Kimbal Musk Leaks Gigafactory Images, Tesla Model S Modification
Kimbal Musk, brother or Elon and one of several members of Tesla’s board of directors, took to Instragram recently to reveal images of his modified Tesla Model S and of the Tesla Gigafactory.
First, we’ll focus on the modified Tesla, because it’s been subject of intense debate. Note that Kimbal’s Tesla is modified and that’s what sparked most of the scrutiny and debate. If Kimbal can do it, then why can’t we?
In Tesla’s recent annual filing, there’s a lengthy section devoted to “risks:”
You should carefully consider the risks described below together with the other information set forth in this report, which could materially affect our business, financial condition and future results. The risks described below are not the only risks facing our company. Risks and uncertainties not currently known to us or that we currently deem to be immaterial also may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and operating results.
One of the listed “risks” is vehicle modifications.
If our vehicle owners customize our vehicles or change the charging infrastructure with aftermarket products, the vehicle may not operate properly, which could harm our business.
Automobile enthusiasts may seek to “hack” our vehicles to modify its performance which could compromise vehicle safety systems. Also, we are aware of customers who have customized their vehicles with after-market parts that may compromise driver safety. For example, some customers have installed seats that elevate the driver such that airbag and other safety systems could be compromised. Other customers have changed wheels and tires, while others have installed large speaker systems that may impact the electrical systems of the vehicle. We have not tested, nor do we endorse, such changes or products. In addition, customer use of improper external cabling or unsafe charging outlets can expose our customers to injury from high voltage electricity. Such unauthorized modifications could reduce the safety of our vehicles and any injuries resulting from such modifications could result in adverse publicity which would negatively affect our brand and harm our business, prospects, financial condition and operating results.
This passage led to a whole slew of articles being written on how Tesla believes it’s risky to modify its cars. Truth is, these types of “risks” are listed in the annual reports of most all automakers. It’s a risk that’s beyond Tesla’s control, so rightfully it’s a risk then, since Tesla cannot guarantee the compatibility, functionality, safety, etc. of any of these aftermarket products. Basically, the modification risk is just standard stuff. It’s there to protect Tesla from the various modifications the cars will undergo once in the hands of owners.
Problem is the whole “risk” statement got blown out of proportion. The media covered it with headlines like this “Tesla To Owners: Please Don’t Pimp Your Ride.”
Concerned Model S owners wondered if their modification compromised safety, while the modifiers wondered if Tesla was now off limits. Again, we repeat, the modification risk listed in the annual report is standard stuff. It’s there in most automaker’s annual reports, so it’s not cause for concern.
Regardless, Unplugged Performance, one of the leading Tesla tuners, was asked for response to this modification risk issue. Here’s that response:
Statement from Unplugged Performance:
Here are our thoughts in response to the current media topic stating Tesla’s caution towards irresponsible upgrade risks with the Model S:
We are neighbors with Tesla and we indeed talk with our friends at Tesla often to seek out their off-the-record advice with each step we take in our product development. We feel this is essential because our philosophy is to work collaboratively in harmony with Tesla and to enhance the brilliant result they have created with the Model S. Doing so requires a great deal of experience with the car, a considerable long term investment and a willingness to take slow incremental steps. For this reason, Unplugged Performance is a Tesla-only company and we are doing all development, design and production in-house in Hawthorne, CA steps away from Tesla. There are no shortcuts to this work and our team of Tesla specialists spend all day every day working on mastering this. We began Unplugged with the blessing of staff members of Tesla and although we do not have and do not claim any official endorsement from Tesla, we do enjoy the friendships we have and the mutual inspiration we share with them on the amazing Model S.
Ultimately the perceived risks Tesla themselves face are likely originating from a profit motivated aftermarket industry which contains many companies who see an opportunity to exploit a growing Tesla marketplace and who manufacture products sometimes without the knowledge, responsibility and safety constraints needed to protect Tesla owners and their investment into their vehicle. One thing which is certain is that modifying a Tesla is unlike modifying other vehicles. There should be a degree of caution when a growing number of companies start making products for the Model S without having owned the car for a period of time and without having researched and tested their products. In this respect, the caution is with a fair amount of reason.
What works on other cars does not always translate on the Model S. In this respect we are not even talking about the obvious challenges with the electrical system. We have learned over the past years a staggering number of small complexities that are unique to the way each Tesla is produced. These complexities apply to not only the challenging upgrades, but also the seemingly simple ones. We continue to keep an internal resource database and we continue to ask Tesla’s technicians questions on a weekly basis as we incrementally expand our upgrade offerings. We also have had dozens of Tesla’s at our shop which we have disassembled and evaluated to ensure our knowledge is as detailed and refined as possible.
With every product we make we test fit it on a wide range of cars to ensure we account for every variable that comes with varying production months, varying trim levels and with the industry standard variability range from car to car off of the assembly line.
As Tesla does not follow yearly product revision cycles, we have seen changes both big and small occur often without public notice given. Decoding VIN’s, studying production months and learning all of these details are our responsibility as a Tesla-only specialty parts manufacturer. Frankly, I don’t know how the typical aftermarket parts manufacturer could responsibly achieve this depth of knowledge without a serious long term dedication to the Model S. We’ve seen continual changes ranging from big things down to even something as simple as floor mats have evolved and changed without public notice.
The aftermarket as a whole, as we all know, is an unregulated community of enthusiasts and small businesses who seek to personalize and upgrade their car to their liking. Naturally each Tesla is property of the car’s paying owner and the owner has the rights to do whatever he/she pleases. We would suggest of course that each owner do their own due diligence of who to trust and how to responsibly upgrade their car if they choose to go down that path of further enhancement. It is absolutely possible and achievable to upgrade the Model S without detriment to reliability, usability and performance. However for every correct way, the market is indeed unregulated and may introduce a number of wrong ways as well.
From our point of view, we feel validated in our long term investment and focus strictly on the Model S – for without it we would have not been able to learn the dozens of lessons we’ve already learned that have allowed us to make safe and responsible products that take into account the complexities of the Model S.
Ultimately every car manufacturer in a perfect world would like to remove external variables that change the product they manufacture. If you look historically there are many car manufacturers who have also expressed caution with the aftermarket and have been protective of their product. That being said, we believe it is in the Tesla owner’s interest to have safe and responsible methods to enhance their enjoyment, individualization and driving satisfaction of their cars and ultimately if the owners lives are more enriched by a responsible aftermarket then it translates favorably into Tesla’s brand value and enthusiast base.
Lastly, we’ll conclude with these images of the Tesla Gigafactory via Kimbal Musk on Instragram.