During the development of the Tesla Model S, one top engineer would tick off certain milestones in his mind whenever the tiny, almost bankrupt startup would hit certain goals. A particular number of cars built, for example. And one milestone he distinctly remembers is when the Tesla team completed more than 9,000 cars.
Why? Because that’s all the cars DeLorean ever made before it went out of business. Today, Tesla is rewriting the future more than any DeLorean ever did.
The new season of Vox Media Podcast Network’s award-winning narrative podcast Land of the Giants is debuting next week, and it’s all about Tesla. Tesla has become a giant in the auto industry, dethroning legacy car companies one by one. It is the disruptor of all disruptors in the world of cars, led by a man whose innovations know no bounds — even when many critics say they probably should.
It is the disruptor of all disruptors in the world of cars, led by a man whose innovations know no bounds — even when many critics say they probably should
But it’s not often that story gets recounted directly by those who were working inside Tesla at nearly all levels. That’s what we sought to do here. We are two veteran automotive journalists who have covered Tesla’s unfathomable rise since its early days and are co-hosting this season.
Tamara Warren is the former transportation editor at The Verge who now runs Le Car, a website about cars and culture, and Patrick George, the former editor-in-chief of Jalopnik, is a transportation journalist who contributes to The Verge. Together with our indefatigable producers and editors from the Vox Media Podcast Network, we are mapping out how Tesla went from a niche EV startup to a company that made CEO Elon Musk the richest man in the world — and to see if it can survive what’s coming next.
We’ve talked with expert journalists across Vox Media Network including Pivot hosts Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, The Verge’s editor-in-chief Nilay Patel, senior writer and Musk expert Liz Lopatto, and transportation editor Andrew Hawkins. We’ve gone deep into Tesla history and spoken to Tesla’s original founders, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, as well as former Tesla engineers, executives, and employees, many of whom are speaking on the record for the first time. We’ve turned to journalists, business leaders, and automotive experts like Missy Cummings, Doug DeMuro, and Doug Field to help us understand where the industry is going and explore the real-world realities of driving electric and increasingly automated cars.
It’s wild to remember that Tesla was once spoken of in the same breath as DeLorean or the many other tiny, forgotten upstarts that tried and failed to break into the notoriously difficult automotive business. In about 15 years, Tesla has become the world’s biggest maker of electric vehicles, one of the most ambitious proponents of self-driving cars, and the creator of an EV charging network that is the envy of the entire industry. It’s one of the biggest companies in the world by market capitalization (and by far the biggest car company).
But for every victory, there’s been an equal or greater number of disasters
But for every victory, there’s been an equal or greater number of disasters. Tesla nearly crashed and burned a few times along the way, sometimes through its own unforced errors. It’s made bold promises it hasn’t been able to deliver. It’s faced lawsuits, fines, recalls, and investigations over how it deploys its technology and how it treats its workers.
And as for Musk… you almost certainly have an opinion on him because everyone does. No tech mogul alive today is more known, more controversial, or more ambitious — and he has become inseparable from the Tesla saga, for better or worse.
We’ll explore Tesla’s role in the troubled race toward self-driving cars and the auto industry’s contentious shift to electric vehicles; how Musk’s rise and pratfalls have had ripple effects across the world; and whether the legacy automakers can beat Tesla at its own game.
Vox Media’s Land of the Giants narrative podcast series covers how Big Tech companies impact our lives. Past seasons delved into Meta, dating apps, Amazon, Apple, Google, and food delivery. For decades, car companies were left behind in the tech conversation — until Tesla shifted that perception. We are on the precipice of an industrywide transition to electric vehicles and living in a time when burning fossil fuels contributes to a climate crisis we feel more each day. It couldn’t be a better time to explore the state of the car industry through the lens of a company that altered it.
The first episode of Land of the Giants: The Tesla Shock Wave comes out on July 26th. You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Listen to the trailer above.