By on February 3, 2015

Ian Wright

Tesla co-founder Ian Wright says that while he’s surprised by his old company’s success, the idea of a mass-market EV still doesn’t seem likely.

During an interview with San Francisco Business Times about Wrightspeed’s relocation from San Jose to Alameda, Calif., Wright was pleased that Tesla “worked out… quite a lot better” than he originally thought it would, praising the success of the Model S.

As for Tesla’s overall goal of building EVs “cheaper and cheaper and cheaper until they were outselling the Camry,” he still thinks that isn’t possible, having never been “on board” with the idea among co-founders Martin Eberhard and Mark Tarpenning.

As for his own company, which makes hybrid gas-electric turbine drivetrains for medium and heavy commercial vehicles like garbage and delivery trucks, Wright says there’s a $5 billion market in the United States for his drivetrains, $2 billion alone in garbage trucks. Clients such as FedEx and Ratto Group have installed Wrightspeed tech into their fleets in California, while the California Energy Commission bestowed his company with nearly $7 million in grants.

Speaking of funding, Wright is preparing an IPO in the event he does take his company public, hoping he might do better than when he sold his Tesla shares in 2010 prior to their astronomical appreciation.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

51 Comments on “Wright: Tesla’s Camry ‘Not Possible’ Despite Ongoing Success...”


  • avatar
    insalted42

    While I agree that the tech isn’t quite there YET, I’d say give it another decade or so…

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Mr. Wright exemplifies the one serious problem with anybody’s success, not just Tesla’s: You have to believe in your product 100%. If you don’t, you’re guaranteeing failure.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I’m sorry, but that’s delusional self-cheering that leaves one willfully blind (or duplicitous and deceitful) about your product.

      You should be aware of your products strengths and weaknesses so you can improve it. If you believe in your product 100%, you’ll be utterly blindsided by people who don’t.

      I’ve seen too many salespeople afflicted with this disease. It’s particularly terrifying when those salespeople make it into management; they’re utter b*stards when other people don’t succeed, ignoring externalities and punishing failure as a lack of commitment.

      • 0 avatar
        Lokki

        I completely agree – one of the First Rules is Never fall for your own propaganda. The only thing as bad as a marketing guy making it to the top job, is an Accounting guy making it. There is always a way to save more money, and it is very difficult to argue against it in the abstract.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          In my experience, salespeople fall for bullshit with regularity.

          I figure it’s a kind of Bullshit Detente; if one guy stops believing it, the whole system collapses.

        • 0 avatar
          eManual

          And companies that only look for saving money do not last, because either their technology becomes obsolete, or other costs out of their control (such as taxes, energy, labor) eat away at profits.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Wrong! There’s a difference between offering hype and believing in what you’re doing. The people who are best at what they do BELIEVE they are best at what they do.

        Yes, I do agree that you have to be aware of the product’s strengths and weaknesses; but Wright has proven that he doesn’t believe those weaknesses can be addressed, so as a result he bailed and is now surprised that Tesla is succeeding “beyond his wildest dreams”. He was expecting Tesla to be some ‘community go-getter’ and not a full-on, roadworthy car.

        The technology he’s trying to promote right now was taken off the automotive market almost 50 years ago and about the only way he’s going to make it work is by sending the exhaust straight up a stack rather than down onto the ground the way Chrysler’s turbine car did. Turbine’s biggest drawback is the amount of waste heat generated that essentially cannot be reclaimed. He’s got the advantage that with a bigger vehicle, exhausting the hot gasses skyward is easier than a passenger car, but he’s still relying on fossil fuels at least for now. He can certainly burn renewable fuels like alcohol from sugars, etc. but that then impacts our food supply which raises our overall cost of living. I give him kudos for helping to develop another stop-gap technology, but in its own way it can become as bad or worse of a problem than fossil fuels themselves over time.

        • 0 avatar
          carve

          He did believe in his product; he just thought it was for a different market.

