Rising From the Shadows
For much of the 20th century, Telsa was simply the last name of a brilliant man who died penniless after living much of his life in the shadow of successful rival Thomas Edison. Now, the name is synonymous with innovation, excitement, and the future thanks primarily to the efforts of another brilliant man: Elon Musk.
Under the Tesla moniker, Musk and a group of Silicon Valley engineers set out in 2003 to prove to the world the benefits of electric cars. Five years later, they released their first model, and since then, the company has become the poster child for sustainability. With Musk at the helm, Tesla has expanded its focus from simply building the best electric car to paving the way for autonomous vehicles, solar power, and so much more.
Here are seven ways Tesla is changing, well, everything:
Building Better Electric Vehicles
You can't talk about Tesla without talking about electric vehicles. The company's very first model, the Tesla Roadster, was the first mass-produced, all-electric car to travel more than 320 kilometers (200 miles) on a single charge and the first highway legal one to use lithium-ion battery cells. It's only gotten better from there.
Tesla's Model S was the first fully electric sedan, and it earned the distinction of being the best selling plug-in electric car in the world in 2015 and 2016. Their forthcoming Model 3 is expected to put even more Teslas on the road, racking up hundreds of thousands of preorders shortly after it was announced. Even Tesla's charging stations are better than the competition — its Supercharger network features more than 5,000 of the fastest charging stations in the world, giving Tesla drivers the ability to get back on the road quicker than any other electric vehicle.
Not only are their electric vehicles outperforming other EVs in terms of sales, driving range, and charging times, Teslas are outperforming their gas-guzzling counterparts in some ways, too. Just recently, the Model S P100D earned the distinction of being the fastest production car by accelerating from 0 to 97 km/h (0 to 60 mph) in 2.28 seconds. That's the fastest production car, period — not just the fastest electric vehicle.
The company is building some of the highest-tech cars on the road, receiving top safety ratings, and even pushing the envelope with style (just check out those falcon wing doors on the Model X). That these cars are better for the environment ends up feeling like a really, really great bonus.
Increasing Vehicle Autonomy
By now, you've likely heard the statistic that 94 percent of vehicle collisions are caused by human error, resulting in thousands of deaths every year. No company has been making greater strides toward removing the human element from driving than Tesla.
Since 2014, Autopilot hardware has been included as a standard feature in all Teslas, and the company frequently bests its competitors in terms of self-driving capabilities. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) currently classifies Tesla's Autopilot as a Level 2 automated system. However, the company is already testing Level 3/4 software in some of its fleet, with plans to reach Level 5 (full autonomy) by the end of 2017 following frequent over-the-air updates to its software to gather data and work out any kinks.
While legislation will need some time to catch up with the tech, Tesla's self-driving transportation will be ready when it does.
A mere half-decade after the first Uber app was downloaded, ridesharing is already proving to be a major disruptor in the transportation market. This billion-dollar industry is poised to put taxi drivers out of business, so they couldn't be happy to hear that Tesla plans to enter the market as well, but with an autonomous twist.
Sure, Lyft and Uber are already testing out autonomous vehicles for ridesharing purposes. However, their one-off, city-specific autonomy tests can't compete with Tesla's ability to make frequent adjustments to its Autopilot software thanks to the number of equipped vehicles already on the road. The company expects to reach Level 5 autonomy by the end of 2017, and once that happens, it's looking to launch the Tesla Network.
This fleet of self-driving Teslas could be summoned via an app just like you would an Uber or Lyft driver, but if you're going to take a chance on a driverless taxi, why wouldn't you want it to be one from Tesla, the company at the forefront of the self-driving revolution? The benefits extend to Tesla owners as well, as the Network would give them a built-in way to monetize their new vehicles. “This would be something that would be a significant offset on the cost of ownership for a car," Musk told Techcrunch back in August.
Making Solar Energy Sexy
Not content to simply reshape our roads, Tesla is also bringing residential energy into the future through its acquisition of SolarCity last year.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar is the most abundant source of energy on Earth, and demand for it in the U.S. has never been higher. With costs continuing to drop and the technology becoming more efficient, one of the few remaining hurdles to mainstream adoption is literally surface level — some people just don't like how solar panels look.
Compared to traditional solar panels, Tesla and SolarCity's are attractive and available in multiple styles, ranging from slate to Tuscan, to help the energy-generating devices seamlessly blend into existing architecture. If you don't want to worry about matching solar panels to your existing tile, though, Tesla also gives you the ability to have an entire solar roof. Either option is sure to remove "eyesore" from the vocabulary of any solar naysayers.
“I think there’s quite a radical difference between having solar panels on your roof that actually make your house look better versus ones that do not,” said Musk in a conference call. "I think it’s going to be a night-and-day difference."
Designing Superior Batteries
Tesla's attractive take on the traditional solar tile isn't the only thing helping propel the company forward in the residential energy market. Its cutting-edge Powerwall and Powerpack energy storage systems are making those tiles worthwhile.
Introduced in October 2016, the Powerwall 2 system includes a 14 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, and it can be mounted on a wall or the ground, indoors or outdoor, adding to the aesthetic flexibility of Tesla's residential solar energy systems. One Powerwall can store enough energy to power an entire two bedroom home for a whole day, and it can even be used in homes without a solar energy system, pulling energy from the electric grid when rates are lower and saving it for use during times with higher rates or a power outage.
While the Powerwall is designed for residential homes, the Powerpack system was created with utility and commercial vendors in mind. Each Powerpack contains 16 battery pods, and it can be used as a standalone system or combined with solar. The latest version, Powerpack 2, features the highest efficiency, highest power density utility-scale inverter available at the lowest cost. Telsa already built a massive 80 MWh Powerpack station for Southern California Edison and has plans for a number of other major collaborations in the near future.
If all goes according to Tesla's plan, your home or business may never be without power again.
Creating 21st Century Jobs
Beyond making big money for its investors, some of whom expect the company to cross into the trillion dollar range in the next decade, Tesla is doing its part to share the wealth by creating much-needed jobs at home and abroad.
Tesla's Gigafactory in Nevada employs hundreds of workers, and last month the company announced it would be adding 550 more jobs to that total by bringing production of its Model 3 motors to Nevada. Add to that an estimated total investment of $5 billion in the state, and you can see why several European countries are vying for the opportunity to host the next Gigafactory.
As of last year, Tesla only had 14,000 employees worldwide. When you consider that Musk believes the Nevada Gigafactory alone could end up employing 10,000 people, you get an idea of its growth trajectory and how it could be majorly responsible for training people in the clean energy industries of the future while keeping many jobs Stateside.
Leading By Example
Perhaps more than anything else, Tesla is changing the world by showing us that changing the world is possible. Musk is the closest thing the real world has to Tony Stark, and his work with Tesla is just the tip of the iceberg. He's using his Boring Company to decrease traffic congestion by building a tunnel below the streets of Los Angeles, he's revolutionizing space travel through SpaceX, and he's even inspired the world to reimagine mass transit with his Hyperloop vision.
Musk has proven that a single person can still have a huge impact on the world around them. At a time when "big business" is often seen as the Goliath out to exploit the Davids of the world, Tesla is a welcome exception. It's a multi-billion dollar company that seems more interested in building a better future than satisfying shareholders, and for that, we are grateful.