Deep dive: Tesla lays off Supercharging team 👋

...and why it's not the end of Tesla

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All hell broke loose around Tesla’s Supercharging unit this week. 

It started with Tesla — well, all of it pointed at Elon of course — laying off Rebecca Tinucci and reportedly all of the ~500 Supercharging team.

Most of the team seems to have gotten the news, as usual, suddenly and in the middle of the night. The Internet went abuzz as it always does. Now, I’m going to state the obvious here:

We don’t have all the information and gameplan yet,
and can mostly just speculate until the dust settles.

The information itself surfaced from a leaked memo, obtained by Steve LeVine at The Information, and then covered by most media outlets. Musk himself seemed angry at the leaks (link).

We don’t yet know if the SuperCharger teams outside US was also affected — so far reports and the posts from people being laid off have come from the US (like this, this, this, this, this or this one).

There is one post from the Southeast Asia team (link, thanks Electric Felix), and one business owner in Australia saying that their Tesla contact said their upcoming site will not be built as the Tesla Supercharger team has been dissolved globally. We’ll validate if the latter is actually the case or not.

What we do know is that with its 57,579 global Supercharger connectors at 6,249 locations (per Q1 2024), the Supercharger Network has been the ultimate benchmark for quality across the industry. It is sad to see most of the team behind that very success laid off. I have no doubt they’ll land well.

P.S. If you’re one of the people affected, or a company looking to hire that talent that suddenly became available, I saw one of our readers — Lindsay Warren, the founder of Net Zero Evolution — decided to provide their recruiting / introduction services for free for this month, globally, for the former Tesla Supercharging team members. I love this effort. Learn more here (link) or write directly to Lindsay at lindsay@netzeroevolution(dot)com.

Elon says why (kind of)

Now, for the context: you’ll want to know what Musk said on a few different spots that you won’t see reported, to get his thinking. I gathered some here, with the main comment from Musk:

…this article continues for another ~800 words of insights and five images below, all free. Leave your email, this way I can send you more EV newsletters (nothing else) in the future. Sorry for the break. :) Join 7,000 of us EV geeks and get immediate unlock of the further deep dive:

Now, when someone put under question specific locations, like if Tesla will still build out the sites under construction like one at Kalispell MT for Glacier National Park access as they’d heard “active construction crews have no point of contact at Tesla any longer”, Musk says

Now, going further into what’s behind this decision, we get a hint from one of the few posts Musk liked on this matter. It was this one from Alex Avoigt which, perhaps most importantly, notes that “It's very simple: he fires as many people as possible, and if everything is still working well, he hasn't fired enough.”

What we haven’t seen Musk acknowledge yet, at least publicly, is the immense work from the team that has gotten the SC network this far, and recognizing the people involved (as opposed to the recent comments thanking some of the exited higher roles).

Seems clear so far that the following SC team will be rehired/newly hired, on a smaller size, with a different focus. And the massive growth of the Supercharger network will be dialed down (also, sad to see and wondering if that is final).

It is also pretty clear that there is no need to panic about the complete downfall of the current Supercharging network. In the US, Tesla is several years ahead in size of every competitor and obviously leads in quality too.

Here’s proof: per BloombergNEF, in the US Tesla accounts for 74% of all ultra-fast chargers (link), and installed a record 3,680 Superchargers in Q1 alone, while its competitors, collectively, installed fewer than half that number.

Now add that to the short-term benefits of slowing down (or pausing) the Supercharger rollout: since Tesla is dominating the market, no expansion will mean higher average utilization for its current network, further solidifying the profit margin of the unit.

Here’s also a quick look from BloombergNEF on how Tesla fares in Europe, a more saturated market, against main competition:

If a demise of Tesla Supercharging network would happen because of these layoffs, I’d be the first to award Musk the dumbest-move-of-century award.

UPDATE: We also just learned (thanks to this Electrek article) that Tesla has reportedly sent out the following letter to its suppliers involved:

Supercharging as a business

Part of me wishes the Tesla Supercharging unit was already spun off as a standalone business — this way it had one goal even at this point: grow.

As a standalone business (not saying this can’t still be achieved), the Tesla Supercharger Network would/will still be wildly profitable — BNEF estimates that annual worldwide public-charging revenue by 2030 will be $127B, with Tesla to mop up $7.4B (5.8%) of all that business, taking home $740M in profits.

Their assumptions:

  • 280 kWh/day utilization (~1.4x of today?)

  • 180k chargers by 2030 (3.15x of today)

  • 10% profit margin (based on Elon's tweet from 2 yrs ago)

If you want to get a (much) closer look at how Tesla Supercharging has been operating and where it wins, I suggest watching the now-laid-off Rebecca Tinucci presentation from last year's Investor Day. (timestamped video) Plenty there to discover.

Questions in the air

All I know is that I know nothing.
Here are just a few questions and notes left in my mind over all of this. (Feel free to answer any of these in the comment section, if you can)

  • How much industry-specific experience and knowledge will Tesla lose with these departures, or can/did it retain some?

  • Perhaps less important, but how much will this impact the perception of the public towards Tesla Superchargers (we all know how this chaos plays out in the media)? Will it be a “I heard the chargers don’t work anymore” type thing we’ll hear at dinner with relatives?

  • Will this affect the rollout of NACS and Supercharger access for 3rd-party carmakers?
    Bloomberg reports that other carmaker executives were worried about losing the contact with Tesla ahead of busy summer season, yet according to its sources also some of the Supercharger servicing team, which manages 3rd-party access to the network, remains intact.

  • Will this increase Tesla’s focus on selling its chargers to 3rd parties (like the deal with bp)? On the other hand, saw somewhere that also the people responsible for that deal were laid off…?

  • How long will the slowed-growth plans last, and will Tesla get back on the growth train in a few years once conditions ease?

  • Is this all a precursor of Tesla’s next move on wireless charging? We have been collecting hints like:

    • Tesla acqui-hiring the Wiferion wireless charging team (unclear if affected in the layoffs but doubtful)

    • Tesla showing a wireless charging pad on one of its slides, and Franz confirming they’re working on it in the Jay Leno video

    • Inductive charger connectors on the battery pack are shown in the Cybertruck service manual.

  • How happy is the rest of the charging industry that so much talent became available? Well I know the answer to that one.

Here’s a good example of a charging network CEO, this time Aurelien de Meaux, the CEO of the large European CPO Electra, sending out the batsignal for the suddenly available talent:

The image there really says a thousand words:

  • Related: the former head of Supercharging in EMEA region, Jeroen van Tilburg, was just announced as the new CEO of IONITY.
    I have no doubt Rebecca Tinucci will land in a top spot rather quickly too, especially considering her role in the NACS expansion. I’m rather sure IONNA is scooping up some of the people too.

  • How many new startups in the charging and broader EV space will we see in the next years, that are spun up from the people laid off here? Include the ~14k (final number unclear) Tesla laid off from the whole organization this month, we’re looking at some great uptick.

I’ll leave you with a little note here that we should apply nearly everywhere these days: no, we are not all doomed.

Now, let’s carry on, let the dust settle, and I’ll report back when we hear more.

— Jaan

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