Elon Musk says Tesla “might get into mining”

Image: Tesla

One of the biggest applause lines of Elon Musk’s presentation to shareholders at Tesla’s annual meeting was the teasing of a new product – the cyberpunktruck (I assume it’s a working title).

Musk said the company spent a lot of time on the design; that it’s the coolest car he’s ever seen and that it will look like something from a sci-fi movie. Musk promised a reveal this summer; “hopefully” (silence from the crowd this time).

That’s exactly the kind of talk you expect from Musk. But the usually cocksure CEO actually brought up a potential roadblock to the launch of the cyberpunktruck (I’m beginning to warm to the name):

“There is not much point in adding product complexity if we don’t have enough batteries. Then it’s complexity without gain.

“We are matching the product roll out according to the scaling of battery production. That’s really the main limiting factor.

“As we scale battery production to very high levels, we actually have to look further down the supply chain. We might get into the mining business. Maybe. A little bit, at least.

“We will do whatever we have to do in order to ensure we scale at the fastest rate possible.”

Musk chuckled (or was it another case of the giggles) when he mentioned mining, but at least one of his ventures have built up some expertise in digging holes and tunnels – the Boring Company.

And by the time the cyberpunktruck (rolling off my tongue now) enters full-scale production, asteroid mining by Space X could already be a reality (Tesla is not unfamiliar with production delays is what I’m saying).

If anyone making EVs realizes that battery production is the biggest obstacle to scale it would be Musk. Based on global EV battery deployment data Tesla is not just shaming US and European competitors, but also the hundreds of EV manufacturers registered in China.

In March this year, Tesla deployed more battery power than its next four biggest rivals combined. That includes no.2 BYD (Build Your Dream) backed by Warren Buffett as long ago as 2008.

In order to feed the Tesla battery beast, Musk announced a battery and powertrain investor day.

“Hopefully this summer; at least before the end of the year for sure,” Musk said and perhaps to make up for the tentativeness of that statement added: “This is a big deal.” But of course he says that about everything Tesla:

“If I was an outside investor I would really focus on two things: What is the timeline to full self-driving. What is your plan to scale battery production and get the cost per kilowatt hour down.

“It’s basically battery power and full self-driving. That’s the two strategic things that are most important.”

The progress on $/kWh is outpacing that of autonomous driving. In 2014 each kWh produced by a lithium-ion battery cost $290. This year it fell below $100 for the first time.

The battery represents at least a third of the cost of an electric car and raw materials are responsible for the bulk of the cost of the battery.

Falling prices aren’t good news for cobalt, lithium, nickel and graphite producers. But with electric vehicles only making up a tiny fraction of the global car parque, what miners lose in price they’ll certainly make up in volume.

The recording of the annual shareholder meeting below will start at around the 58-minute mark where Musk introduces the cyberpunktruck (where do I pay my deposit?) and talks about mining: