There Is Just One Thing Preventing Elon Musk's Vision From Coming True: The Laws Of Physics

When Elon Musk stepped on stage at Tesla’s product-launch event earlier this month, he knew the market’s confidence in Tesla’s brand had sunk to an all-time low since he took over the company a decade ago. So, he resorted to a tactic that should be familiar to anybody who has been following the company: Shock and awe.

While the event was ostensibly scheduled to introduce Tesla’s new semi-truck – a model that won’t make it’s market debut for another two years, assuming Tesla sticks to its product-rollout deadline – Musk had a surprise in store: A new model of the Tesla Roadster that, he bragged, would be the fastest production car ever sold.

Musk made similarly lofty claims about the battery life and performance of both vehicles. The Tesla semi-trucks, he said, would be able to travel for 500 miles on a single charge. The roadster could clock a staggering 620 – more than double the closest challenger.

There was just one problem, as Tesla fans would later find out, courtesy of Bloomberg: None of it was true.

In fact, many of the promises defy the capabilities of modern battery technology.

Elon Musk knows how to make promises. Even by his own standards, the promises made last week while introducing two new Tesla vehicles—the heavy-duty Semi Truck and the speedy Roadster—are monuments of envelope pushing.


To deliver, according to close observers of battery technology, Tesla would have to far exceed what is currently thought possible.


Take the Tesla Semi: Musk vowed it would haul an unprecedented 80,000 pounds for 500 miles on a single charge, then recharge 400 miles of range in 30 minutes. That would require, based on Bloomberg estimates, a charging system that's 10 times more powerful than one of the fastest battery-charging networks on the road today—Tesla’s own Superchargers.


The diminutive Tesla Roadster is promised to be the quickest production car ever built. But that achievement would mean squeezing into its tiny frame a battery twice as powerful as the largest battery currently available in an electric car.


These claims are so far beyond current industry standards for electric vehicles that they would require either advances in battery technology or a new understanding of how batteries are put to use, said Sam Jaffe, battery analyst for Cairn Energy Research in Boulder, Colorado. In some cases, experts suspect Tesla might be banking on technological improvements between now and the time when new vehicles are actually ready for delivery.


“I don't think they're lying,” Jaffe said. “I just think they left something out of the public reveal that would have explained how these numbers work."

While Jaffe seems inclined to give Tesla the benefit of the doubt, there’s little, if anything, in Musk’s recent behavior to justify this level of credulity. In recent months, Musk has repeatedly suffered the humiliation of seeing his lies and half-truths exposed. For example, the self-styled “visionary” claimed during the unveiling of the Model 3 Sedan that he would have 1,500 copies of the new model ready for customers by the end of the third quarter. Instead, the company managed a meager 260 models as factory-line workers at its Fremont, Calif. factory struggled to assemble the vehicles by hand as the Model 3 assembly line hadn’t been completed.

Increasingly agitated customers who placed deposits with Tesla back in March 2016 have begun asking for refunds, only to be chagrined by the company’s sluggish response. While nobody in the mainstream press has (somewhat bafflingly) made the connection, Tesla revealed earlier this month that it burned an unprecedented $1.4 billion of cash during the third quarter - or roughly $16 million per day - despite Elon Musk's assurance that Tesla had its "all-time best quarter" for Model S and X deliveries.

And let’s not forget the fiasco surrounding Tesla’s autopilot software. Musk has repeatedly exaggerated its performance claims. And customers who paid more than $8,000 for a software upgrade more than a year ago have been repeatedly disappointed by delays and sub-par performance.

Musk’s exaggerations about the Tesla Roadster were particularly egregious.

Tesla claims that its new $200,000 Roadster is the quickest production car ever made, clocking zero to 60 in 1.9 seconds. Even crazier is the car’s unprecedented battery range: some 620 miles on a single charge. That's a longer range than any battery-powered vehicle on the road—almost twice as long as Tesla's class-leading Model S and Model X.


To achieve such power and range, Musk said the tiny Roadster will need to pack a massive 200-kilowatt-hour battery. That’s twice the size of any battery Tesla currently has on the road. Musk has previously said he won't be making the packs bigger on the Model S and Model X because of space constraints. So how can he double the pack size in the smaller Roadster?


BNEF’s Morsy has a twofold answer. First, he expects Tesla will probably double-stack battery packs, one on top of the other, beneath the Roadster's floor. That creates some engineering problems for the battery-management system, but those should not be insurmountable. Still, Morsy said, the batteries required would be too large to fit in such a small frame.


“I really don’t think the car you saw last week had the full 200 kilowatt hours in it,” Morsy said. “I don’t think it’s physically possible to do that right now."