          Direct drive gas turbines are inefficient because they spend a lot of time at no or part load and have to idle at very high speed. In a hybrid setup, you can have it run flat-out all the time as a range extender. The light weight is an advantage, and now you don’t have to have a ginormous garbage truck size battery. Regenerative braking will be a huge advantage for garbage trucks and delivery vehicles.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    This article prompted me to look up Tesla’s stock price. It’s going for $210 per share right now. Tesla’s market cap (the total value of all its stock) is $25.5 billion. That’s almost half of GM’s market cap and it exceeds Fiat Chrysler’s cap by $10 billion. In other words if Tesla and Fiat Chrysler merged today, Musk would control the combined entity.

    Tesla’s high stock price could be a barrier to the company’s expansion through new equity. Any public stock offering would dilute the ownership of the current stockholders and drive the price way down. Don’t be surprised if the company next raises money through a rights offering, giving the current shareholders the right to buy additional shares.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I wonder what Martin Eberhard is doing these days?

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Good on him for pursuing a practical application of a similar tech. Hybrid buses and garbage trucks make a lot of sense.

  • avatar
    jdash1972

    I’m sure Mr Wright understands that batteries have physical limitations. Just as there are only so many BTU’s in a gallon of gasoline, there are limitations on the power density of a battery, as well as the maximum rate of charge and discharge and life of the battery. You can’t wish your way to technical achievement and time spent working on a problem is no guarantee of progress. Me Wright is working on hybrid drivetrains and I think that’s where the future lies in vehicle drive trains. Remember, all of the BTU’s we use in this world are still buried in the ground, save for a small percentage of renewable resources like wind and solar.

    • 0 avatar
      eManual

      All rechargeable battery chemistry has a limited lifetime of charge-discharge cycles. The cost of battery replacement, even allowing for recycling, makes EV only vehicles uncompetitive. Note that a simple lead-acid 12 Volt car battery now costs $60 – $100 to replace. A hybrid that uses a super-capacitor should have a much longer lifetime of charge-discharge cycles, hopefully for the life (25+ years) of the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      After more than two years of driving a Leaf, I’ve become convinced that battery degradation is the biggest barrier to widespread EV adoption.

      I had previously thought that filling time was a major obstacle, but now we’re seeing solid evidence that filling speed does not hurt the battery. The Supercharger network indicates that long trips are less of a problem than before.

      However, the exponential cycle decay curve of lithium ion batteries is unavoidable – leaving you with demonstrably less car than you started with. The degradation of ICE cars is much different; resale value of an EV is all about the battery. If you discount the government handout, my Leaf will have lost 2/3 of its value in 3 years. Suspecting such an outcome is why I leased it, rather than buy it.

      Second-hand consumers of EVs will get exceptional deals, but it will be interesting to see how they react when driving cars whose range is misrepresented or misunderstood by the car dealers. I predict legal action, followed by a painful rethinking of how to portray range to drivers and potential customers alike.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        There is progress on the battery degradation front. I’ve seen various articles on breakthroughs in anode technology using graphene combined with other materials and progress in lowering graphene manufacturing costs. We’re getting there – not sure how long, but I think the technology for vast improvements in battery technology is starting to emerge.

        As for myself, I know what I was getting into and the current $5,500 replacement cost for a battery is somewhat in line with repair charges I’ve been hit with on my ICE cars. At least with the Leaf, I’m expecting it – unless a Model III P85D replaces it before it needs the battery.

        • 0 avatar
          eManual

          OK, if the battery replacement cost is $5,500, where’s the rest of the $30K+ cost coming from? Say you took a Spark (~12K), stripped out the engine and gas tank, substituted an electric motor with a simpler transmission for say a $3K adder, and added a $5K battery. You would have a Chevy Bolt for about $20K. You right, replacing a $5K battery every 8-10 years would be $500 – $600 a year, a reasonable cost vs. ICE maintance. I think your battery replacement cost was added into the original purchase price.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            If I was spending $600 per year maintaining my ICE, I’d be out of my mind with rage.

            It is not reasonable to expect EV buyers to drop $5500 every 8 years on a battery. And frankly, who willingly puts that kind of money into an 8-year-old car?

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            And back in 1990 I was spending almost $200/week keeping my old car running. It ate belts and drank gas.

