By on January 29, 2013

Elon Musk offered Boeing Tesla’s help with its troubled Boeing 787 battery packs. He wants Boeing try the packs Tesla uses in its SpaceX rockets and Tesla cars. Ever the hipster, Musk announced the unsolicited aid via Twitter:

“Desire to help Boeing is real & am corresponding w 787 chief engineer,” tweeted Musk. This revelation had been preceded by this short message:

Real car executives cringe over this. They have learned the hard way to avoid talking about burning cars or, God forbid, burning planes if they can help it. They also learned not to chum up with someone in trouble. The right thing to do is stay quiet until it is over, and to be happy that it isn’t you.  Boeing wisely did not comment.

Already, Musk was found with his foot in the mouth. In an interview with Esquire last year, Musk said: “You know the joke about Boeing: It puts the zero in being.” Now Musk says the magazine made it up.

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30 Comments on “Musk Wants To Help Boeing. All Quiet At Boeing...”


  • avatar
    cargogh

    I would not have responded either.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Dude seems like a complete tool, I wouldn’t have anything to do with him either.

    • 0 avatar
      Conslaw

      Howard Hughes was a tool – and a genius as well.
      Bill Gates was a tool (but he grew out of it) and definitely a genius.
      Musk is a genius and a minor league tool. In fact, with “tool” as the y axis and “genius” x axis, Musk would be below the midline of the tool/genius equilibrium. (Steve Jobs would be above the line, by the way.)

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Dang! I didn’t even know there was a definition.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        Howard Hughes rented and sold things at a profit.
        Bill Gates forced you to take his product at a profit.
        Jobs forced you to want his overpriced product for a profit.

        Musk has yet to run anything profitable. Musk didn’t create PayPal, though he did makes some good hires at X.com, and was fired before PP was ever profitable. Tesla has a P&L that looks like classic GM, and has products that are just as mediocre, and he didn’t found it either. It also doesn’t sell enough cars to matter and will never recoup investor money. Ever.

        Space-X? Well, one can claim profits, if you can structure the $1B in investor money over the last 10 years as income. Long-term, it might make money, because he can always raise the price tag on something no one else does.

        Musk is a semi-genius flim-flam man. Sorta like Malcom Bricklin or Shai Agassi.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        @PorscheSpeed

        Many of the innovations at companies such as Apple, Microsoft and various others aren’t developed in house but come from outside sources. Creating something is only part of the formula. Being able to bring it to market is just as if not more important.

        But the question is, why does that matter. You describe him as if he’s some type of mini Madoff. You might not like him or his actions, and he might fail at both Tesla and Space X, but he had the stones to step up.

        Methinks a certain Teddy Roosevelt quote applies to this situation.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        @hubcap,

        I’m familiar with that quote, and exactly how it does *not* apply to Musk. He’s a great self-promoter, and has gotten people to give him gobs of money after PayPal (the success of which he had sweet FA to do with) that will never be paid back at Tesla.

        He has been fortunate to make some smart hires and make SpaceX at least produce a functional product. Still waiting to see the 5 year results on that one. He’ll likely be ousted before he does any damage.

        Hughes, Gates, Jobs. Like them or hate them, they actually *did* something and generated real profits. That’s who that Roosevelt quote fits. Musk is much like Bricklin, lucked into one success story (Subaru) and then has kept milking that success to pump the chumps ever since.

        Jealous? Hardly. When Agassi and ‘Better Place’ were all the propaganda rage around here, I was the guy hated on for pointing out he was a joke and so was the company. 10 years ago it was painfully obvious that GM had unfunded liabilities it couldn’t pay nor hide forever, and was circling the bowl. Remember when Bricklin was out with his last big scam, Visionary Vehicles and Chery? I do, and could see the failure the minute it was announced and he started fleecing potential “dealers”. How ’bout the song and dance of Perez and the nonsense of Global Vehicles and that he was going to distribute Mahindra diesels in the US? At least some folks here saw the extreme insanity of believing that one.