Is it possible that, thanks to incremental improvements in battery density and cost, Musk somehow manages to hit these lofty targets? Perhaps, though, as Bloomberg points out, the fact that Musk is basing these claims on a set of projections that haven’t yet been realized is hardly confidence inspiring.

To be sure, there’s an important caveat to Musk’s claims. While they may be staggeringly exaggerated, there’s still the possibility that incremental improvements in battery technology will make these targets more feasible by the time the models hit the market.

Again, Musk may be banking on the future. While Tesla began taking deposits on the Roadster immediately—$50,000 for the base model—the first vehicles won't be delivered until 2020. Meanwhile, battery density has been improving at a rate of 7.5 percent a year, meaning that by the time production starts, packs will be smaller and more powerful, even without a major breakthrough in battery chemistry.


“The trend in battery density is, I think, central to any claim Tesla made about both the Roadster and the Semi,” Morsy said. “That’s totally fair. The assumptions on a pack in 2020 shouldn’t be the same ones you use today."

However, in its analysis of the feasibility of Musk’s claims, Bloomberg overlooked one crucial detail: Back in August, the company's veteran director of battery technology, Kurt Kelty, unexpectedly resigned to "explore new opportunities," abruptly ending a tenure with the company that stretched for more than a decade, and comes at a critical time for Elon Musk.

Kelty’s resignation – part of an exodus of high-level executives that is alarming in and of itself - hardly inspires confidence in Tesla’s ability to innovate. We’ve noticed a trend with Tesla: The more the company underdelivers, the more Musk overpromises.

In our opinion, this is not a sustainable business strategy.  


yomutti2 Richard Chesler Sat, 11/25/2017 - 13:29 Permalink

Like most of the biased nonsense that ZH writes about Musk, this one contains major factual flaws. In this case, the factual error is that nothing Musk promised violates any physical laws. His promises do, however exceed the current performance abilities of lithium-ion batteries. But as the original Bloomberg article points out, the performance of those batteries is improving rapidly. It remains to be seen whether they will improve fast enough to meet Musk's promises, but it is not implausible that they will.

In reply to by Richard Chesler

jcaz yomutti2 Sat, 11/25/2017 - 14:16 Permalink

Yeah, but......  You're not ALLOWED to promise shit that doesn't currently exist if you're running a publically-traded company-  indictments are what happens when you distribute misleading material information without due dilligence.GM can't suggest that they're going to power their cars with water based upon technology that they haven't yet developed-  in the public world, you have to prove your shit before you can use it to affect the price of the stock.   The price of TSLA is 100% smoke and mirrors-  financially, it's a zero-value stock.  This isn't a fucking Green Environment site- it's a financial site.   ALL I care about is when bullshit that comes out of Elon's mouth affects the price of the stock.   I'm also concerned when honest answers about how many deposits on the 3 have been requested and not yet returned AREN'T given during a flashy promo for a sports car that few will own,  or how it's possible that the manufacturing line for the 3 isn't up and running yet-  what- what is a surprise???    This "introduction"  was a pump-the-stock-price, pure and simple misdirection.

In reply to by yomutti2

land_of_the_few jcaz Sat, 11/25/2017 - 18:31 Permalink

Why stop at cars powered by water. How about cars powered by rust, sand or CO2. Of course someone will have to figure out how to burn those things in oxygen, thereby giving energy. They could have a little water pump feeding a pilot light. If the pilot light won't ignite automatically you need to go to your local hardware store and ask them for something to light water with - and no lighting up a cigarette if it starts raining while you speak to them, that's dangerous.... :P 

In reply to by jcaz

effendi RafterManFMJ Sun, 11/26/2017 - 05:23 Permalink

How will they prevent the powdered metal (AKA thermite) igniting in an accident? The amount of thermite needed to run a fleet of cars or trucks would need truckloads of thermite to be transported and in an accident there would be rivers of molten metal eating through bridges, tunnels or car parks. Think of the ease for misuse by terrorists.As for powering big trucks by recharging the battery in 30 minutes (as Musk claims) it would need to draw the equivalent of over 1,000 homes usage of power per 30 minutes (or one houses usage over a full month). So even if Musk can invent a suitable battery, and invent a super fast big battery charger, then he will run into power line transmission limits once even a few trucks try and juice up at the truck stops. If the battery was to accidently discharge (in a crash) then expect there to be big problems.

In reply to by RafterManFMJ

kellys_eye yomutti2 Sat, 11/25/2017 - 14:20 Permalink

Battery capacity by 2030 is said to be 240Whr/kg.  The energy content of propane is 13,900Whr/kg (availabe and guaranteed NOW) - some 58x more energy dense.  Even aftger factoring in losses due to energy change the comparisons are still orders of magnitude different.There is zero reason to move to EVs given the abundance of fracked gas (LNG) availability - the push for EV's is the usual corporate/bankster inspired scam to perpetuate the debt cycle by forcing change onto a market that doesn't want it or need it.Frack baby, frack.....

