2015 Retrospective: The year in Tesla Motors and Elon Musk

Elon Musk with Powerpack
© DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

How productive was Tony Stark Elon Musk this year?

Life is never boring in Elon Musk world. The man and his company, Tesla Motors, are always working on something new. No need to wait years, or even months, between new projects and features -- they roll out almost daily. Now that we are reaching the end of 2015, let's take a moment to look back at what were the major Musk/Tesla stories of the year (and we won't even cover SpaceX...):

First in January, Musk tweeted that they were working on a new charger that would automatically plug itself, looking a bit like a "solid metal snake":

We had to wait until August to see a (slow) prototype in action:

Tesla Dual Drive and AutopilotTesla/Screen capture

Videos of the dual motor "D" version of the Model S electric car also started appearing around the beginning of the year, showing just how quick the already fast EV could be when power went to 4 wheels rather than 2:

The best description by those who rode it was "like a rollercoaster". See for yourself.

February 2015 saw a lot of interest in rumors (which became more confirmed over time) that Apple was working on an electric car, and that the fruit company and Tesla were in competition for engineers. I wrote two pieces on this, one about Apple vs. Tesla, and one explaining 9 reasons why I think Apple might eventually buy Tesla.

2015 was also the second year in a row when Consumer Reports named the Tesla Model S the "Best Overall Car", though that honor was mitigated later in the year when CR pulled its "recommended" stamp of approval from the EV because of potential reliability issue (especially with early models, Tesla says that they have corrected a lot of problems over time, and that the defects are covered under warranty).

Still, the Model S was so good during CR's testing that it "broke" their rating system with a score of 103%...

Here is the video that Consumer Reports made to explain their decision:

The year was also one in which the Supercharger Network grew like weeds, now only in the U.S. but worldwide.

In the fall the company passed a milestone: 500 Supercharger stations, with over 2,800 individual Superchargers.

It was also a great year for so-called 'destination charging' (slower charging at restaurants, hotels, stores), with over 1,100 of those now around the US and Canada:

Another revelation that came out this year, in a biography of Elon Musk, is that Tesla was almost sold to Google for $6 billion in 2013.

Whether that would've been good or bad is debatable...

One of the biggest pieces of Tesla news of the year interestingly didn't even have to do with electric vehicles. It was about static battery storage for homes, businesses, and utilities: The Tesla Powerwall, as wells as the unveiling of the Tesla Energy Division at the company, made big waves by promising to help make intermittent renewable energy like solar and wind easier to integrate into the power grid.

The Model S received a bunch of upgrades this year. The entry model got upgraded from a 60kWh to a 70kWh battery, the top-of-the-line one was boosted to 90kWh and a 'Ludicrous' acceleration mode was added.

But the most innovative change to the Model S was no doubt the Autopilot feature, which was added to the existing car by a software update.

This led to a wave of videos of people being weirded out by the car driving itself:

And others who did dangerous things, like activating the Autopilot on curvy country roads rather than on the highway:

But there were also videos showing the automatic braking preventing accidents, like this one:

But most impressive is probably the team who drove a Tesla across the U.S., from coast to coast, in 57 hours using the Autopilot.

Another big piece of Tesla news was the launch (finally!) of the Model X electric crossover. It'll take some time before the more affordable versions of it start shipping (only the fully equipped models are being made at first), but at least Tesla is not a one-car company anymore.

Construction on the Tesla Gigafactory progressed quickly this year, with videos from drones showing the progress:

What's probably most impressive about the Gigafactory, apart from its massive scale (it could be the biggest building on Earth once completed, producing as many batteries as the whole world did in 2013), is that it'll produce as much renewable energy as it uses. This net zero energy approach is something that all factories should aim for...
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Musk made an important speech in Paris during the climate negotiations, calling for a carbon tax as the most effective way to rapidly make progress.

And to end our retrospective on something a bit lighter, here's what Elon Musk did for his birthday this year:

2015 Retrospective: The year in Tesla Motors and Elon Musk
Looking back at what made headlines this past year from the real Tony Stark.

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