        It is often hard to pick the winners in a crowd of good products and talented people. But I’m pretty good at spotting the guy who is all smoke and mirrors and keeps moving so as to be a harder target. Were Musk not a good con-man sucking in investors, Tesla would have died an ignominious death long ago.

        BTW- I knew Madoff was a blatant con, just like pretty much anyone else with some historical knowledge (real banks and investment houses wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole). He claimed returns trading stocks that didn’t hold up to a bevnap analysis, let alone any actual scrutiny. Just like Enron.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        @Porschespeed, Sorry but Bricklin did not have success with Subaru, the company he set up to import them went bust and Subaru stepped in and they eventually made it a success, much like Yugo except for the eventual success.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        @Scoutdude, you’re completely right. I was attempting to illustrate a parallel between Musk’s PP “success” and Bricklin’s Subaru “success” and was obviously not successful at it…

  • avatar
    jz78817

    On one hand, I give Tesla (and Musk) credit for delivering on the Model S. I didn’t think they’d be able to do it for anywhere near the price point they targeted.

    On the other hand, Musk needs realize that the kind of arrogance he’s showing is just ripe for an embarrassing kick in the balls, sooner rather than later.

  • avatar
    NN

    I wouldn’t doubt that he could help. I see how announcing via Twitter was a practice of self-stroking, and how that could just further publicize the bad news. However, it doesn’t get much worse already than fires on planes. In the end, if he has the know-how to help fix the issue, then that is what matters. In the past year he launched the first ever commercial delivery rocket to the space station and launched the world’s best electric car–none of which have burned, by the way. He should have been Time magazine’s man of the year. He has challenged, with success, the largest capital-intensive industries on the planet (automotive manufacturing, g0d-d@mned space exploration). So who cares if he’s a “tool”

    • 0 avatar
      ringomon

      Right on.

    • 0 avatar
      darkwing

      My impression is that the Tesla design, while very safe, imposes too much of a weight penalty for aviation use. (In my opinion, that’s a good sign that it was designed correctly for automotive use.) But that’s just my impression.

      No offense intended to Herr Schmidt, but I think what we’re seeing here isn’t the difference between a “real” car exec and a tool — it’s the difference between a risk-averse, blue-chip mindset and an entrepreneurial one.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      +1. He made a courteous offer, and knows about battery charging issues.

      Part of the challenge here, though, is that the Dreamliner battery uses a different chemistry from other ‘lithium ion’ cells. They’re not all the same.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Elon Musk also has titanium testicles: to start both a car company and a rocket company is a big deal.

    But its also true: His companies probably have the greatest expertise in high reliability, high power Lithium Ion batteries. You hear of Karmas and Volt battery fires, but not Tesla fires. The rockets are man rated, and using Lithium Ion batteries in key areas.

    Especially since Boeing has NO major expertise in these areas: they outsourced it. So I’d imagine that this might actually go someplace beyond just Musk’s ego.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      no, the Model S still uses commodity 18650 LiIon cells from Panasonic, same as you’ll find in most laptop PCs. There’s nothing special about them that gives Tesla any insight into “high-power” batteries.

      • 0 avatar
        darkwing

        Their expertise is in making a commodity product (actually, a few thousand commodity products moving in close formation) safe and robust.

      • 0 avatar
        Nicholas Weaver

        Its not the cells, its the charge management…

        They have a lot of experience in the charge management and safety: That battery pack, as a unit, is designed with fail safe aspects and the charge management is Tesla in-house.

        Just as its clear that in the 787 fires, its not the batteries, but the charge management: the cells themselves have already been cleared of blame.

      • 0 avatar
        tekdemon

        Battery management systems are actually the most complex part of any major battery system, not the cells themselves. Just look at how much difficulty companies have had dealing with BMS (see the enginer plugin kits for Prius vehicles for example).

        This isn’t something that you can easily outsource. Getting good cells is easy, you just call Panasonic up. Getting a truly bulletproof battery management system is an entirely different matter.

