Koren: You write that a common line of criticism from naysayers is that Tesla hasn’t yet mastered manufacturing. Has it?
McKenzie: Quite certainly it hasn’t mastered it. It’s getting a lot better very fast, and that rate of improvement should concern all those people who think they can relax because manufacturing is going to be Tesla’s ultimate downfall. But it’s a young company, and it’s a very young company in automotive terms. It only produced the first car it has ever made, fully on its own, six years ago. Until this year, it’s only been doing tens of thousands of cars each year, which is tiny in the larger scheme of things, compared to other automakers. And so to go from this company that is trying to produce hundreds of thousands of cars a year, and later millions of cars a year, that’s a massive challenge. Tesla is still learning how to do it, and so I think it’s to be expected that they would have faced a lot of problems. And I don’t think those problems are completely over.
Koren: Where do you see Tesla in 10 years?
McKenzie: It’s either dead completely, or it’s an arm of Apple or Google or Amazon. But if it can continue to not die—which I think has been its number one quality in its life so far, despite all the things it has come up against—Tesla could be a giant energy company, with half its business in mass-manufacturing good electric cars that, by that point, are largely autonomous, and half of its revenue coming from mass-scale energy-storage systems that help make solar and wind power more reliable.
I don’t want to sound too boosterish, but as long as Tesla can be alive in 10 years and roughly heading toward these goals that Elon Musk has set for it, it could well be a trillion-dollar company. But that proviso of not dying is a pretty big one. There are so many challenges it has to overcome, and it needs a little bit more stability to be able to get to this point, where it can be reliably profitable and stable as a place to work.
Koren: Did the legal standoff between the SEC and Elon change your thinking about where the company is headed?
McKenzie: No, not really. I think it’s probably a good thing in the long run for Elon not to be the chairman of Tesla. I think it’s probably a good thing for him to be the CEO of Tesla, the visionary who everyone rallies around. But it’s probably good he doesn’t have full power at the top of the board of directors, and that that seat is going to someone who is more of a steady tech executive with years of experience and has a little bit of independence.
Koren: Why do you say that?
McKenzie: It’s not so much that it’s personally about him. I think it’s a bad idea to consolidate that much power in a single figure for a company as complicated and important as Tesla. Tesla’s operating in insane mode, and that has a lot of benefits and some negatives, and a lot of the reason it’s operating in insane mode can be traced back to Elon Musk. But it can’t stay, and should not stay, in insane mode forever. I think it needs to get to some sort of lightly wild mode. You need to get to some point where it can balance its audacious goals and achievements and ways of operating with steadiness that doesn’t upset shareholders or employees as much, or doesn’t draw these massive headlines that change financial fortunes within the space of a minute.
Koren: You’ve put in a reservation for a Model 3 of your own. Have you gotten it yet?
McKenzie: I’ve still got the reservation. I’m waiting for the $35,000 version of the Model 3. I can’t afford this current version, which has a starting price of $46,000. They’re a bit behind on their promises on when their $35,000 version will be available, so [I’m] just holding out for that. Elon said it should be within six months, but you always add a bit of salt to his predictions.