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COVER STORY: Shaping A New Decade. Talking with Elon Musk, the leader that is shaping our future
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Shaping A New Decade
Talking with Elon Musk,
the leader that is shaping our future
By Mary Smith

BT 202001 340x458In 2009, it was hard to predict that Elon Musk struggling electric car startup would end the 21st century’s first decade on a high note. Tesla was struggling to get electric vehicles to its first buyers and was nearly out of cash amid a painful recession. But Daimler called Tesla and agreed to buy their batteries and motors for a test fleet of electric Mercedes. The first of many lifelines that kept Tesla afloat.

In 2020, eleven years later, Elon Musk is a multibillionaire on the cusp of delivering much of the future clean transportation. No one has played a bigger role in the decade’s future-oriented transportation changes.

Elon Musk 012It's taken Elon Musk only 10 years to take Tesla from a fledgling startup to one of the most valuable car companies in the world. Part of the reason for this success is that Musk and his team have mastered the challenge of building products that customers love.

Electrical Vehicles (EV) is one of the industrial key trends in this decade, and Elon Musk is well-positioned in the race. The new factory of Tesla in China is an important milestone, and the battery is one of the most important and expensive components of most EVs.

Elon Musk 005aBased in Fujian province, CATL is already the world’s largest producer of EV batteries in terms of installed production capacity. The company rose into global prominence with its US$2 billion investment in a battery factory in Germany in July 2018. The plant will supply BMW when it starts operations in 2021. China is by far the world’s largest new-energy vehicle market and Beijing’s stated goal is to make the country a global industry leader.

Under the “Made in China 2025” strategy, China wants 10 key industries, including the NEV sector, to catch up with international leaders and become self-sufficient in core technologies. Last year, 1.26 million electric and plug-in hybrid cars were sold in mainland China, accounting for about 60% of the global total.

Heavy cash subsidies, with both the central and local governments shelling out massive funds to encourage the purchase of environment-friendly vehicles, have helped to boost sales since 2014. CATL’s latest NCM 811 battery, which contains 80% nickel, 10% cobalt and 10%, can achieve 340-watt hours per kilogram - a major yardstick for energy density.

Within a year of its launch, CATL received a huge boost. German carmaker BMW picked CATL as its battery supplier for Zinoro, an EV designed specifically for the mainland market.

Two important economic signs of confidence in the local market for this decade are the following 2 news:

1. Walmart plans to open 500 new stores in China over the next five to seven years. That would more than double Walmart's footprint in China, which is expected to become the world's biggest grocery market by 2023. Chinese consumers, however, are still spending, and that's been good news for Walmart. The company's China sales grew 6.3% last quarter compared to the same period last year, much higher than its 2.5% growth worldwide. The company indicated that groceries and online shopping are key drivers of its China expansion. It will remodel more than 200 stores in China over the next few years, adding features such as self-service cash registers where customers can pay using facial recognition.

2. BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, and Temasek, Singapore's investment company, have reached an agreement to start an asset management business in China, along with one of the country's biggest banks, China Construction Bank (CCB). It is the latest step by overseas companies to tap opportunities in China's financial system since the policy of improving access for foreign firms to the country's capital markets and investors was announced in 2017. BlackRock wants to become one of China's leading asset managers and views the world's second-biggest economy as one of BlackRock's largest avenues for growth. Recent regulatory changes in China to increase access to its financial system allow foreign firms to hold 51% of a wealth-management joint venture with a bank.

ELON MUSK 01Elon Musk is CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and has plans to colonize Mars, and thinks AI may turn humans into its pets. But beyond the hype and his enormous net worth and social media presence, Musk's companies are actually taking on every industry.

1. Energy: Tesla and SolarCity could change the utility business model.

2. Automotive: Musk wants Tesla to make money for their car owners through AI and self-driving technology.

3. Telecommunications: Musk wants to revolutionize how we get online, and aim to provide fast, affordable internet for everyone on earth. By the mid-2020s, this new satellite-driven internet service, Starlink, has the potential to become the world’s largest telecommunications provider on Earth - potentially a $1 trillion prize.

4. Transportation: Hyperloop is created by Musk to reduce a 6-hour trip in just 30 minutes. A trip between Beijing and Shanghai will take a bit more than 1 hour.

5. Infrastructure/Tunneling: The Boring Company is trying to cut costs in the notoriously expensive tunneling industry.

Elon Musk 0086. Aerospace/Airlines: SpaceX plans to build spaceships and reduce the cost of flying a space shuttle, and allow travelling to Moon and Mars.

7. AI: Musk created a non-profit AI research company called OpenAI to be in the race for AI superiority. AI is now prevalent in almost all tech sectors, and few threats loom larger in Musk’s imagination as a problem for the long-term viability of the human race than artificial intelligence.

8. Healthcare: Neuralink is building brain-machine interfaces to create futuristic humans.

When Musk is asked what kind of market research he does before launching a new product, he replies: “I do zero market research, whatsoever ... Try to think of what is the platonic ideal of, say, the perfect rocket or car. What characteristics would it have? And then, make that. And then, I find that if you do that, people will want to buy it”.

Elon Musk 020Tesla will come out with a pickup truck that they call it Cybertruck. It looks like an armored personnel carrier from the future. It doesn't look like a normal truck. People might not like it. But Elon Musk likes it.

Musk says. “Many times, people try to make products that they think others would love but they don't love them themselves. If you don't love the product, you should not expect that others will. You know your own heart, and if it's compelling to you then it will be compelling to others.”

“If you don't love the product, you should not expect that others will.” There's a lot of wisdom in that sentence. “Enthusiasm is contagious. If you truly believe in something, your passion will come across naturally and will inspire other, like-minded people. In contrast, if you don't get passionate about your idea, no one else will.”

“It's also important to remember that while good designers and engineers keep the client or end-user in mind, great designers and engineers show others something they never would have imagined themselves but that, once they see, they fall in love with.”

Elon Musk 010It reminds me of what Steve Jobs famously said, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

In terms of the staff working in his companies, Musk said he tries to ensure they know what the bigger picture is. “Everyone should be chief engineer,” he said.

In the history of space flight, only four entities have launched a space capsule into orbit and successfully brought it back to the Earth: the United States, Russia, China, and Elon Musk. The overall space market could more than triple in size to over $1 trillion in the next 20 years, and Musk is in the race. In fact, he expects to land on the moon in 2022 and have a base on Mars, a base on the Moon, and ultimately a self-sustaining city on Mars.

Elon Musk 004 2Elon Musk has been in China recently several times and Tesla has started to deliver its first cars produced in China. He also mentions that he will try to create a China design and engineering center to actually design an original car in China for worldwide consumption. He is a man shaping this decade, bringing hope to humanity and providing solutions for a more sustainable world. A man without fear to fail: “Failure is an option. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

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