      • 0 avatar
        carve

        The leaf lacks a battery cooling system, resulting in fast degradation.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          You’re referring to the “Phoenix problem”, which has allegedly been cured with the latest chemistry in the Leaf battery.

          I live in western PA, where it never even hit 90F this past summer.

          • 0 avatar
            ect

            I share your pain. In Toronto, the Health Department issues a “heat alert” when the forecast high is 30C (86F) or more. In 2014, the first heat alert of the year was issued in September!

            I played a few golf games in August at temperatures in the 10-12 range (low 50’sF).

            Not fun!

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        I really appreciate your comments about your experience with the Leaf. Any chance you’ll write something up for the site soon, or as a retrospective once your lease is up?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Interesting concept…the Chevy Volt of commercial trucks…except gas turbine power instead of diesel. Although his $7 mil to date in public funding is pocket money…needs to hire some primo lobbyists and head to DC if he’s going to really suck at the taxpayer teat.

    • 0 avatar
      eManual

      Gas turbine power for fixed installations (such as Natural Gas electricity) works, especially with waste heat recovery. For vehicles that carry their own fuel, a piston engine is still much more efficient.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Tell that to all those airplanes flying over your head. The vast majority use gas-turbine engines. And I’m not just talking about the jets. Most planes larger than a Cessna 182 use turbines today. They’re just more efficient as long as you stay out of afterburner.

        • 0 avatar
          eManual

          As an airplane owner and pilot, until you get to 450 horsepower, piston engines are used. A Cessna 182 is 230 HP, so there are many bigger single and twin aircraft that still use pistons. The tradeoff is the installed weight (turbines are lighter) vs. fuel burn. And for trucks, fuel burn is much more important than weight.

          • 0 avatar
            RedStapler

            You can put an extra 4000-6000lbs of engine and/or batteries on a truck, bus or parcel delivery van with out too much trouble. Most local fleets run the same routes consistently. At the freight operation I work at in Reno we have several routes that are 25-40mi/day.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Do you know what the difference is between a Beechcraft Queen Air and a King Air? They’re both propellor-driven aircraft but the King Air is powered by turbines. As such, it can fly higher, faster and carry heavier loads (which is why there are so many different models of King Air).

            Or maybe you are unaware of Piper’s and Cessna’s single-engine craft using a turboprop up front? In other words, once you get up to about 8 passenger capacity, they drop the pistons for turbines. But Beechcraft has a certain model of Bonanza that is turboprop as well, where the pilot and one passenger sit on top rather than inside.

            You might also note that certain military drones, for being relatively small (only slightly longer than a Cessna 182) uses a turboprop to give it long range and relative silent flight.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I did not read the linked article but does this guy drive a tesla ?

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “..gas-electric turbine drivetrains..”

    I would think that this would use a power unit similar to commercial aircraft’s APUs.

    Turbine-electric powered locomotives have been around for a while.
    Several experimental locomotives have been built, and some even saw regular freight service use:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_turbine-electric_locomotive

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      if you read the Wiki you linked, you’ll see that there are very few gas-turbine locomotives in daily use right now. Yes, the Union Pacific had several gas-turbine trainsets, but they were hugely costly in fuel at the time for all the power they produced. Why? Because freight transport is slow. The average speed of freight running in the US is only 25 mph. Sure, you see trains running faster, but when you take yard activities, pulling into sidings on single-track mains and other factors, those trains are spending far more time getting up to speed than they are running at speed. For heavy work like that they’ve proven impractical. Why? Because a gas turbine is most efficient when running at about 70% of maximum rpms. If you’re constantly accelerating and decelerating, you simply can’t run at an efficient speed.

