VW CEO Herbert Diess invited Tesla CEO Elon Musk to attend an internal conference with 200 VW executives with the aim of driving innovation in his business. The two auto executives continue to have a more than cordial relationship after Musk attempted to hire Diess to become Tesla’s CEO.

VW’s executive conference was held in Alpbach, Austria, and included a talk by Erin Meyer, author and business professor, and “surprise guest” Musk, who joined by video conference. Musk’s comments were first reported by Handelsblatt and later confirmed by Diess.

The aim of the conference was to engage VW executives in the massive changes VW will need to make to cope with the changing automotive industry. Diess admitted that VW “has done a lot of good things in the past, in the old world Volkswagen is strong, but there are no guarantees for the new world”. He wants VW to take “faster decisions, less bureaucracy, more responsibility”.

As an example, Meyer spoke about Netflix’s transformation from DVD to streaming to content production, and Diess spoke with Musk about why Tesla is more agile than his rivals. Musk reportedly replied, “It’s the management style. First and foremost, I am an engineer and besides the car, I am fascinated by supply chains, logistics and production processes.

Diess set the example that Tesla was better able to handle the current global chip shortage than the rest of the auto industry, as their software teams rewrote Tesla’s software in just 2-3 weeks, allowing use of different chips.

The two CEOs have met in the past and seem to get along well. Musk said he believes VW can make the transition to electric vehicles a success, and both see the other company as their “strongest competitor.” Diess also said he plans to visit Tesla’s Gigafactory Berlin in Grunheide soon.

Other automakers have struggled in the past to rally senior executives to transition to electric vehicles. A vivid example is former BMW CEO Harald Kruger, who became CEO in 2015. He came with the vision of expanding BMW’s electric offering, but faced significant internal resistance from senior executives. of BMW, according to sources within BMW’s electrical division. In 2019, Kruger resigned as CEO, citing his failure to boost BMW’s electric transition.

Taking Electek

At Electrek, we have always been an “electrical team”. While there is a lot of talk about “competing” electric vehicles (Tesla Model Y vs. VW ID.4, for example), the real competition isn’t electric cars, but gasoline-powered ones. The EV industry, and we as EV advocates must present a united front against inefficient and polluting gasoline vehicles. Same team – we’re on team electricity, not team pollution.

So we’re happy to see that Herbert Diess, the boss of Voltswagen, the world’s largest automaker, which sells more gasoline-powered cars than anyone else, has the same mindset. Inviting an “incoming” competitor to an internal conference is no small feat, especially after many years when the automotive industry at large has rejected (and ultimately reluctantly accepted) Tesla and electric vehicles in general.

Of course, Diess also does this because he sees the writing on the wall, knows the industry is in transition, and wants to make sure VW can act quickly enough to survive the change. He believes a slow transition to electric vehicles could cost VW 30,000 lost jobs. But to its credit, VW has perhaps been the most serious of the major automakers about the transition to electric vehicles (in part after being forced into it by Dieselgate), and Diess talks quite often about the technology of the electric vehicles. electric vehicles and climate change.

While we have yet to hear a recording of the talk and therefore do not know all of Musk’s comments, we would not want to attribute the whole reason for Tesla’s success solely to the “management style” of Musk (a lot of ego, Elon?). While a strong CEO who refuses to compromise on innovation can certainly contribute to a company’s ability to scale quickly, Tesla benefits from many other factors that are independent of its CEO.

Tesla is a Silicon Valley company, developed in Silicon Valley culture from the start. This culture emphasizes innovation, new ideas, iconoclasm, etc. It’s also a smaller company that started with the “startup mindset” of shaking up the industry – and everyone who works at Tesla came to the company with that goal in mind. These lead to natural agility advantages, and old giant companies like VW will inevitably have a harder time innovating. They also have so many sunk costs in the capital-intensive apparatus of running a global automaker.

But VW CEO Diess wants to at least get his ship up and running as quickly as possible. And providing outside moral support, especially from your company’s “strongest competitor”, is quite admirable. It is also admirable of Musk for accepting the invitation. Tesla’s official mission statement is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” and working with a competing automaker to strategize on its future is a prime example. While Musk has at times scorned certain efforts when it comes to electric vehicles, we’re glad to see him put his mouth where Tesla’s mission statement is and work alongside the world’s largest manufacturer to electrify better and faster. transportation.

We can only hope for further collaboration, across the automotive industry, to bring us to electric transportation as quickly as possible. For example, Tesla is expected to let at least one other brand use its Supercharger network in the United States within a year, and VW would appear to be a forerunner. Same team, everyone.

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