J.B. Straubel CO-OP THINK 15

Leaping Ahead of the Pack

How Tesla Motors succeeds against established competitors.

May 7, 2015

The leaders of Tesla Motors Inc., saw a technology shift coming and leaped when others waited, said J.B. Straubel, the company's co-founder and chief technical officer.

Straubel told the CO-OP Think 15 Conference he continues to be surprised the big automobile companies have been slow to embrace the electric car market.

When you look at the increasing power of lithium ion batteries, pushed by the consumer electronics industry, it should be obvious those batteries eventually would be used in automobiles, he said.

Straubel shared some reasons why Tesla, a relatively young company, is beating the rest of the automobile industry at electric cars:

  • A willingness to create the market. Consumers had an unfavorable impression of electrics until Tesla's first vehicle, a sports car named the Roadster, hit the market.

    People realized the high-end car was "not just a golf cart," Straubel said. "We found the right niche and attacked it."
  • A focus on innovation. Once Tesla completed the Roadster, it set out to build an entirely new vehicle instead of relying on the existing model. Tesla challenged all the assumptions it put into the first model.
  • The ability to embrace a new mindset. Tesla's management team cut its teeth in the world of electronics and software.

    Instead of trying to build cars the way everyone else was building cars, Tesla's leaders took advantage of their "outsider" perspective on how drivers should interact with their automobiles.
  • Concern about the entire ecosystem. Instead of leaving it to others to figure out how to build electric charging stations around the country to service their cars, Tesla invested in the infrastructure with its own resources.
  • The ability to see opportunities instead of problems. For Tesla to scale up vehicle production in the coming years, as it plans to do, battery producers will have to rapidly do the same. Instead of fretting about that problem, Straubel referred to it as a "cool opportunity."

Straubel's talk focused on CO-OP's "Helpfull" megatrend, which refers to "operationalizing" new technology and experiences.