediate response of the electric motors. In contrast, gasoline cars do not offer the same level of responsiveness.

Q: Is Tesla planning to release more affordable electric cars in the future?

Musk shares Tesla's three-step process to make electric cars more accessible to the mass market. The first step was the release of the expensive Roadster, followed by the more moderately priced Model S. The next step, which Tesla aims to achieve in around three or four years, is the release of a $30,000 car. Musk believes that with new technology, it typically takes three major versions to make a product compelling for the mass market.

Q: Are there enough charging stations for electric cars currently?

Musk explains that there are more charging stations available than people realize. Tesla has developed a Supercharging technology and offers it for free to Model S owners. Tesla has already covered California, Nevada, and the Eastern seaboard from Boston to Washington D.C. They plan to expand the Supercharger network so that by the end of the year, it will be possible to drive from Los Angeles to New York. The key is to have a ratio of driving to stopping time of around six or seven, where drivers can stop for 20-30 minutes after approximately three hours of driving.

Q: How does SolarCity make solar power more affordable for consumers?

SolarCity provides the option for consumers to purchase or lease a solar system. Most people choose to lease since solar power is a one-time installation that does not have feedstock or operational costs. Once installed, solar systems can last for decades, making them cost-effective in the long run. SolarCity focuses on lowering the initial installation costs and the financing costs, as these are the primary factors that drive the overall cost of solar power.

Q: How does SolarCity benefit as a company from installing solar panels on homes and businesses?

SolarCity raises capital from companies or banks, such as Google, and uses that capital to purchase and install solar systems. Homeowners or business owners then pay SolarCity a monthly lease payment that is lower than their utility bill. SolarCity benefits from the long-term commercial benefit of the power generated by the solar panels on the roofs. Essentially, SolarCity is building a distributed utility, challenging traditional monopolies in the power industry and giving homeowners and businesses more choice and control.

Q: What is Elon Musk's vision for the future of power generation in America?

Musk strongly believes that solar power will eventually surpass all other energy sources and become the primary means of power generation. He argues that solar power is the most sustainable option and that the sun already powers the entire ecosystem on Earth. Musk predicts that within 20 years, solar power will be the primary source of power in America, surpassing all other sources.

Q: What makes Elon Musk so successful at undertaking such ambitious projects?

Musk attributes his success to applying a framework of thinking based on first principles reasoning, which involves breaking down problems to their fundamental truths and reasoning up from there rather than relying on analogy. He emphasizes the importance of soliciting and paying attention to negative feedback, particularly from friends, as it is incredibly helpful. Musk credits his ability to think at a system level of design that combines design, technology, and business as a key factor for his success. He encourages studying physics and challenging traditional thinking to discover new counterintuitive solutions.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Elon Musk believes that sustainable transport and energy production are the biggest problems that need to be solved in the 21st century

  • Musk argues that electric cars are more efficient than gasoline cars because power plants can generate power more efficiently than internal combustion engines

  • Musk wants to make solar power a mainstream source of energy and believes that it will eventually be cheaper than fossil fuels

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