My 2008 Interview With Elon Musk

2008 Tesla Roadster Validation Prototype

It’s coming up on 10 years since I first interviewed Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Inc. and SpaceX. At the time he was still chairman of the board, not yet having ditched his third CEO in a year. This interview was originally published on AutoblogGreen in June 2008 when I was a writer there. Musk contacted me after I wrote a story questioning his involvement in the development of the Roadster following a Fox News story where he was referred to as the company founder. We had a nearly hour-long conversation and I interspersed that transcript with some responses from Martin Eberhard that I had solicited by email.

As I re-read this, I noted the words I wrote in the final paragraph of the epilogue and realized that sadly, little of what I wrote has come to pass.

Having met several members of the Tesla team when I visited there in January to drive the Roadster, it’s clear to me that they have tremendous skills and expertise and they are recruiting more people with those qualities. Hopefully, the management team now in place at Tesla has the strength of character to take the knowledge of the engineers and apply the necessary review process to design decisions going forward. That is an absolute must in order to get cars built right, on time and on budget. Certainly the work of the TEAM at Tesla Motors has lit a fire under many other manufacturers to accelerate their own electric car projects.

I’m republishing it here for posterity. Given Musk’s recent tirades against the media, I wanted to have this in more than one place.


Throwback: Interview With Chrysler’s Lou Rhodes and Doug Quigley

Dodge Circuit EV Concept at 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show

Authors note: Back in 2009 when I was still the technical editor of the now defunct GreenFuelsForecast.com, I sat down for lunch with Lou Rhodes and Doug Quigley of Chrysler. At the time, Lou was president of the company’s ENVI divison and Doug was executive engineer for EVs. Over the prior 18 months, ENVI had shown off two sets of electrified concepts and was still hoping to get at least one into production. At the time of this conversation, Chrysler was struggling to survive and barely a month later, the company would go through bankruptcy reorganization before emerging as part of Fiat. While none of the concepts at the time, made it to production, lessons from the project were fed into the Fiat 500e and in 2017 a plug-in hybrid Chrysler minivan finally arrived as the Pacifica.

(Auburn Hills, MI, March 27, 2009) Over the last two years numerous automakers including Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi and General Motors have garnered attention for efforts to develop commercially viable electric drive vehicles. More recently Chrysler has also publicly jumped into the fray with the creation of its ENVI division, unveiling of several prototypes and the announcement that at least one of those vehicles would go into production in 2010.

Lou Rhodes, President of ENVI and Doug Quigley, Executive engineer spoke with Green Fuels Forecast about Chrysler’s plans for electrification. When ENVI was publicly announced in September 2007, many saw it as a knee-jerk reaction to all the hype that General Motors was getting for the Chevrolet Volt. In fact, the work of ENVI began quietly in late 2005 when the Chrysler Group was still firmly ensconced within DaimlerChrysler. (more…)

Toyota Prius Prime Gets The Plug-in Hybrid Right, Now About That Design

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Ok, let’s immediately deal with the elephant in the room. The Toyota Prius Prime is not an attractive vehicle. In fact, to my eyes, it’s quite homely. Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll leave the aesthetic judgements to your own tastes and move on to how Toyota’s sophomore effort at a plug-in version of its icon works. While the first-generation Prius PHV was a bit of a swing and a miss, the functionality this time is in most respects a home run.


Leave The Brake Pedal, Take The Bolt – Driving Chevrolet’s New EV

It’s been more than eight years since I first drove one of BMW’s MINI E electric prototypes around downtown Los Angeles. One of the first characteristics I noticed about that car was the extremely aggressive regenerative braking that enabled driving virtually without touching the brake pedal. While BMW has persisted with that strategy as the only control mode on the production i3, other automakers have provided similar abilities only when shifting the transmission to Low mode. After driving the new Chevrolet Bolt EV from Tesla’s Silicon Valley backyard into the heart of San Francisco, I think all Bolt drivers should consider driving this way all the time.


2017 Volvo XC90 T8 – The Big Swede Gets Plugged In

The launch of the second-generation XC90 marked the beginning of a new era for Volvo a couple of years ago. The XC90 is the first model to ride on the company’s all-new scalable product architecture (SPA), the first all-new platform to come from Gothenburg since Ford sold the Swedish brand to China’s Geely in 2010. After initially being available only with boosted four-cylinder engines, the XC90 is now the first regular production plug-in model Volvo is offering in America and I recently spent a week driving one.


2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e – Fuel Efficient Family Truckster

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e

It’s now been about a decade since BMW first announced its plans to get into the hybrid game and it was another three years before any production models with electric drive assist hit the streets. A lot has changed since BMW launched the ActiveHybrid X6 and ActiveHybrid 7 essentially as experiments in 2009. Electrification is now becoming relatively mainstream with batteries and electric motors no longer limited to super-efficient cars like the Toyota Prius. After a week with the 2016 X5 xDrive40e, there’s no doubt that the future of the ultimate driving machine includes plugs across the board.


2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid – Handsome Efficiency If You Can Find It

2016 hyundai sonata phev

2016 hyundai sonata phev

If you’ve been following along over the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed that I’m quite enamored with the current generation Hyundai’s midsize sedan, the Sonata. Since early 2015, I’ve driven the 1.6-liter turbocharged Eco, the 2.0-liter Hybrid and now the newest member of the lineup, the Plug-in Hybrid. The Sonata PHEV is the first Hyundai-branded model sold in North America with a plug and it’s one of only two plug-in hybrids in the midsize family sedan segment, the other being the Ford Fusion Energi.


2015 BMW i8 – A Plug-in Hybrid Spaceship From Munich

2015 BMW i8

A good rule of thumb when attending an auto show is that the more radical looking a concept car is, the less likely it is to ever make it to production. Virtually every major brand is guilty of producing pieces of rolling sculpture that end up doing little more than introducing a couple of new design cues that end up on more mainstream models. When we first saw BMW’s Vision EfficientDynamics concept at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, it seemed to fall squarely into this category. Nevertheless, five years later something very much like that concept emerged as the first-ever i8.


2016 Chevrolet Volt – Second Time’s The Charm

2016 Chevrolet Volt - 37 of 37

As I sit down to write these words about the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, I just realized that it has been almost exactly 10 years since Jon Lauckner and Bob Lutz sat down and sketched out the basic architecture for what they hoped would be a truly practical plug-in car. In the days and weeks that followed, Lutz and Lauckner gathered up the core of an engineering and design team that would eventually bring the first-generation Volt to production four and a half years later. A decade on from those first discussions, the second-generation Volt is now on sale and it’s vastly superior to the original in every way.


2016 Ford C-Max Energi – 20 Miles of Usability on the EV Spectrum

2016 Ford C-MaxLike most things in the real world, when it comes to automotive electrification, there is a continuum of approaches rather than a binary electric or not. At the minimal end, you’ll find automatic stop-start systems while the maximal solution relies on electric motors alone for propulsion. Lying somewhere in between is the Ford C-MAX Energi, the Dearborn automaker’s first production plug-in hybrid. After three years on the market, is the C-MAX Energi a good solution for those interested in going electric without range anxiety?