Cybertruck history from the Elon Musk biography

The Cybertruck is officially launched. I wrote about this product in 2019:

With today’s Teslas, one expects the driver to emerge and deliver a lecture on climate change, the merits of Elizabeth Warren, unions (except at Tesla itself), and a larger government, etc. What would the image be of someone who drives what looks like a high school kid’s first SolidWorks project?

How did they pick the name? This is for people who used to say “I’m using the Interweb”?

How are they going to deliver this car at $40-50k profitably? Isn’t stainless steel expensive?

(The announced 2023 base price is 61,000 Bidies; it is fair to say that this is the same or less than 50,000 2019 dollars?)

What does the Elon Musk book describe? A 2018 design session:

The Chevy Silverado was still on the showroom floor for reference. In front of it were three large display boards with pictures of a wide variety of vehicles, including ones from video games and sci-fi movies. They ranged from retro to futuristic, sleek to jagged, curvaceous to jarring. With his hands casually in his pockets, von Holzhausen had the easygoing and loose-limbed manner of a surfer looking for the right wave. Musk, arms akimbo, was coiled like a bear searching for prey. After a while, Dave Morris and then a few other designers wandered in. As he looked at the pictures on the display boards, Musk gravitated to the ones that had a futuristic, cyber look. They had recently settled on the design for the Model Y, a crossover version of the Model 3, and Musk had been talked out of some of his more radical and unconventional suggestions. Having played it safe with the Model Y, he did not want that to happen with the design of the pickup truck. “Let’s be bold,” he said. “Let’s surprise people.”

Every time someone would point to a picture that was more conventional, Musk would push back and point to the car from the video game Halo or in the trailer for the forthcoming game Cyberpunk 2077 or from Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner. His son Saxon, who is autistic, had recently asked an offbeat question that resonated: “Why doesn’t the future look like the future?” Musk would quote Saxon’s question repeatedly. As he said to the design team that Friday, “I want the future to look like the future.” There were a few dissenting voices suggesting that something too futuristic would not sell. After all, this was a pickup truck. “I don’t care if no one buys it,” he said at the end of the session. “We’re not doing a traditional boring truck. We can always do that later. I want to build something that’s cool. Like, don’t resist me.”

(maybe Musk was right on the highlighted point; Ford and GM are selling traditional-looking electric pickups and demand is weak)

What did the in-house design nerds think in 2019?

When Musk walked in the door leading from the SpaceX factory, his reaction was instantaneous. “That’s it!” he exclaimed. “I love it. We are doing that. Yes, this is what we are going to do! Yes, okay, done.” It became known as the Cybertruck. “A majority of people in this studio hated it,” says von Holzhausen. “They were like, ‘You can’t be serious.’ They didn’t want to have anything to do with it. It was just too weird.” Some of the engineers started working secretly on an alternative version. Von Holzhausen, who is as gentle as Musk is brusque, spent time listening carefully to their concerns. “If you don’t have buy-in from the people around you, it’s hard to get things done,” he says. Musk was less patient. When some designers pushed him to at least do some market testing, Musk replied, “I don’t do focus groups.”

An Australian hater:

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Shifting gears: Why Tesla’s previous failures in Full Self-Driving might not predict future failure

From Elon Musk, the book:

Almost every year, Musk would make another prediction that Full Self-Driving was just a year or two away. “When will someone be able to buy one of your cars and literally just take the hands off the wheel and go to sleep and wake up and find that they’ve arrived?” Chris Anderson asked him at a TED Talk in May 2017. “That’s about two years,” Musk replied. In an interview with Kara Swisher at a Code Conference at the end of 2018, he said Tesla was “on track to do it next year.” In early 2019, he doubled down. “I think we will be feature complete, Full Self-Driving, this year,” he declared on a podcast with ARK Invest. “I would say I am certain of that. That is not a question mark.”

So they’ll fail again in 2024? Maybe not.

