Earth first. Elon Musk will get to conquering Mars and probably a few exoplanets later. Or at least that sure is how it feels these days, with Musk having all those skyward ambitions at the same time as he’s trying to get a finger in every sector of the consumer-energy pie. Tesla just got approval to buy SolarCity, and the merger represents yet another thing under Elon Musk’s control — and yet another thing to manage.
The $2.6 billion deal has been generating noise since Musk announced it in June. Musk spent the summer and fall convincing shareholders, many of whom weren’t crazy about Tesla taking on yet more debt, that the deal would be a win-win, creating “cost synergies” for both Tesla and SolarCity. What “cost synergies” means is that with solar panel production integrated under the Tesla umbrella, they and all Tesla’s other energy products could be sold under one storefront, under one unified brand.
One of the strategies he used to do the convincing was doing a public showing of his new solar tiles, making sure to let everyone know that their condensation from vapor to actual product was contingent on the merger. No stranger to showmanship, Musk teased the solar tiles at a faux cookout on the backlot set of Desperate Housewives. They weren’t operational at the time, but the tiles debuted on the houses of Wisteria Lane, installed on an actual roof so humans could see how they looked from the street with sun on them. (No word on whether the smooth glass tiles will end up reflecting a laserlike sunbeam into houses across the street.) It’s an attractive solar-powered carrot Musk was hanging in front of shareholders; if you want your houses to look like this, and by extension if you want this glossy Wisteria Lane social standing, you have to do this for me first.
Musk wants a “vertically integrated” consumer energy ecosystem, upon every part of which he can profit — so that a consumer can buy the solar tiles that replenish their PowerWall, from which they’ll power the SuperCharger that they use to charge their family fleet of Tesla cars. On longer trips, Tesla owners could pay to use the Superchargers in the cities they visit, or perhaps travelers would pay to use his Hyperloop. Presumably in later years there will be backyard solar-electric launchpads to shuttle customer transit pods to the Mars launch facilities Mr. Musk has had installed in a city near you.
Didn’t we expect Apple to be the one doing the glossy white, performance glass, rounded corners, top-to-bottom conspicuous-consumption lifestyle home? Not so long ago we were talking about an iCar. But now there are Tesla cars and Musk has fixed his sights on other, much longer-haul modes of transportation, namely spaceships. This is so strange. Are we sure Elon Musk isn’t a supervillain?