Transportation 2.0

This post is on drafts now for about 2 years, it’s a concise summary of my Tesla investment thesis. My mental carburetor chocked at AI and autonomous driving… and guess what? I still have a shallow understanding of machine learning, neural nets, PyTorch, TPUs and all the technical stuff to deep dive into the AI stuff. And bear with me this stuff is crucial in my mind rational as Tesla’s business model is like a Trojan horse to deploy autonomous driving.

BUT no way that I could overcome my technical limitations… SO this post could stay in Drafts indefinitely, OR just like a IRL conversation with friends (congrats for the ones that actually invested) just wrap it up, and put out the general ideas to all my friends that unfortunately don’t have the opportunity to meet IRL so often.

Disclaimer: this is just my stream of consciousness, do not to take it as financial advise. DO YOUR OWN research and thinking. This can be the ramblings of a insane mind.

Humans, are quite an unsuccessful species about self conservation. We have a (declared) stockpile of nukes to destroy the total earth landmass SEVERAL times. The most important leader today doesn’t “believe” in climate change, and most of the others humans happily let the poison of the atmosphere, the water and the land to continue despite all the warnings.

Imagine a visitor from another world looking at this madness, probably we would be cataloged as “Technological savvy but totally schizophrenic species”. One must ask what legacy are we leaving to the next generations?

Anyway let’s be optimistic, continue the exercise and indulge into random thoughts and speculations about the future. Look and behold when one day the measure of computer RAM will be not in gigabytes, but in terabytes.

Transportation 2.0

There is a revolution about the way people and cargo move around, probably the Jetsons flying car is not coming around soon (or probably it is in the form of electric VTOLs), but billions and billions are being spent into electrification of vehicles.

And this an extremely good thing, because a big chunk of total world CO2 and pollution is generated by burning stuff inside ICE (internal combustion engines), and the BEV (battery electric vehicle) is so much more efficient that it’s operation is much cleaner. And as the power grid gets greener with more renewables in the mix, the overall gap just gets bigger and bigger.

There are two metrics about batteries that don’t lie, the energy density Wh/L and the cost USD/kWh, and the trend is simple for both, higher energy density and less cost every year. It’s nothing at all like Moore’s law, much slower, but even predicting a very conservative 5% increase in density and 5% decrease in price every year, around 2050 (perhaps much sooner considering the massive resources allocations) BEVs will have the equal energy density at a fraction of cost of ICE. Factoring in the difference in engine efficiency, supply chain, and environmental impact, probably much sooner than 2050 will be the end of the ICE age.

Perhaps in a far future there will be internal combustion engines in museums showing the exquisite materials and craftsmanship of a time that the world was powered by an ordered symphony of tiny explosions. I imagine like something like a starting up and revving up event with all the attendees in highly protective gear…

Sometimes i see this video just for the comic entertainment value:

It’s so funny, this was June 2010, each TSLA share was selling at 17USD (3.4USD split adjusted…). Guess the market had different view… why was Jim Cramer so wrong?

Tip of IcebergBecause he couldn’t understand inside his primate brain that the real transportation revolution is not the transition from liquid fuel to electric. No, that is just tip of the iceberg, the real revolution that’s going to turn everything upside down, it’s autonomous driving.

Think of all business around moving people and cargo, think of all the payrolls for professional drivers, think of all social security for professional drivers, think of all the road fatalities, think ride sharing and no ownership, think of long distance truck hauling, think of your car leave you on the spot and then proceed to park itself, think about drinking a coffee and finishing that report on your boring morning stop and go commute, think about going home drunk with no problem at all, think about catching some sleep on that long journey, think about elderly or disabled people who want to continue to go places by themselves…. etc, etc, etc…. it’s going to be a beautiful new world.

How much does it worth to have a total autonomous car system that can drive better than the top human drivers? That can operate 24/7 and doesn’t get tired, sleepy, drunk, nervous, over optimistic or distracted? A lot, really a LOT.

The race for the jackpot is on, with billions and billions being invested now. And where there is strong competition there will be results, and here Moore’s law is king, so expect this future to be nearer than generally expected. The company in the pole position is Tesla, and if they can deliver first probably they will become one of the most valuable companies in the world, probably the most valuable company in the world as autonomous driving implies solving computer vision, and computer vision achieved unlocks much more than autonomous driving.

Pushing forward deep into the future. We can ask this question, when an autonomous vehicle will be say 10x, 20x, or 100x safer than an average human driving, will human driving in public roads should be even allowed? Guess not, so I bet a lunch in the best restaurant in town with everyone that accepts the bet, that in 100 years from now human driving in Sweden (or Norway) will only be allowed in closed circuits (lets us hope the Nurburgring is still up and running).


1951 First AI program
1956 Los Alamos chess is the first program to play chess
1997 Deep Blue defeats Garry Kasparok
2007 Checkers is solved paper published
2015 Baidu Deep Image outperforms average human in image sorting and recognition
2017 AlphaZero learns chess self playing itself 24h and crushes the strongest chess AI
2017 AlphaGo beats Lee Seedol in the game of Go (10^170 valid board configurations)

as we can see with these few examples the machines are learning, and are learning more complex tasks and are learning faster. As of now machines are already at super human level at many  tasks.