        Tesla (and/or spacex) is one of the few companies that probably could really help Boeing out with this issue since they’re quite experienced with managing huge battery packs.

    • 0 avatar
      Type57SC

      According to WSJ, GS Yuasa makes the batteries and Kanto Aircraft Instrument Co. makes the controllers. Not sure about the latter but Yuasa is a big time battery maker who is not short on expertise.

      • 0 avatar
        Nicholas Weaver

        The batteries themselves have already been cleared. The problem appears to be in the charge management or packaging/system integration. Which is a specialty of Tesla.

      • 0 avatar
        L'avventura

        GS Yuasa also makes batteries for the International Space Station, Panasonic is the supplier of batteries to Tesla.

        Moreover, Tesla’s ‘breakthrough’ was the usage of common & cheap 18650 form-factor batteries, that can be found in laptops, and using those to make EV batteries. Aviation li-on battery technology is incredibly different and isn’t what Tesla would have experience in, in fact, the use of li-ion in commercial aviation is still very rare (basically only the 787 & A380 and soon the A350).

        Either way the GS Yuasa battery itself has been claered, which brings us back to square one:
        http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/428862/20130129/boeing-dreamliner-battery-gsyuasa-787-tokyo.htm

        Also, UTC Aerospace Systems makes the controllers for the 787, Kanto Aircraft Instrument co. makes the electrical monitoring system. I think the focus will be on them.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Nick,

        Just because they say that the batteries have been cleared doesn’t really mean anything – all it means is that they have looked at the design and manufacturing process and haven’t found any obvious problems.

        They are looking at the monitoring system now, and I can guarantee you that they won’t find anything there either. The monitoring system can’t do anything other than report data. It can’t cool down a cell. It can’t limit the current during discharge. It can’t prevent anything bad from happening except cutting back the charging rate during battery recharging to limit the temperature rise (which is important). And if a cell does experience a thermal event, there is nothing to be done except let it burn (very bad, of course, esp. on a plane).

        If the batteries aren’t being overcharged, then you’ve got to go back to the battery itself. One failure did not occur during charging, so either there is a problem with the battery itself, or a cell was damaged during an earlier charging event. This could take a long time to figure out.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Maybe Boeing could use a fuel cell. That worked out really well on Apollo 13 – no wait, never mind.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      The fault on Apollo 13 was an under-rated mechanical thermostat (28 volts vs 65 volts) whose contacts welded together when it switched on inside one of the oxygen tanks. This caused a runaway heating condition that exploded the tank.

      The fuel cells were not the problem.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Boeing rushed the 787 and outsourced so many normally in-house produced components that putting it all together on a tight timeline was a bear for assemblers. One airline that had an incident found improperly routed wiring when they inspected their plane. The problems with that aircraft may extend far beyond the batteries or charge management into engineering, testing, and ultimately, Boeing management. Would there be such problems were Mulally still at Boeing instead of Ford? Why did he bail on Boeing in the first place?

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      And (said with the 20/20 rear-view goggles on) if Boeing was smart, they would have done a dual-certification on the LI and one other proven (NiMH, NiCD, etc) battery type. That way, they could still be flying today on the ‘backup’ battery type.

      Oh well . . . the bean-counter management types have long stopped listening to their engineers anyways, so they can reap what they sow. It’s too bad too, as I’m old enough to remember when Boeing was actually ran by engineers (along with HP, Fluke, Tektronix, and a host of other once-great companies).

    • 0 avatar
      Dimwit

      Because he could see the problems coming? Mulally is no dummy. This multi country, many supplier “solution” was and is an on going headache. Airbus has struggled with it for years and the F-35 is going down in flames. I wouldn’t hang around either.

  • avatar
    redrum

    I don’t really get all the hate here for this guy. He obviously has a lot of ego, but I wouldn’t expect otherwise from somebody who’s willing to take on very large, entrenched businesses. From the interviews I’ve seen he seems pretty grounded and respectful. The way people talk about him here, you’d think he was a cross between Miguel Ferrer in Robocop and Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.


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