For years, Tesla’s Autopilot system relied on a rules-based approach. It took visual data from a car’s cameras and identified such things as lane markings, pedestrians, vehicles, traffic signals, and anything else in range of the eight cameras. Then the software applied a set of rules, such as Stop when the light is red; Go when it’s green; Stay in the middle of the lane markers; Don’t cross double-yellow lines into incoming traffic; Proceed through an intersection only when there are no cars coming fast enough to hit you; and so on. Tesla’s engineers manually wrote and updated hundreds of thousands of lines of C++ code to apply these rules to complex situations.

C++?!?! Seriously?

According to the book, Tesla is shifting to a ChatGPT-style machine learning approach:

“Instead of determining the proper path of the car based only on rules,” Shroff says, “we determine the car’s proper path by also relying on a neural network that learns from millions of examples of what humans have done.” In other words, it’s human imitation. Faced with a situation, the neural network chooses a path based on what humans have done in thousands of similar situations. It’s like the way humans learn to speak and drive and play chess and eat spaghetti and do almost everything else; we might be given a set of rules to follow, but mainly we pick up the skills by observing how other people do them. It was the approach to machine learning envisioned by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”

By early 2023, the neural network planner project had analyzed 10 million frames of video collected from the cars of Tesla customers. Does that mean it would merely be as good as the average of human drivers? “No, because we only use data from humans when they handled a situation well,” Shroff explains. Human labelers, many of them based in Buffalo, New York, assessed the videos and gave them grades. Musk told them to look for things “a five-star Uber driver would do,” and those were the videos used to train the computer.

During the discussion, Musk latched on to a key fact the team had discovered: the neural network did not work well until it had been trained on at least a million video clips, and it started getting really good after one-and-a-half million clips. This gave Tesla a huge advantage over other car and AI companies. It had a fleet of almost two million Teslas around the world collecting billions of video frames per day. “We are uniquely positioned to do this,” Elluswamy said at the meeting.

Despite grand claims by academics seeking funding, rules-based AI generally failed to do anything interesting or practical from 1970-2010 (see MYCIN and CADUCEUS, for example). Statistical approaches to AI, however, began to deliver useful systems, e.g., for speech recognition, starting around 2010.

How Tesla describes the future:

FSD would provide a huge lifestyle boost here in South Florida where there are a lot of 1- and 2-hour drives that lead to interesting places, such as parks, cultural events, theme parks, etc. The drives themselves, however, are boring: straight highways, a lot of traffic close to Miami and Orlando. FSD should work quite well. FSD would also be good for getting to/from international airports. There are a lot more flights from FLL and MIA than from PBI, which is closer to our house, but with a self-driving car it might become more sensible to fly out of farther-away airports.

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How is Rivian doing?

Back in November 2021, I asked “What edge does Rivian have in the truck or EV market?” and questioned the company’s stratospheric market cap. It has been two years. How is the company doing and how is the stock doing?

Given the calculation that working class subsidies to elite owners of EVs are $50,000 per vehicle (direct tax credits, higher costs for gas-powered cars due to EV percentage sales requirements, subsidized electricity), the company itself should be profitable. MotorTrend says otherwise: “Rivian Loses a Huge Amount on Every Vehicle It Sells” (October 5, 2023).

From May 2023, in the lower Manhattan neighborhood favored by elites (Chelsea):

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Tesla road trip from New Jersey to Boston

Messages to a group chat from a friend whose daughter is a high school athlete:

  • So my daughter caught a ride today from NJ to Boston with a girl whose father had a Tesla
  • took six hours to get here
  • because they had to stop three times to charge his thing
  • “we went to get sandwiches and the dad still sat in line waiting for the charger”
  • “we had to drive sideways to some mall to the charger”
  • “the GPS said 3h50m to get to Boston, it took us six”
  • “I wanted to be funny so I asked the dad if he would recommend an electric car to us because we have old cars and it’s time to upgrade. He enthusiastically said yes”

This was not a weekend with exceptional travel demand. This was not a trip through a sparsely populated state. This was not a trip on back roads.

