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The Trouble With Tesloids is that they are not like Tribbles. They don’t multiply very quickly.

No one would question that Apple’s iPod, iPhone, and iPad represent truly disruptive technologies that have sold literally hundreds of millions of units and dramatically altered telephone communications, the Internet, and personal computers, all in one fell swoop. The impact of these devices is simply enormous and global in scope. It is not much of an exaggeration to note that they have changed life as we know it.

Steve Jobs and Apple Computer are of course credited with the invention of these devices. And most of the population believe they appeared out of the blue as totally original disruptive technology.

This simply isn’t what happened. And that the body politic’s view of history is not precisely accurate is not precisely a surprise.

Alan Kay conceived of a device termed a DynaBook in 1968 that contained all the essential elements and made NO claim at the time that IT was particularly original. A prototype was actually built at the Xerox PARC center in Palo Alto in 1972.

There were literally dozens of network “tablets” produced in subsequent years and indeed an entire genre of “personal digital assistants” evolved. Always in the fringe, and always in low numbers. Even the NAME of the iPad is not particularly interesting. In 2000, Compaq introduced a reasonably capable personal digital assistant (PDA) titled the iPaq.

The point is, the pieces of a hand sized digital tablet/book have not just been floating around for literally decades predating the iPad, but were actually productized and sold. There is actually little original material to be pointed to in either the iPad or iPhone.

Nor was it particularly a matter of “marketing” or corporate funding. Steve Jobs simply took all the elements of all that went before, and combined them into an artful product blend that became for all intents and purposes a “new thing” that captured the imagination of the public instantly. To have one in your hand was to know you wanted one. Gestures. Touch. Neither were new. The success was due to an artful blend of the right components and the right utility in a single device in a way that was indeed perceived as “different” because it was different. Design counts. Not just functional design. But design itself and for itself.

W

We believe that the advantages of electrically powered drive in automobiles for personal transportation are at this point self evident. They are simply an order of magnitude more efficient and appropriate for transportation. That means we use an order of magnitude LESS energy to accomplish the same goals – without suffering or going without anything. We are focused on IMPROVING the experience of personal transportation, not settling for something lesser to “save the planet.” It is our belief that we can apply modern technologies to the problems of foreign oil dependency, global climate change, and the personal expense of getting around in our daily lives, and simply do it much better. Quieter. Less smelly. On less money.

Electric cars have been with us since the 1830’s, depending on what you count. But they have largely failed in the marketplace and frankly continue to do so. Some of them, like Kay’s DynaBook, the Palm Pilot, and the iPaq have been fairly cunning in their design. But they, in concert with their infrastructure and context, have not captured the imagination of the public.

I might also point out that Apple Computer, Microsoft, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, IBM, AT&T, and indeed ALL of our major corporations that employ millions of people and pay the vast majority of the taxes that fund our government, ALL started in one of two ways – one guy in a garage or workshop, or TWO guys in a garage or workshop. There is no other story to be had. None were started by Baine Capital. Or 3M. Or Archer Daniels, or EXXON. Standard Oil itself was the brainchild of one guy.

Innovation comes from individuals. Scale comes from corporate organization. Two guys in a garage can’t make a million of anything. And a corporation is simply not a place to innovate. They can improve incrementally. But they cannot invent. They cannot disrupt. They cannot truly innovate. Just as two guys might make a dozen, they might make a hundred, but they cannot make a million of anything.

It has EVER been so. Perhaps not as much so as now, but ever so nonetheless. It is simply immutable. Individuals innovate. Corporations scale those innovations into production in large quantities.

Today, we have large corporations trying to reintroduce the electric car, largely to comply with demands and regulations requiring more efficient transportation. That is not a formula for success to my way of thinking, but it is a welcome development that we applaud in principle. Will government subsidies and loan guarantees, cause corporations to innovate? Will sufficient water and food cause a hyena to spout like a whale? I don’t know. Sure. Anything is possible. If you view a horse, a camel, and a cow as being essentially the same thing, then John Wayne was just riding one beast of the several he had to select from.

We would posit that the bubbling cauldron of American innovation is in reality almost entirely contained in the garages and workshops of individuals across the land. And that that genius for individual innovation is the heartbeat of the largest wealth creation machine the world has ever witnessed in operation. And that it is the most likely source of a new electric car of just the right design to capture the attention of the public and change the way billions of people are enabled to move about in their world.

It is true that the Tesla Model S, the brainchild of Elon Musk and JB Straubel, COULD be that car. It would still follow our law of innovation. Or but not. A $10,000 iPad would likely have as much impact as a $10,000 Lisa or a $10,000 NeXt computer.

You see, innovators, even Steve Jobs, fail. They fail a LOT. On the way to success.

For an iPad to exist, the RIGHT touchscreen with the RIGHT processor, and the RIGHT devices for wireless and Bluetooth all had to be combined in the RIGHT package – by the right individual and at the right price and at the right time. Without the components being available, there is no iPad. And without the right mind to put them together, there would STILL be no iPad. And a $10,000 iPad is very similar in impact, to no iPad at all.

A viable electric car will not be born of a $34,000 motor and controller combination. Components are needed and they must be components offering a good value proposition. As must the car.

I personally, deeply, and viscerally believe that harnessing the forces of magnetic drive and atomic level battery chemistry can and will revolutionize personal transportation worldwide. The advantages are just too obvious and overwhelming. I am personally committed for the remainder of days allotted to me to furthering that cause.

But I believe the RIGHT design has yet to emerge – built from the right components, and available at the right value proposition. And I would rate the probability of that design coming from BMW, General Motors, Toyota, or Nissan as about as likely as for the Burlington Northern Railroad to invent the DC-3. And for the same reasons.

And so I have a bit longer view, of a bit of a messy process, that will take longer, be more work, and face greater challenges, than the simple act of a corporate CEO to spew several billion dollars of other people’s money into the ether in the hopes of a good outcome. Would that it could only be so.

Innovation comes from individual guys, in individual garages and workshops. This has been my direct and personal experience and observation, and an accurate history of EVERY significant major American corporation, without exception, tends to support my view.

The problem is, I can’t predict WHO the ultimate innovator of the electric car that changes the world will be. But I shiver at the thought that I might be in the room with him today.

Welcome to the second annual Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention. I would like to go on public record now and today. So let it be written and let it be told, inscribed on all temple walls and obelisks throughout the land, that I not only didn’t say it couldn’t be done and wouldn’t work, but that I truly believed and publicly noted that you COULD do it before YOU thought you could do it.

Jack Rickard