Tesla Birth Watch 12: Autoblog's Calcanis Passes the Kool-Aid

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

After listening to TWiT (This Week in Technology) co-host John Dvorak nearly choke to death on a cashew, for two minutes, I persevered to hear Jason Calcanis (founder of Autoblog) say that he's done his part for the world by ordering a Tesla Roadster. To his eternal credit, Dvorak interrupts Calcanis mid-mantra to ask "When are you going to get delivery?" "I think ahhhhh they're going to start in the second quarter." Claiming he's got the "inside dope," Calcanis says the production delay's down to Tesla's desire to get the "best possible transmission." "They went through three possible transmissions. The first one would have been good enough; they're just being kind of obsessive about it." The Corvette-owning internet entrepreneur goes on to say the Tesla "costs nothing" to run "because you're doing it off electrical." More credibly, he's going to put some solar panels on his garage and maybe even buy a thirty grand windmill so he can be "100 percent off the grid." Calcanis was a bit late to the party– only putting down a $5k deposit– but he's told Tesla's he's ready to jump in with the full whack if and when one of the first 100 proto-customers drops out. Oh, and the free market will solve global warming in ten years, because everyone wants to drive an electric car. You can't buy publicity like that. Nor should you. [thanks to whippersnapper for the link]

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Jthorner Jthorner on Dec 20, 2007

    "Moore’s law is fairly constant. I might be off by 1-2x but probably not more than that. In fact we could easily bring solar and wind to every home in America *if* we had the will" Moore's law is the observation that the number of transistors per unit area of integrated circuit increases at a rate of about 2x per 2 years. I made my career as a production engineer in semiconductors, so this is something I know a lot about. When exactly Moore's law will bottom out is the subject of great debate, but physics tells us the trend will not go on forever. But more to the point, Moore's law says absolutely nothing about the cost-per-watt of making solar electricity or wind power. Solar cells have been in production for about as long as microprocessors have, but have not enjoyed anything like the same cost and performance increases. This isn't because of government inaction either. There are a whole lot more subsidies for solar power than for computers. In fact, today's explosion of integrated circuit powered gizmos is responsible for a huge increase in demand for electricity to power the devices, drive the energy hogging semiconductor factories and cool the heat resulting from all this stuff. The consequences of Moore's law have in fact been an environmental disaster so far. "I think part of the issue here is that the folks on TTAC are from the automotive industry which typically moves slow and fracks stuff up, and I’m from the technology industry where we typically move faster and with massive innovation." Ah yes, Silicon Valley Hubris. It gets people in trouble all the time, but at least here in the Valley nobody will remind you in five years about your last frack-up.