I’m still a Tesla fan because it is the only company with Dog Mode (see Car/Kennel from this blog in 2003). The latest Tesla 3 seems to have been restyled slightly. Here’s the 2019 version from Car and Driver:

This the latest version, perhaps available in the U.S. in 2024:

I hate to give up the space and sliding doors of the minivan, though, and I’m not sure how we would charge an electric car. We don’t keep our Honda Odyssey in the garage. We would need HOA approval to install a car charger on the exterior and I am not aware of any chargers that fit into a Spanish Colonial Revival style.

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The UAW strike and the continuing car shortage have a common root in executive incompetence?

At a Chevrolet dealer in Stuart, Florida on September 15, I learned that not-in-demand cars are selling at MSRP sticker price, leaving the dealer with $4000 more in profit than in the old days when the cars sold at invoice. In-demand cars continue to carry an additional markup. For example, an electric Chevy is $10,000 over sticker, as is a regular Corvette. A Z06 Corvette is $75,000 over sticker on those rare occasions when the dealer can get one.

Can you save some $$ by buying used? A three-year-old 2020 Corvette 3LT (the premium trim) is available for $95,800, which I’m sure is more than its original sticker price.

Let’s look at the Z06 Corvette. Here’s what Edmunds says about the simplest model:

According to the official prices, GM thought that the dealer would get about $7,000 in profit from selling this car. In the post-coronapanic world, however, the dealer will get $82,000 for taking an order (the difference between MRSP+$75,000 and invoice).

I’m wondering if this is why the car shortage has continued for so long. Ordinarily, if something goes up in price the producers get paid a lot more and begin working hard to increase production. If gasoline becomes more expensive, for example, gas stations don’t become insanely rich while oil producers keep getting the same old price. The gas station gets its usual small markup and the extra money for petroleum products goes to the oil company, precisely the signal that the market is supposed to give to producers in Econ 101. The legacy automakers, however, never got any financial signal that cars were in demand. Nearly all of extra money paid by consumers went to dealers, who responded by buying new beach houses, new business jets, new jet-powered helicopters for their kids, new yachts, European vacations, etc. The boost in auto prices, thus, spurred production of business jets more than production of cars.

I wrote about this back in 2022: Why aren’t cars (and pinball machines) auctioned as they come out of the factory?. The dealer agreement that I found did not prevent the manufacturer from abandoning a fixed retail/invoice price structure and instead simply auctioning cars to dealers or at least establishing a new market-based price every week. Nothing in the agreement required a manufacturer to keep the price to the dealer fixed for 6-12 months, as has been conventional for legacy automakers even during coronapanic.

Tesla, of course, has been a notable exception. The company has made frequent price adjustments throughout this period of lockdown-induced economic disruption. Thus, Tesla has had a financial incentive to maximize production, e.g., paying chip suppliers extra money if necessary to keep the lines going.

Let’s also consider the recent strike by the United Auto Workers, of whom roughly 146,000 work for the Detroit Three. They want a 40 percent pay increase to compensate for the inflation that the government says does not exist. Could the legacy car companies easily afford to pay this if they hadn’t been selling cars for far less than they were worth for nearly three years?

I think that the Detroit 3 have U.S. revenue of about $300 billion per year, combined. Let’s say that they could have gotten 10 percent more money by selling cars for what they were worth instead of selling them for whatever invoice price they’d established. That would have worked out to approximately $90 billion in additional revenue over three years. In other words, they could have given each UAW member a $600,000 coronapanic bonus and still had money left over to give to shareholders.

Should all of the executives at the Detroit 3 be fired? Every day they produced assets owned by shareholders, i.e., the cars coming off the assembly lines. Every day they sold those shareholder-owned assets for far less than they were worth. They enriched the dealers to whom they owed no fiduciary duty. They starved their own production facilities of the extra cash that could have been used to motivate suppliers, workers, etc. to maximize production and ease the supply shortage that has cost consumers so dearly (and helped to generate ugly inflation numbers). They failed to capture the cash that the UAW is now on strike to obtain.