    • 0 avatar
      eManual

      Commercial APU’s are used on airplanes for fuel compatibility and light weight. The extra fuel burn for the turbine is not as important as the (dead) weight carried when the APU is not in use. Sorry, piston engines are still so much more efficient.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Pure EV success hinges on battery service life and replacement cost. If Model S batteries tank after 8 or 10 years and cost $25K to replace, it’s not going to be pretty. If they end up lasting 20 or 25 years there’s a much more compelling value proposition.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I’m glad you said “If”, MB. Because I’m pretty sure you hit every extreme in the book there. Since Tesla’s batteries are warranted for eight years, we KNOW they’ll last longer before we have to pay anything to replace them and to be quite honest I highly doubt they cost $25K to replace at the moment. On the other hand, I also doubt that they’ll last 20-25 years in a mobile platform but could live out that time as fixed power storage units in emergency backup situations. Personally, I’d love to have a couple of those packs in my own home for when a hurricane or blizzard decides to shut down power where I live.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        All EV batteries are warranted for 8 years, because the government requires it. The only guarantee is that they will propel the vehicle, basically.

        Even if you’re willing to wait until 30-80% of your battery’s capacity is gone to replace it, it’s still an expensive proposition.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          “Even if you’re willing to wait until 30-80% of your battery’s capacity is gone to replace it, it’s still an expensive proposition.”
          And that analysis is based on… ?

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            I’m extrapolating from my experience driving a Leaf for the last 2+ years, as well as my professional experience as a mechanical engineer who designs lithium ion batteries for my employer’s products.

            Despite Nissan’s claims, I am presently thinking my Leaf’s capacity is down about 30% from new. I haven’t bothered to try and prove this with any equipment, but I do have some data. After 8 years, it won’t be usable to drive in the neighborhood. But after September, it won’t be my problem.

  • avatar
    eManual

    Tesla’s success is partly due to it being a Veblen good, like the Rolls Royce use to be. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veblen_good

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Thank you for the education; agreed.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      Another part is use of carpool lane, although that would apply equally to the Leaf (which is even slightly more common in my company’s parking lot). They are also “low effort” cars–don’t require regular maintenance (especially on lease), don’t make noises, drive smoothly and predictably, etc.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    “As for his own company, which makes hybrid gas-electric turbine drivetrains for medium and heavy commercial vehicles like garbage and delivery trucks, Wright says there’s a $5 billion market in the United States for his drivetrains, $2 billion alone in garbage trucks.”

    While these uses are absolutely ideal for a hybrid solution, I don’t like Wright’s chances if GM, Ford or Toyota decides to really get into this market and I can’t see why they eventually wouldn’t.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    This sounds like a load of bs. A medium speed 2 stroke diesel hybrid would beat the pants off a gas turbine hybrid in most every way for this application and slow speed 2 stroke would beat the pants and shirt off in efficiency, although not as good for transportation uses due to size constraints.

    D
    Battery tech is about to blow past current limitations of current formulations within 5 years, and then its game over for oil and gasoline as primary fuel source. The Saudis even know it and are scared sh*tless. Dual carbon cathode and anode batteries ate coming, and they are game changing–not to mention LiS formulations and several other breakthroughs.

    • 0 avatar

      If this is true, it will be great. But somehow, it sounds to good to be true. Do you have any documentation?

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      “Battery tech is about to blow past current limitations of current formulations within 5 years, and then its game over for oil and gasoline as primary fuel source. The Saudis even know it and are scared sh*tless. Dual carbon cathode and anode batteries ate coming, and they are game changing–not to mention LiS formulations and several other breakthroughs.”

      I will believe this when I see it. Until then, it’s the same old talk.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      Batteries have a very very long way to go before they will be viable for air transportation and trans-ocean cargo shipping. Plus, the current IC engines used for those purposes can run quite efficiently–maybe more efficiently than generating the electricity to charge the batteries when considering that the batteries also have some losses. How big is the battery needed to get a 747 from San Francisco to Tokyo without recharging somewhere in the middle of the Pacific ocean?

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Imagefont: I rode in a pickup version of one of these things. The central tunnel really takes a bite out of interior...
  • Imagefont: The power required to charge electric vehicles (quickly) is very impressive. Imagine a typical house with...
  • Old_WRX: “Still cannot believe that these are the 2 best candidates that the USA can come up with.” It is...
  • Old_WRX: Where there are money, power, and humans there will be corruption. In some sense I think the Latin American...
  • Old_WRX: @Arthur Dailey, First, thank you for your kind words. To tell the truth I don’t really much know who...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber