We certainly look forward to taking people to space, certainly.
[Inspiration for Tony Stark] In some respects, yes.
[How many Tesla Roadsters on the road?] I think we're around 16 or 17 hundred.
What the Roadster's greatest value is, really, is breaking the misconceptions around electric cars. Showing that you can have a fast, cool, beautiful electric car that goes long distances. Almost 250 miles [without a charge]. That's longer than any electric car in history and, in fact, Roadster's set many world records in terms of its range. In fact, we've had one customer take it over 300 miles on a trip. There's actually two customers. One was a rally in Australia, which is technically 500 km, and it's the first time that an electric car has finished that rally without recharging, and another one was in Europe.
[In regards to famous customers] I certainly know several of them, but Larry Page and Sergey Brin were both early customers and, in fact, investors in Tesla.
The biggest impact of the Roadster is in changing the perception of electric cars and showing that you can do amazing things with an electric car that, in fact, are better than gasoline cars in a lot of respects. The Roadster has better acceleration than almost any gasoline sports car. The result of the Roadster was, in fact, the Volt. Bob Lutz at General Motors credits Tesla with the inspiration for the Volt.
We do share our technology, ironically not with General Motors - not that we weren't willing to do so, but General Motors wanted to go their own way. But we do provide our power train technology to Daimler, for Mercedes and Smart, and to Toyota, and so we have the electrical Mercedes A-class on-road now in Europe and the electric Smart now in the US and Europe and next year there will be the electric turbo Rav-4.
Next year we'll have the Model-S which is about half the price of the Roadster which about $50,000 and that's a full size sedan about the size of a 5-series BMW but actually far more capable than other premium sedans. I think we will have a version that accelerates comparable to the Roadster. Our goal with the Model-S is to have a performance version Model-S that is the fastest sedan on the road.
[People think of electric cars as golf carts.] "It's one hell of a golf cart. You go on the golf course with this puppy, you're really going to have a good time between the holes."
[Are people surprised an electric car can do this?] They are, and that's exactly what we're trying to effect, is to show people - hey, you can have a - hell, a better experience with an electric car than you can with a gasoline car.
[Is it a good thing for the environment?] It actually is. Even if you draw electricity from coal or natural gas, or even directly from oil, because stationary power plants are so much more efficient than small gasoline engines in cars, an electric car ends up getting more range for a given amount of say, coal or oil that's burned than a gasoline gets. So, in other words, the CO2 per mile is actually less for an electric car even if it's coming from a high CO2 source like coal. Now, of course, long term we have to find sustainable power generation and sustainable transportation but both sides of the equation need to be solved and even if electric cars weren't there, we still need to get sustainable power generation. The great thing about electric cars is you can generate the electricity from a wide range of renewable sources like hydro, geothermal, wind, solar and nuclear where it's save to do so.
[Why should tax dollars be used to fund a play thing for George Clooney and Larry Page?] Now, if that were true, it would be a valid criticism. First, I should say, the loan the Tesla received did not come from stimulus funds at all. In fact, the loan program under which Tesla competed for loans was actually created and signed into law by George Bush. It is tax payer dollars, but it's very very different from the stimulus funds or the bailouts or anything. In fact, one of the requirements under the loans program, which is called the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program, that you had to demonstrate viability as a company independent of the loan. This is why General Motors and Chrysler didn't receive any funding under this program, because it's difficult to make that argument while you're in bankruptcy.
[You weren't profitable when you got the loan.] No, but we could demonstrate viability with the Roadster. We did not need the loan. The value of the loan was really to accelerate the progress at Tesla, not to keep Tesla alive. Although unfortunately, the timing was unfortunate. So it's fair that people would have a misunderstanding about this because the announcement of the loan that Tesla got - and also, Nissan and Ford got loans that were much larger than what Tesla got - at the same time, but these loans were announced right around the time that there were bailouts taking place and there was a stimulus and so people naturally confused the two which is unfortunate but they're really quite different.
[Also that the loan was going to a play thing for the rich.] That is also an incorrect perception. The loan that we received was specifically for the Model-S program which is much higher volume, lower cost - about $50,000. We expect to go into production in the middle of next year. 20,000 units per year. A few other things which are noteworthy about the ATVM loan, of course, we pay interest, it's a reduced interest, but we still pay interest and if we don't pay the loan off early, there are actually stock warrants that the government gets in Tesla. So, it's a pretty good deal.
[Do you wish you hadn't taken the loan?] You know, we are really hell belt on accelerating the advent of electric cars, and getting electric cars to the mass market as soon as possible. [Half a billion dollars helps.] It certainly helps and we'll take a lot of heat if it's in support of the greater cause, and we did take a lot of heat. I think in terms of the editorial page and the criticism that we received, I think it was simply we didn't have an opportunity to correct some of the mis-perceptions. If, Homer Jenkins, or others had actually understood the correct situation I don't think they would have been nearly as critical. [Did you talk to him?] We exchanged some emails.
[How are we going to get electric cars?] I think it's really going to come from the whole industry moving towards electrification. I'm a supporter of any move by any company to create electric vehicles. So I think it's great what Nissan is doing with the Leaf, what GM is doing with the Volt, what Daimler is doing with the electric Mercedes. [Are they competition?] Well, I guess they're competition in a sense, but pretty indirectly. It's such a huge market. We don't see people necessarily choosing to buy a Volt or a Leaf rather than a Tesla, so I guess technically competition but not in a significant way. The overarching goal of Tesla is to get the industry to move towards electrification - competition or not - and whether we do that with our own cars, with cars that we help other people make, as we're doing with Daimler, we're producing battery packs and chargers for the Mercedes A-class, for the electric Smart car or with Toyota, we're producing the entire electric power train for the electric Rav-4, we're just trying to move the industry towards electrification faster than it might otherwise go and we're certainly quite pleased whenever there's any announcement about another manufacturer producing electric cars.
[What about hybrids?] I certainly believe that the future is pure electric cars, not hybrids. I think hybrids are an interim step. They're sort of like an amphibian. You know, when life was going from the oceans to land, probably a lot of amphibians, but that's not the end solution. I think you want to go all electric because that is the truly sustainable path and I think if you split the baby and you have a car that is trying to be a good gasoline car and a good electric car, you end up being not as compelling as either a pure gasoline car or pure electric.
[How do you charge it?] With Model-S I think we've got a great solution in that regard because you've got a range of up to 300 miles. You can actually charge the car in 45 minutes. The charger is built into the car, and the third thing is you can actually swap out the battery pack faster than you can fill a gas tank. So you can actually swap the battery pack out in under a minute.
[Why is human spaceflight so important to you?] I just think that a future where humanity is a spacefaring civilization out there exploring the stars is an incredibly exciting future and inspiring and so that's what we're trying to help make happen. "I really want SpaceX to help make life multi-planetary. I'd like to see a self-sustaining base on Mars." [Do you think that's practical?] I think it's possible, absolutely. [How long is it going to take?] I think we'll probably put a first man into space in about 3 years. We're going all the way to Mars I think. [Time frame?] Best case, 10 years. Worst case, 15 to 20 years. [Are you going to build the colony too?] We want to be like the shipping company that brought people from Europe to America. Or like the Union Pacific railroad or something like that. Our goal is to facilitate the transfer of people and cargo to other planets, and then it's going to be up to the people if they want to go.
[Did you work with Robert Downey Jr on Ironman?] He did interview me, I guess, I met with Robert Downey Jr just before they were filming Ironman 1. Gave him a tour of the rocket factory. Showed him an electric car and everything. We talked about some of the possible scientific explanations for the powers that Ironman has in his suit. Like maybe you could harness the power of dark energy or something. I thought it was cool, but I think there's also some important differences. I've got five kids and Ironman is sort of a swinging bachelor. I spend my weekends going to Disney Land and I don't see Tony Stark doing that.
[Why is your divorce so public?] They're rerunning that? I don't believe it. That sucks. That's horrendous. I don't know, I wish it wasn't. I think my ex-wife is sort of - she's a prolific blogger and writer and, you know, I think she likes to talk about these things and I don't. I decline to participate in divorce wars, as enticing as that sounds.