Last August, Elon Musk outlined his vision for a beautiful solar roof as a symbol of why Tesla buying SolarCity was a “logical” and “quite obvious” decision to skeptical analysts. But the product was nowhere close to ready.
The news comes from a feature published by FastCompany’s Austin Carr, which details the story of SolarCity’s rapid ascent in the early 2000s, the company’s downfall, and the skepticism surrounding Tesla’s ultimate acquisition of the solar panel installer.
While Musk was teasing a “beautiful” solar roof that looks better and lasts longer than a normal roof, employees were scrambling to develop a prototype that matched the vision Musk was selling.
Just a few weeks after Musk’s Aug. 9 earnings call, SolarCity cofounder and CTO Peter Rive, Musk’s cousin, and Zep Solar, a SolarCity subsidiary, invited the Tesla and SpaceX CEO to see their latest prototype, internally dubbed Steel Pulse.
“Musk hated it-telling the team, according to two sources, that they were wasting his time with this ‘piece of s**t’-but he liked the underlying concept,” FastCompany reports. A spokesperson for Tesla told FastCompany that he liked the idea of Steel Pulse, just not the first iteration.
Within a few weeks, the SolarCity employees put together the concepts Musk showed off during a public demo at Universal Studios in late October. Tesla has already started accepting orders for two of its four solar shingle options and installations are slated to begin this year.
The feature provides some insight into Musk’s brilliant, if risky, marketing strategy.
Before a prototype even existed, Musk was using the solar roof to relay his vision of a solar ecosystem that includes Tesla’s at-home battery, the Powerwall, and its line of electric vehicles. The solar roof was an integral part of convincing shareholders and analysts that an electric carmaker and solar panel installer were a simple and obvious pairing.