In reply to by yomutti2

NoDebt kellys_eye Sat, 11/25/2017 - 14:51 Permalink

Yep, it's hard to beat the energy density of an inexpensive metal container filled with combustible hydrocarbons.  A $20 stamped sheet metal gas tank filled with 87 octane has a crapload of energy in it.  Same tank filled with diesel, even more (and the engines that use it are more efficent than gasoline engines in most cases).Check out the chart on this page: still think they're ultimately going to force electric vehicles by mandate.  They're simply going to outlaw IC engines under the guise of global warming.  And they'll tell everyone who doesn't like it to just fuck off. 

In reply to by kellys_eye

bench yomutti2 Sat, 11/25/2017 - 14:53 Permalink

Just remember this is a financial news site, and not a physics discussion forum. The vast majority of people here do not know how to use math to describe the world to work out what is and isn't objectively possible.  Physicists and engineers can enter finance and succeed, but you'll never see a financial analyst, economist or trader do the reverse.I just come for the articles on market mechanics. Everything else is like, Dunning-Kruger Effect on cocaine.

In reply to by yomutti2

Ex-Oligarch bench Sat, 11/25/2017 - 15:52 Permalink

It doesn't matter if the source is a financial analyst, or an engineer, or a stock promoter:  if he asserts that technological innovation will continue to improve performance at a given rate based on prior inventions, he knows jack shit about science or engineering, let alone electrophysics, or he is lying. In either case, you should not give him your money. 

In reply to by bench

JeffB yomutti2 Sat, 11/25/2017 - 20:42 Permalink

"In this case, the factual error is that nothing Musk promised violates any physical laws." Your factual error is in stating that it is what Musk "promised" rather than what he stated that "this truck can do" after hopping out of it in his grand entrance. He is deliberately misleading people into believing that he has the technology to do what he says he can do, but it is all BS.It turns out that the truck would require a supercharger 10X as powerful than the state of the art today within 2 years. " the performance of those batteries is improving rapidly. It remains to be seen whether they will improve fast enough to meet Musk's promises, but it is not implausible that they will."The Roadster would need a battery pack with 2X the power of the largest available today and shrink it to a much smaller size. A 7.5% increase per year wouldn't come close to meeting that goal. His promises are pretty worthless, as those demanding their deposits back are finding out to their dismay. He's headed down the road GM traveled and he's lying to get badly needed cash... to give him some time to kick the can down the road even further.

In reply to by yomutti2

New_Meat JeffB Sat, 11/25/2017 - 22:32 Permalink

JeffB:"He is deliberately misleading people into believing that he has the technology to do what he says he can do, but it is all BS."

Since TSLA is publicly traded, can this be seen as fraud?  By our very own SEC?  Possibly by now the Obots will have stopped watching pR0n and might be incentivized to do their jobs.And it isn't just the battery's ability to slurp in that charge, it is also the feed and even the load on the grid.  Especially at night in a calm--where are all of them electrons coming from?

In reply to by JeffB

Stuck on Zero yomutti2 Sat, 11/25/2017 - 21:16 Permalink

yomutti2 I agree with you. It's a stupid hit-piece on Musk written by someone who's shorting the stock. The claims Musk has made are pretty much standard for the industry. Does anyone believe the industry fuel mileage claims?  I do know that there are some very interesting new developments in Lithium batteries. Musk may be a late in delivery but it will pretty much fall in line as advertised in two years. Give the guy the benefit of the doubt ... he's doing something new and exciting in technology. We need fewer Luddites and more advocates around here.

In reply to by yomutti2

caconhma yomutti2 Sat, 11/25/2017 - 21:46 Permalink

In science, future is very unpredictable.Look at space propulsion systems: there was no any meaningful progress in the last 60 years in spite of enormous investments from all around the world. The USA is still using Russian rocket motors designed back 50 years ago for launching most commercial & military payloads.Look at the race to develop military lasers. Again, not much to write home about. Ladar (laser radar) is still a fantasy.Additional 3-5% improvements are often OK but everything more 25% very often requires major science/engineering/manufacturing breakthroughs like the transition from propeller to jet driven aircrafts. I am a scientist/engineer. Elon Musk is not an engineer or a scientist. No, IMHO, Musk is not N. Tesla. He is a crook, a thief, and a liar.

In reply to by yomutti2

glenlloyd caconhma Sun, 11/26/2017 - 02:47 Permalink

Musk is a snake oil salesman and he's kicking the can down the road like so many others. He doesn't really have to deliver anything on these two new models until 2020 and by that time the company will be defunct and gone.I saw the video of the new vehicle rollout and he was decidedly nervous.These two new vehicles will never see the road IMO.

In reply to by caconhma