How Elon Musk is Revolutionizing Factories

Musk's ultimate goal is to make the cars, which currently sell for $70,000, affordable for the masses, and create a 'catalyst for sustainable transport.'

by Daniel Schnettler and Gretel Johnston, dpa, Hamburg, Germany / June 2, 2016
Tesla Motors Assembly Line Flickr/Steve Jurvetson

(TNS) -- One life is too short for all that Elon Musk wants to cram in.

He's already racked up a string of successes with a variety of marquee businesses - Paypal, SpaceX and SolarCity - all companies he had a hand in starting. It now appears his latest venture, the electric car company Tesla, will follow suit.

The youthful Musk, 42, is Tesla's chief executive and a man with a fountain of ideas, including some that at first glance sounded crazy, but nevertheless proved successful.

Whether Tesla will indeed be one of them remains to be seen, but his earlier successes already made him a rockstar among US entrepreneurs. This week Wall Street took note when Tesla announced plans to build the world’s largest battery factory, a 929,000-square-metre "gigafactory," as the company dubbed it.

The massive factory that will cost 5 billion dollars to build and feed a steady stream of lithium-ion batteries to its electric vehicle assembly line in Fremont, California.

But Musk's ultimate goal is to make the cars, which currently sell for 70,000 dollars, affordable to the masses. As Musk has said in more than one interview, he wants to be part of something that makes a clear difference for the future of humanity. Tesla cars could be a "catalyst for sustainable transport," he said.

Born in South Africa, Musk studied physics and economics at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. From there he headed to Silicon Valley and founded the internet companies Zip2 and PayPal, which he later sold, earning him his first millions.

That provided the startup capital for other big plans. He dreamed about life on Mars and founded the company SpaceX. He and his team developed the Dragon spaceship, which NASA has approved to fly cargo to the International Space Station.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Musk has been working to revolutionize transportation. He has pushed forward with Tesla while still serving as chief executive of SpaceX.

Telsa was born in 2004, two years after SpaceX, but its founders fought and the development of the company's first car stumbled. To make matters worse, the US economy tanked and Musk had to put nearly all of his money into Tesla to keep it afloat.

Despite all the adversity, Tesla managed to produce a car, the Roadster, which took many critics' breath away. The speedy two-seater dispelled the notion that electric cars were boring. The first Roadsters were delivered in 2008 under a manufacturing arrangement with Lotus, the British sports car maker. Tesla's own breakthrough came in 2012 with the Model S.

The sleek electric car, which has been rolling off the assembly line of Tesla's factory, has been grabbing one prize after another, despite reports of isolated fires in the vehicles. Worldwide Tesla sold 22,500 of them last year. That is expected to rise to 35,000 this year. In 2020, Musk aims for sales to hit 500,000.

A new less expensive model that can be mass produced figures in the plan, but the cheaper batteries are the key to its success.

Musk's own net worth is estimated at 12 billion dollars, ranking him 92nd on Bloomberg's list of the world's richest people.

He is also the father of five sons, and believed to be the inspiration for Robert Downey Junior's character in the Hollywood movie series Ironman, in which the actor plays a congenial billionaire who carries out good deeds dressed in a high-tech suit of armor.

In the sequel, Iron Man 2, Musk even has a small speaking part in which he says "I have an idea for an electric jet" in passing to Tony Stark, the billionaire character Downey plays. Truth and fiction seem to blur in the few seconds it takes for Stark to reply: "You do?" he says, "Then we'll make it work."

©2014 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) Distributed by MCT Information Services