Tesla buying up talent for ‘car of the future’ fight

By Luc Olinga ,AFP

DETROIT, Michigan – Tesla’s swift rise to both create and dominate the luxury all-electric car market has stunned Detroit.

To hold that lead to the next plateau — the self-driving, mass-market electric car widely seen as the future of the auto industry — founder Elon Musk is rapidly staffing up with the best talent he can find: computer programmers. Rather than look to Detroit for help to build his cars, Musk’s 12-year-old company is focused on Silicon Valley to recruit some 1,600 software engineers for the next stage. They are to help develop Autopilot, Tesla’s autonomous car IT system, with capabilities like the Summon function announced this week that can allow Tesla owners to call the car from the garage to their side at will, like a pet. In a sign of his determination to beat Detroit at its own game, last November Musk used Twitter to get his message out.

“We are looking for hardcore software engineers. No prior experience with cars required,” he said, adding “Should mention that I will be interviewing people personally and Autopilot reports directly to me. This is a super high priority.” Autopilot is crucial if Tesla aims to have a fully self-driving car by 2018, and increase production 10-fold to 500,000 cars a year by 2020. Ramping up production to that level, supported by Tesla’s own battery plant under construction in Nevada, is crucial to lowering the price of its cars to a more affordable level, perhaps US$35,000, for the Tesla Model 3 electric sedan planned for 2017 — around a third of today’s price tag. Such promises have kept financiers and investors still firmly behind Tesla, even though the Palo Alto, California company has continued to lose money while the big carmakers in Detroit rack up profits on the booming U.S. auto market. Tough Competition If it meets its goals, Tesla could remain a player in the industry. But it is surrounded by likewise eager competitors. All of the large Asian, European and U.S. automakers are ramping up their work on electric, driver-less cars.

Crossing into the field with their substantial resources and tech capabilities are Internet giants like Google, Apple, and Uber. Also crowding into the race are Tesla-wannabes: startups like Chinese-backed Faraday Future, which unveiled its own Batmobile-looking electric in Las Vegas last week, Karma Automotive, Atieva and NexTex.