The new Tesla CEO: ‘I know what I need to do – build complex systems’

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As Elon Musk struggles with his production failings and liquidity crisis, CEO steers his new startup onto the right track

On the trail: when everything goes awry, not everybody ends up selling soaps.

Instead of hoarding his wealth, Martin Tripp, a former SpaceX engineer, is collecting patents and taking his Tesla fame and skills to the next level.

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Tripp is heading a new low-cost electric car startup called Lucid Motors. He wants to build a “a vehicle that is affordable for the masses”. He also wants to eventually sell his creations to Tesla, for which he has signed an exclusive deal.

Tripp is trying to engineer a seemingly impossible turnaround, as the key to the company’s success may simply rest with him: at 55 years old, a 30-year Tesla veteran, and an experienced dropout. He is betting he is the perfect fit to make Lucid’s $500,000 hybrid sedan, the IQ, what it should be, and all the other hopes and dreams that have for so long been Tesla’s.

“I know what I need to do,” Tripp said in an interview. “The biggest skill I have is to try and build complex systems, and figure out, what happens when you do this?”

Tesla’s Model 3 production troubles of late have prompted questions over how the company got into such a mess, and whether its star CEO, Elon Musk, is capable of so many projects at once. The company has seen its financial and share price tumble, with Musk tweeting about taking the company private last month and becoming embroiled in a government investigation into statements he made that were inaccurate.

Lucid debuted its new IQ this week in New York. It follows up on Musk’s vision for mass manufacturing and autonomous driving, though Musk himself has little skin in the game.

Tripp, though, is the one who sees himself as the key to the company’s survival.

Elon Musk blamed a ‘production hell’ for his company’s latest woes. Photograph: John Locher/AP

He started out with Tesla nearly 30 years ago, serving a variety of roles and quietly building his own space technologies, Tripp said. He was a confidant of the founder and since became an executive as well.

But Musk has made sure he is on record as having moved on. Tripp said he and Musk frequently speak on the phone; this past Monday, for example, he predicted that Tesla would make 50,000 Model 3 cars this year, three times higher than the company had previously indicated.

“He’s too busy,” Tripp said. “But at a certain point, he needs to have certain things doable.”

In Lucid, Tripp said he sees a solid opportunity to disrupt an industry “that’s really broken”.

Tesla has been intensely loyal to its chief executive, as some critics say Musk may be able to burn through most of his fortune – estimated to be about $15bn – in less than a decade.

With a car name that sounds like the name of an actual human, Tripp hopes that the Lucid name can help him and his team convince the public that they can build Tesla’s long-held dreams.

“I think any user of a four-wheel-drive vehicle or an internal combustion engine will like the name Lucid,” Tripp said. “That’s the signal that it’s going to do well.”

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As for Tesla, Tripp said that he would not lend any support – in some ways, he said, Tesla has hurt his company’s ability to raise the money it needs to launch and market a vehicle. He added that he has made friends at Tesla, particularly “the engineers”, which “makes it easy” to work with.

Tripp’s aim is to be on the road with a few thousand IQs – and several million batteries – by 2025.

“We’re going to sell hundreds of thousands,” he said. “Hopefully even a million.”

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