Sure driving is a task that one must parse several complex inputs  (vision, sound, proper acceleration) and compute with context real time outputs (turning, accelerating, braking), but there is nothing magical or physical impossible for a machine to perform, and perform well better than an human.

Assuming hardware will keep improving offering better performance at lower price each year, and computer science AI and machine learning will also keep improving over time, there will be a point in time that these factors will compound and intersect to unlock autonomous driving, and Tesla with silicon valley tech know-how, best engineers in the world,  huge fleet collecting real world data for training the neural networks, own chip designed specifically for artificial intelligence, etc, etc… will be (in my mind) the one company to unlock it first.

According to Tesla 2021 2q safety report, they recorded one crash for every 4.41 million miles driven in which drivers were using Autopilot technology (Autosteer and active safety features). For drivers who were not using Autopilot technology (no Autosteer and active safety features), they recorded one crash for every 1.2 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 484,000 miles.

Some of the typical questions i have been asked IRL about the thesis:

Won’t legacy auto crush Tesla by sheer volume?
Well if that was to happen, it should have happened many moons ago. Tesla is a big boy now, growing fast with probably the strongest balance sheet in the industry. Besides legacy auto strength is in metal casting and folding, it can’t even put up a decent infotainment system… much more develop an autonomous driving system.

Besides legacy auto is in a world of pain, declining sales, convert factories and human resources to electric powertrains, battery supply, huge debts…. they are giants on clay feet.

OK, but the actual stock value has already risen tremendously, didn’t I missed the boat?
It’s a fact, the stock price already skyrocketed. If you invested 1000 USD back in the IPO and hold it (Jim told you to sell… big shout out to Jim) you would have today around 200.000 USD…

You can make a case to justify the current valuation on current business alone, you can go trough profit margins, growth rates, CAGR, ROI and other financial indicators, you can value Elon Musk as the modern Edison, but for me the equation is simple, if you can envision a near future with autonomous driving with Tesla leading, the valuation is cheap. If you can’t envision this, probably the valuation is more on the pricey side.

I’m not a big fan of reasoning by analogy, but I must also point that for disruptive companies, companies that change the world, with strong leadership and mission, companies that enter a positive loop feedback system it doesn’t make much sense to cap an upper limit.

“In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.” – Benjamin Graham

Nissan Leaf – Test drive

What makes one get out of bed at 9am Saturday with 6 hour worth of sleep in a very cold day? Electricity! Provided by the “Nissan LEAF Tour” in Lisbon.

I had scheduled a test drive 2 or 3 weeks ago, and today was the day to engage in a first person pure electric drive. As i was rushing to Expo in my beaten diesel i wondered how it would feel as the only previous experience was in an Altima Hybrid (full electric up to about 25k/h)…  after arriving on site, the check-in process was a breeze , just signing up a responsibility term and show the drivers license, and 5 minutes afterward i was seated up in a brand new Nissan LEAF with Gary (a very nice Nissan technician) on the passenger side.

So, how was it? In two words, very cool. The test drive was a tour around the outer perimiter of Parque das Nações, 10kms worth of urban and sub-urban routes (not the usual salesmen drive around the block / or in the parking…yes it actually happened to me once…). So, how is it? Smooth, silent, powerful, calm, relaxing. Really smooth power delivery, the 0-100K/h acceleration is pretty good (around 10s), and almost no noise, just a cool “jet like” wine at wide open throttle, you really don’t feel no lack of power and you can merge to highways pretty easy. Really didn’t push hard on corners, but the direction feels good (not the normal Nissan feather like steering), so as the suspension and brakes feel pretty competent. This IS NOT a sports car, but a perfect commuter car, very easy and relaxing to drive. Its like a magic carpet, that slides down the road. It must be driven to be sensed.

Afterward when i went back home in my 10 years old diesel, it felt more like a 100 year old car with all those nasty engine/transmission noises…. Back to the Leaf, it is a real car, a real solid product, not a gizmo with wheels, is a great accomplishment by Nissan. I believe that if Tesla Roadster showcased the electric car technology and inspired many, the Leaf can be the dawn of the electric revolution.

For the bad part, the ugly design, other bad point is the ugly design, and of course the ugly design. Did i mention the ugly design? How hard could it be to make a (much) better looking car? Well, lets just hope Leaf 2.0 gets better looks. Also the range, of course always the range, only 160kms (at highway better to expect around 100Kms) so this implies a oil burner as a backup car for that 1% big trips. The range issue is something that will remain for many years, as the battery capacity trend show small improvements over time, about the double of capacity for each ten years. So, maybe only a 2030 Leaf can have a decent +600Kms range, and by then we can finally trash the oil burners.

The good news in this range/battery/electric car business, is that the engine is +90% energy efficient (almost no margin of progress here), so the battery as the weak link, in 10 years from now a “simple” battery swap upgrades the car to the latest technology.

I also did some number crunching…

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