  • One thing that keeps the Detroit 3 afloat is a 25 percent tariff on light truck imports imposed by Lyndon Johnson (Reason), though Wikipedia says that a Mexico-built truck wouldn’t be subject to the tariff
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Polestar 2 and BART

In Los Angeles, I rented a Chinese-made Polestar 2 electric vehicle from Hertz. Here’s one of their PR images:

The experience of driving my Nevada-registered car in California was wonderful. The car crushes the road at 4,500 lbs., doing far more damage than a (much lighter) Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Had the car been California-registered, it would have been subject to an absurdly low $100 fee for use of the roads, nowhere near what a peasant driving a 2010 Toyota Camry pays in gas tax. But because the car was registered in Nevada, my laptop-class use of the highways was entirely paid for by peasants who will never be able to afford a fancy new EV. This is part of California’s plan for addressing the inequality crisis (of not enough inequality?).

I wouldn’t personally buy this fine Swedish/Chinese machine because it lacks a Dog Mode and, therefore, Mindy the Crippler would never forgive me. However, the car is nicer in many ways than a Tesla. There are more buttons for critical controls, for example. Instead of sticking an touchscreen in the middle and calling that a dashboard, there is a virtual instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. This can be set to display mostly a map with directions.

The Polestar 2 seemed quieter than the Tesla 3 and CarPlay support, which Tesla lacks, made it easy to jump in and go. I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the automatic steering (there was no hardcopy manual in the car; there is an online explanation, but I can’t understand it). The adaptive cruise control seemed to be somewhat smoother and smarter than what we have on our beloved 2021 Honda Odyssey. If you’re accustomed to a conventional car, the transition to the Polestar 2 is quicker and easier than with a Tesla (see Douche for a Day: a Tesla 3 from Hertz).

I’m glad that Hertz didn’t try to kill me with a gas-powered BMW, which California’s public health experts say is deadly to the person who dates to “operate” it:

Los Angeles traffic seems to be as bad as ever, despite the large number of people who pretend to work from home. The locals who joined me for an 8 am business meeting had all left their houses before 6 am and then waited at coffee shops near the destination for an hour so as to avoid being stuck on the freeways. Everyone who had gathered then wanted to flee no later than 2 pm so as to avoid the afternoon gridlock. Is reliance on private cars rational? Any time that I checked Google Maps it showed that public transit would take more than twice as long as driving, no matter how bad the traffic.

After my JSX trip BUR/OAK, we had a small gathering of readers of this blog essentially at the Rockridge BART station. A sign from the Rockridge Market Hall:

They serve food and claim to be passionate about avoiding infection, but I couldn’t find any bathroom for handwashing. Eventually a couple of us ended up across the freeway at Trader Joe’s in the all-gender restrooms:

I decided to take BART into the city, another way for elites to collect subsidies from peasants (mass transit riders earn more than the average American). Payment is not as advanced as in the Netherlands (tap in with any credit card and tap out once you reach your destination). You can create a virtual Clipper card for free in Apple Wallet, however, and then fund it. A BART employee came out of his booth to show me, carefully donning a cloth mask before emerging (I noticed the same behavior among other BART workers in booths).

BART runs so infrequently at mid-morning that it would actually have been faster to get an Uber from station to station than to ride BART from station to station. (Bonus: Ubers can use the HOV-2 carpool lanes because there are always at least two humans in an Uber.) The Google Map calculation below was done while actually on an elevated BART platform.

While waiting, I was assaulted by noise from the adjacent highway and exhorted to consume pharma:

Once on the BART train fueled by a river of taxpayer cash, I learned that it is conventional to carry a large tub of Vaseline:

At the Embarcadero station, riders are informed that “We all deserve respect”:

January 6 insurrectionists? Harvey Weinstein, accused by California’s first lady of rape? (note that a jury was not persuaded by Jennifer Newsom’s dramatic testimony about being unable to escape the obese elderly aggressor) The haters who say that Harvey Milk did something wrong by having sex with a 16-year-old? Do they all deserve respect?

A friend picked me up downtown and we proceeded in his car to a parking garage, where we were warned by public health experts and also about the potential for noble locals to liberate anything left in the car:

Nordstrom is scheduled to close at the end of August, but we found it well-stocked:

Then it was time to use our feet to head into what the City of San Francisco officially designates “The Transgender District”:

(Why isn’t the entire city designated as a transgender district?)

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Carflation Chronicles

I took our 2.5-year-old Honda Odyssey in for a B127 service, for which I’d made an appointment. Due to the dealer being short-staffed and, apparently, not completely organized, they couldn’t do “7” (brake fluid change) without adding a multi-hour wait on top of the promised 1.5-2-hours.

The parts stock situation has improved compared to 1.5 years ago in that they had all three wiper blades available for the minivan compared to just one back in 2021. The car stock situation is also slightly improved, with a handful of new cars in stock and available at $2,000 over retail. It was $5,000 over in 2022, but of course the total price in nominal dollars is similar because Honda has raised the list price. The identical minivan that we leased in 2021 for $400/month is available… for $800/month. Here’s a 2008 jalopy that, pre-coronapanic, the dealer would have sent to auction (the venerable Ford Taurus sits amidst the parking spaces that in 2019 were jammed with new cars):

Fresh from a checkup with one of America’s 190 board-certified veterinary dentists, Mindy the Crippler was my companion for the two-hour wait and made a lot of new friends inside the dealership. I left her with another customer while I went to get coffee and returned to find that the invasive species had invaded the vinyl seats:

My question for today is how consumers are able to keep spending like drug dealers and/or alimony plaintiffs. A lease quote is the best indication of the true cost of car ownership because it factors in the time value of money and the market’s expectation of depreciation. The cost of car ownership gone up dramatically doubled for anyone who needed to buy a car in the past two years or so, especially when you factor in higher gasoline prices. Therefore, these car owners should have less money to spend on rent, TV/phone subscriptions, entertainment, dining out, trinkets, etc.

What’s new in the Honda minivan world, aside from nothing? Honda seems to have dropped their basic trim level. For Corvette enthusiasts, there is a new “Sport” trim level that has black wheels:

What do readers think? To me, it looks like an old Dodge Caravan whose wheel covers were boosted in the Bronx.

Wikipedia says that pre-coronapanic production of this car was 100,000-130,000 per year between 2009 and 2019. For 2020, however, production fell to 83,000. In 2021, production was down to 76,000. In 2022, it fewer than 48,000 Odysseys were made. Half as many cars at 10X the total profit for manufacturer and dealer? Do we suspect a continued chip shortage or quiet collusion among the handful of major car manufacturers?

If integrated circuits were primarily made in the U.S., it wouldn’t be surprising to find them still in short supply. After all, quite a few Americans were introduced to the advantages of sitting at home playing Xbox all day and habits, once formed, are tough to break. But the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese continued to work during coronapanic. Why aren’t these hard-working nations making as many chips as car companies need/want?

Against the collusion hypothesis: if the legacy car companies won’t supply a mass market anymore, that opens the door to infiltration by Tesla, Lucid, and Hyundai/Kia (sort of a legacy car company, but also not exactly mainstream until recently).


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Inflation chronicles: car insurance going up 30 percent

We have two cars. They’re older than they were a year ago and presumably less valuable. We have had no tickets, accidents, or claims. Progressive is bumping the rate by 30 percent. I talked to a friend in Austin, Texas. His rate is also going up 30 percent.

