Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk last spoke to Automotive News in January 2015, when he joined Publisher Jason Stein on the World Congress stage. Since then, Musk has slogged through "production hell," run afoul of stock regulators by tweeting he had secured funding to take Tesla private and seen the value of his electric car maker take off like a SpaceX rocket.
It's safe to say there was plenty to talk about when he reconnected with Stein last week for an hourlong interview. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: The last two years, you said you were mired in "production hell." And now you're saying, just even this past week, that you think that the long-term sustainable advantage of Tesla is going to be manufacturing. So what changed?
A: The reason I say the long-term sustainable advantage at Tesla will be manufacturing is that I think it's actually the hardest thing to do — manufacturing at scale effectively.
It really depends on what time frame. If you go 10 years into the future, probably all cars or almost all cars will be fully autonomous, although sometimes I think the industry's going to move faster than it does. And that's just new cars. There's 2 billion cars and trucks on the road, and there's 100 million made per year, roughly. That's something I remind people of — even if all cars tomorrow were electric and autonomous, it would take 20 years to replace the fleet.
So you'll have this strange situation kind of like when they had horses and automobiles going down Main Street at the same time for a few decades, several decades. You'll have that with electric autonomous and fossil fuel nonautonomous vehicles. So if you assume other companies will figure out autonomy, or somebody will provide them with that solution, we'll both have autonomy, and we'll just need to be better at manufacturing than them.