In January this year, U.S. President Barrack Obama stated that there is no greater threat to future generations than climate change.1 Unfortunately, there have been many technological innovations in the past that caused the current situation. In order to prevent new innovations from becoming a threat, Technology Assessment, the study and evaluation of new technologies, is now being applied. With every new technology, we need to have a critical look at its potential application and commercial implementation.2 Today I have done some Technology Assessment myself. Subject of this small research is Tesla Motors, the company behind the electric Tesla cars. According to their website, they are “not just an automaker, but also a technology and design company with a focus on energy innovation.” Furthermore, the company tells that “Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport”.3 With climate change taken into consideration, I was wondering how sustainable Tesla Motors is.
Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 in Silicon Valley. The founders were a group of engineers, with an in my opinion outstanding motivation. Their overarching mission was not really to become the biggest car manufacturer in the world. What they did want, is to provide the evidence that electric cars could be better than gasoline-powered cars. Was this a reachable goal? Their first model, the Tesla Roadster, did not change the world. It costed $110,000 and has received a lot of criticism on the carbon-dioxide emissions that come with the energy used for their manufacture, as well as for continual battery charges.4 However, these claims are rather unfair. In order to understand why, one should first take a closer look at the energy problem.
Nowadays, we all know about climate change. The cause of the increase of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels. Coal, a fossil fuel worse than gasoline in terms of carbon-dioxide emission, made up 39% of electricity production in the U.S in 2013. The rest of the electricity production was based on natural gas (27%), nuclear energy (7%) and renewable energy sources (6%).5 However, this composition is getting more and more environmental-friendly. Furthermore, noting that we are running out of petroleum of which gasoline is made, we eventually cannot avoid a switch from gasoline anyway. Lastly, building a car like the Tesla Roadster is a dignified sports car and thus not something that should be compared to regular family cars in terms of energy consumption. Having made this clear, one question remains: Why did they build a sports car? This leads us to the next interesting aspect of the company, namely their business plan.
As I stated before, Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. To overcome the fact that high research and development costs in the early phases of a new technology drive op the price of the product, Tesla started making a high-priced, sports car for the rich. Herewith, they have been able to get a lot of publicity, claim their place on the market and furthermore fund the development of a lower-priced car. This car is also already driving around. It is called the Tesla Model S and was released in 2012. This car however, is still to expensive for the masses. Today, they are developing towards the production of a low-priced car for a really broad public, which would bring them really close to their eventual goal.6
Concluded can be, that Tesla Motors is indeed a very sustainable company. When Tesla began its story with building expensive highly advanced sports cars, the reaction from some critics is very logical. However, their long-term vision and their ability to actually make the steps towards reaching their goals this large, makes it a very successful as well as responsible innovation. Even more, Tesla must be seen as a role-model. If this little startup in California could do all this, why can’t others?
 CNN – Obama on climate change: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/21/us/climate-change-us-obama/
 Technology Assessment & Responsible Innovation: https://courses.edx.org/courses/DelftX/RI101x/3T2014/courseware/7d4b04ff26aa43d2bc775f339bc4db10/1aa54558bcee4902a057914c0abde7e3/
 About Tesla: http://www.teslamotors.com/about
 The Wall Street Journal - Green Cars Have a Dirty Little Secret: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324128504578346913994914472
 Change in U.S. Electricity Generation Mix, 2007 to 2013: http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/images/2015/03/energy-graphic-natural-gas-gamble-electricity-mix-2007-vs-2013_0.jpg
 Wait but why? - How Tesla will change your life: http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/06/how-tesla-will-change-your-life.html