Readers: What are you seeing for car insurance rate increases? What’s the explanation for this in what we are informed is a market economy? Most of the premium is for collision, right? Have body shop rates gone up 30 percent now that Americans realize it is more pleasant to relax on the sofa than to work in a body shop?

Separately, the news is not all bad. When one goes to the Progressive web site, the first and most prominent link is to learn about the company’s “commitment to diversity and inclusion” (not their actual diversity and inclusion, but their commitment to the religion).

What if we follow the link?

For years, we’ve been saying there’s a very real and important business case for DEI. It’s been proven time and time again that a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization drives profit and productivity by creating brands, products, and services that are more relevant and desirable in our competitive and multicultural marketplace.

It was almost impossible for a DEI champion such as Silicon Valley Bank to fail, in other words.

How about over at State Farm? Instead of being at the very top of the homepage, Diversity & Inclusion is relegated to the footer, under Careers:

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Lucid Air Touring versus Tesla X and S

A friend who has owned a Tesla X and still owns a Tesla S recently added a Lucid Air Touring to his fleet. Here’s what he likes more about the Lucid:

  • substantially quieter at all speeds
  • smoother ride over the potholes of Maskachusetts (“better suspension”); can be put into “swift mode” for maximum cornering capability
  • interior design (“like a Mercedes while the Tesla is like a Volkswagen”)
  • more comfortable seats
  • back seat is much roomier and more comfortable; a 3-person environment rather than what is realistically a 2-person seat in the Tesal
  • better build quality

Here’s where the Tesla is better, in his opinion:

  • one-touch dog mode backed up by cabin overheat protection (2018) (Lucid lets you monkey with the app to manage climate control remotely, but do you want to bet your dog’s life on your thumb ability? Why can’t Lucid and the other EV dwarves catch up to where Tesla was five years ago in this pure software department?)
  • accuracy of the range forecast (Lucid forecast 200 miles remaining on a freezing New England day whereas 120 miles was the true number)
  • charging network (Electrify America is a joke compared to the Superchargers, a network that has become substantially better over the past few years)
  • cruise control has a better user interface (although rich, he did not pay up for “full self-driving”)


  • crazy fast acceleration [not sure how this is useful in the Boston area!]
  • range

In the great tradition of Silicon Valley Bank, Lucid fraudulently depicts executive recliner chairs


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Tesla price cuts and human psychology

People who paid last month’s price for a Tesla are upset that this month’s price is a lot lower. See “‘I feel duped’: Tesla price drop angers current owners” (Bloomberg/LA Times), for example:

Marianne Simmons, a self-professed “Tesla fan girl,” bought her second electric vehicle from the company in September: a white, high-performance Model Y costing more than $77,000. Then the company slashed prices on Thursday and she realized she could have bought the same car today for $13,000 less.

That’s the reality facing owners of Tesla vehicles after the company cut the price of its cars as much as 20%, part of a push from Chief Executive Elon Musk to increase sales volume in the face of weakening demand. For existing customers, the resale value of the cars they own will take a hit along with the drop in prices of new models.

Throughout coronapanic and Bidenflation, I’ve been wondering why car makers didn’t just auction every car as it came off the line (to dealers, not to consumers, except for Tesla). Why bother having a list price at all? Maybe the reaction to the Tesla price cut is part of the reason. Let’s move our minds back to the pre-Biden era. When sales slow down and car companies offer massive incentives to clear inventory, consumers don’t get upset. The list price of a car stays the same, but the price would come down from MSRP to dealer invoice to dealer invoice minus $2,000 “cash back” (back when $2,000 was real money!). Somehow people were okay with this variation. But a variation in the official list price cannot be tolerated!

I’m in Cambridge, Maskachusetts this week and the residents deal with this upsetting issue by continuing to operate their beloved Saabs:

(I didn’t see it when I lived here, but looking at these 140-year-old wooden houses brings to mind my Houston friend’s comment that the entire Northeast is “dilapidated”. He won’t go anywhere north of Washington, D.C. without a compelling reason.)


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