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♦ Note From The Curator ♦
Here are the top three stories in this issue of Elon Musk News:
As 2016 comes to a close, it's time to take a look back at everything Elon Musk did this year. In their witty writing style, Inverse compiled a month-by-month list of (nearly) everything Elon accomplished in 2016. They even included a few of the funnier moments, like when he unwittingly made a cameo in a Brazilian police force billboard back in February.
On a personal note, I wish you a happy new year & very successful 2017!
♦ Featured Quote ♦
"People should pursue what they're passionate about. That will make them happier than pretty much anything else."
The Observer argues that, "Understanding Elon's learning superpowers helps us gain some insight into how he could go into an industry that has been around for more than 100 years and change the whole basis of how the field competes. Elon Musk is one of a kind, but his abilities aren't magical." Nevertheless, they too wonder: "How is it even possible that Elon Musk could build four multibillion [dollar] companies by his mid-40s — in four separate fields (software, energy, transportation, and aerospace)?" They offer three compelling clues into how Musk has been able to accomplish the unthinkable.
The first 10 satellites for Iridium's next-generation mobile voice and data relay network have been fueled, joined with their deployment module and encapsulated inside the clamshell-like nose cone of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster for launch as soon as next week from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX and Iridium have not announced a target launch date, but engineers are aiming to have the mission ready for liftoff by Jan. 7. That schedule is still very preliminary.
An official target launch date is pending the Federal Aviation Administration's approval of the SpaceX-led investigation into the explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral on Sept. 1. Meanwhile, construction crews at Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A in Florida are finishing up modifications to the former space shuttle launch complex to support Falcon 9 flights as soon as late next month.
SpaceX's massive new rocket, the appropriately named Falcon Heavy, hasn't taken flight yet, but when it does, it will be the most powerful rocket in the world. The company is banking on this to be the booster that takes people up into outer space, and on Wednesday it shared a photograph of the rocket still in the nest, looking imposing as hell with its snazzy logo plastered on the side.
"Heavy interstage being prepped at the rocket factory," the caption on SpaceX's Instagram explains. "When FH flies next year, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two."
In May, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the Falcon Heavy would have a thrust of 5.1 million pounds-force on liftoff, which, frankly, is just insanely powerful. When it's ready, it'll be able to take 54 metric tons into space in one go for one-third the cost of the next-biggest rocket, according to SpaceX.
Back in October, we reported that Tesla invited investors to a special event at the Gigafactory on January 4th. This week, Tesla sent out the official invites and confirmed that CEO Elon Musk will be there for a talk with management, including CTO JB Straubel. Our understanding is the focus will be on touring the factory, which recently doubled in size, and not on access to management.
The timing of the event is particularly interesting since Tesla is expected to announce the start of battery cell production at the plant and reveal more details about its battery cell developed in partnership with Panasonic any day now. Throughout the year, Tesla has been guiding the start of battery cell production as "later this year" and there are only 3 days left in 2016. We expect a better understanding of Tesla's short-term plans for production at the Gigafactory to come out of the event. The company says that it aims for 50 GWh of production in 2018, but plans for 2017 are not as clear.
Back in October, Tesla confirmed working on a deal with Panasonic for the production of solar cells and modules at SolarCity's Buffalo solar 'Gigafactory'. Early this morning, Tesla announced that they closed the deal with Panasonic and they clarified the products they will make at the factory.
In Buffalo, Panasonic will manufacture solar cells that will be used by Tesla to build its solar roof products, but additionally, it looks like Panasonic will also build its own cells and modules for solar panels. Tesla announced that Panasonic agreed to cover the capital costs required in Buffalo against a long-term purchase agreement of the solar products Panasonic plans to manufacture at the plant. It's again a deal similar to what the companies already have at the battery Gigafactory in Nevada. The investment will represent more than 30 billion yen ($256 million), according to Panasonic.
Additionally, Panasonic will join Tesla's solar R&D team acquired through the SolarCity merger and based in Fremont. They will work "on developing PV next generation technology". Tesla also reaffirms the start of production for "summer 2017" and SolarCity's commitment to create over 1,400 jobs in Buffalo.
Baird analyst Ben Kallo is closing the year on a very positive note for Tesla. The analyst, who has been covering Tesla for the past 3 years, named the company's stock his"top pick" for the next year. He believes 'Tesla Energy' is not currently priced into the stock and he sees potential for Tesla to beat expectations for the Model 3 in 2017.
Tesla started taking reservations for the Powerwall 2 last month and Kallo believes the sales have been accelerating (via streetinsider): "We believe TSLA battery sales are accelerating, and we should see additional benefits from the battery production ramp coinciding with the launch of the Model 3. We recommend accumulating shares ahead of additional details being released about TSLA's current battery costs and density metrics, and believe the upcoming Gigafactory tour on January 4 will be a positive catalyst for the stock."
What is most impressive is that fact that we can clearly hear the Forward Collision Warning alert before the lead vehicle even applied the brake, which shows that the Autopilot wasn't only using the lead vehicle to plan the path, but also the vehicle in front of it. The driver of the Tesla also reported that Autopilot started braking before he could apply the brakes himself.
Tesla indeed operates a few Supercharger stations with solar arrays – like the Hawthorne Supercharger pictured above – but they only represent a small fraction of Tesla's 760+ stations. But more importantly, It's the first time we've heard about a third generation of Tesla's Supercharger and that's not all, Musk also hinted at a power output greater than 350 kW – up from the current ~150 kW.
Back in October, we reported on Tesla reaching the 3 billion electric mile milestone and now the company's global fleet has managed to add 500 million in less than 3 months – bringing the total to 3.5 billion. The company has been keeping track of its fleet mileage with a counter on the 'Electric Road Trip' webpage.
Remember the Tesla Roadster, the punchy Lotus jammed full of batteries that put Tesla on the map about 10 years ago? It's gone now, but we think of it fondly. And there's a chance that it will make a comeback. Taking to Twitter, Elon Musk replied to a user asking about a new Roadster with, "Some years away, but yes."
After recent snow storms in North America, some Tesla owners are experiencing the Autopilot in the snow for the first time and they are surprised that the Autosteer is able to keep steering despite not detecting any lane marking or even a lead vehicle.
As it's often the case with Autopilot, data is key. Tesla is building high-resolution maps using its fleet of vehicles and those maps can help position the vehicle based on data from the GPS and inertial measurement unit (IMU).
Nonetheless, Tesla can still use the fusion of the data from all those sensors in order calculate inertial dead-reckoning, which is the process of calculating the current position by using a previously determined position, and determine a path based on previous trajectories used on the same road by Tesla's fleet.
When looking at current prices for 2013 electric cars, which is a good timing because they would be coming off their 3-year lease about now, it's clear that we are seeing a significant price drop at the wholesale level. Someone with access to those auction sites has been posting the current selling price of some EVs and is seeing the 2013 Tesla Model S going for only $31,000.
What is particularly interesting with the Model S and Tesla is that unlike other automakers, Tesla controls most of the used car market for its vehicles – thanks to its direct sales model. That's why it's difficult to get it anywhere else than from the company. These days, it's hard to get a certified pre-owned, which to be fair comes with a significant new warranty, from Tesla for less than $50,000.