  • Joshvar Joshvar on Dec 20, 2007
    I think part of the issue here is that the folks on TTAC are from the automotive industry which typically moves slow and fracks stuff up, and I’m from the technology industry where we typically move faster and with massive innovation. The car business is going to become a technology business in my mind. When it does a lot of the assumptions that come with lame/slow car companies is going to go out the window. As someone in IT, who has a massive respect for manufacturing (and especially the engineering behind it), I have to take issue with that. For one, the standards of acceptable product are completely different between the two industries (and, as the Big 3 learned, when the Japanese showed up, that can eat you alive). In my few years (5 on the dot) in software, the amount of quality that is truly assured is absolutely astounding in any product I've used or of which I've witnessed development upon. Astounding in that things are driven entirely by delivery dates and customer pressure and ignore meeting standards or even requirements of the customer, much less assuring that the damn thing works, much less works well. It's fortunate that there are enough standards in place to prevent (in theory) a complete hazard from being delivered to customers in the auto industry. I'm sure damn near everyone who owns an internet-connected computer and a mobile phone also owns a car, and if the same standards of quality were applied to their car and computer/mobile phone, how do you think any similarly complex (Measured by manhours? By "moving parts"? Take your pick) piece of software would compare? How many years has it taken for Windows to become a reasonably well-made OS? How much engineering effort has Oracle taken to keep their database at the level of stability, performance, and security that they've held while expanding their feature set? When was the last time a Google, or an Amazon, or an eBay, or a Yahoo, or a YouTube experienced an outage? When was the last time a consumer hard drive from one of the major manufacturers failed on you? Dropped calls with your mobile provider? A "smart" device locking up, malfunctioning, or just plain dying on you? And these are top-tier, cream-of-the-crop products, not newcomers who are promising to be the latest revolution. Not that cars are without problems, but as good as the talent in the tech pool is, reliability hasn't been a focus when it comes to consumer-level items (except MAYBE silicon chips from the top-level vendors). While the complexity of software has spiraled, and things have gotten a lot better in a relative sense, look at something standardized such as CSS. I'm no web designer, but when I did work on doing some CSS (2001-2003), wow. Just...wow. 4 different browsers, 4 different results, 2 basically unreadable, 1 passable, and 1 was spot-on. And this took how long to get sorted out? They appear to work well now, at least. And this is just a presentation part of a browser; arguably the most important piece of a rather simple puzzle. Granted, there are atrocious websites out there for browsers to deal with, but well-formed, standard-compliant tags should be easy to interpret correctly, and display correctly. And I should trust the tech industry to correctly tell me what speed I'm going, when fines and safety are in play? No thanks. Tesla is playing the tech startup game in the manufacturing industry, and they're showing their youth. Delays of the type that Tesla's encountered sound amateur compared to the majors, and that's understandable. Since they've yet to deliver a car to a customer (And no, the one that Elon gets doesn't count as a customer), they're still amateurs. As enamored as I am with an EV Elise, I'd be much less skeptical of Lotus making the whole EV (as English as they are) than the founder of PayPal. Faster moving tech may be, but their "massive" innovation is hardly bigger than the automotive sector, or any other manufacturing sector for that matter. What the automotive industry lacks in speed, it makes up for in quality, even at the lowest rungs (I'm looking at you, VW). And that's not a trade-off I, or most consumers are willing to make. Good thing they're experimenting on people with a disposable $100k for a toy that still has yet to form from the vapor. Now if Larry and Sergey (and/or John Carmack) were behind it...
  • Phil Ressler Phil Ressler on Dec 20, 2007
    Oh, and the free market will solve global warming in ten years, because everyone wants to drive an electric car. Perhaps that will take care of the extant global warming on Mars and Uranus too. But let's suppose for the moment that climate change is anthropogenic, resulting from human-instigated CO2 release into the atmosphere. If that's your worry, everyone driving an electric car isn't going to change circumstances. The UN-IPCC is calling for human-induced CO2 emissions to decline by 50% from 2005 levels by 2050. That's a 14,000,000,000 metric tons reduction. The LA Times, citing Lawrence Livermore, US Dept of Energy, US Department of Transportation and Oak Ridge Lab, estimates that conversion of the US automotive fleet to 100% Prius-grade hybrids will save a mere 337,000,000 metric tons. Let's say we go 100% electric cars. Let's even be unreasonably optimistic and assume 100% of such a fleet is charged exclusively by solar and wind powered electricity. So perhaps another couple hundred-million metric tons of CO2 emissions are saved. Still not much of a dent if the IPCC's targets are taken seriously. extrapolate worldwide and private transit still pales. By contrast, once again proving that the leverage is in the fixed location emitters, replacing all US coal-fired generating plants with some combination of solar, wind, wave, hydro and nuclear alternatives would save 2,142,000,000 metric tons of Co2. Doing same in China would about double that. Doing same in India is good for 791,000,000 metric tons. Extrapolate globally, and this lever gets larger and yet still, that 14,000,000,000 metric tons reduction is out of reach. Carbon sequestering could make the same contribution, without actually replacing the means of power generation. Of course, we know that conversion to electric cars will not result in a purely-green-powered fleet. Especially in less wealthy places where burning coal will continue to be cheaper and more accessible than personal solar. Climate change and carbon reduction for hope of mitigating warming is not a compelling reason to buy a Tesla car. It's a feel-good gesture at best. Currency strength (weakness), international politics, economic leverage and local real pollution concerns might be. But for now, any mass conversion to electric cars will simply transfer the pollution burden from one place to another. L.A.'s air might get cleaner, but Utah residents might have a different view of it until that great conversion to sun, wind and sea comes. I want to like the Tesla car. As a current and past owner of very quick cars, I like that it's aiming for the 4 second club as a sports car, though that's completely irrelevant to it as an environmentally-friendly conveyance. It looks ungainly for a $100,000 car, with slightly distorted proportions draped over its Lotus bones. I expect the car to come in heavy. But the primary concern is that nearly 30 years working in various sectors of the technology business, many in Silicon Valley, lead me to be skeptical of that industry's mindset for human factors and life/death consequences of failures, not to mention long-term maintainability. I'd have more confidence in General Electric taking seriously Andy Grove's suggestion that they, as the naturally-capable disrupter, build an electric car. Some of the most reliable software in the world is used in today's automobiles, resident in the many distributed digital systems in cars. Large-scale consumer companies that have come to rely on embedded systems have developed solid digital and electro-mechanical systems that are software-controlled and operate to utility standards. Most of what comes out of Silicon Valley, does not. And in this case, mechanicals, chemistry, ergonomics, electronics, power generation and storage, aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics all have to be integrated into an innovation that becomes a manufactured product. I recall that in 1980, Triumph mounted its new solid-state ignition pack directly on the distributor. It seemed a compact, efficient thing to do. And in the early era of solid-state ignition, how tough could it be to be sure it worked? The only problem was that unpredictably, the solid state ignition pack would stop sending spark if it got too hot. Yup, you could be in the rapid lane doing 80 and suddenly, completely, lose power in traffic. Wait 10 minutes and the car would start again. But run for how long? Could be minutes, hours or days. The terror wasn't in the starting or the 10 minute wait (no, wait, there was that one time I had to coast off the highway into an unfamiliar neighborhood in Newark at 3am...) but in the involuntary cessation of forward motion. How many such problems lurk in a multi-system Tesla car developed by automotive newbies in "Beta-release" Silicon Valley? By the way, wouldn't you know that you'll need a seriously robust transmission for a 4 seconds electric car, while the idea is still only pixels in Powerpoint??? Phil
  • Yankinwaoz Yankinwaoz on Dec 21, 2007
    Is that about the same time Duke Nukem 4 comes out? I nominate that TTAC now dub the Tesla "Tesla Forever".