The one day you are behind your desk in The Netherlands, engrossed in your MBA trajectory, and the other day you are on a plane en route to Silicon Valley to visit Tesla’s Research and Development centre for one of your study assignments. This happened to Business School Netherlands (BSN) students Erik ten Hove, Peter Eland, Robin van Verseveld, Corjan van der Veen, Davy Emans, and Lineke Pelleboer in January this year.
Their mandatory group assignment had to be extraordinary and out of this world; that was a fact, with the ultimate jackpot doing research at Tesla’s electric truck division in the United States. This, however, proved to be easier said than done, but not impossible.
“I had a few contacts at Tesla in The Netherlands, but I wasn’t able to mobilise Tesla in the US,” says Peter Eland. “The CEO of my employer Pilz, Suzanne Kunschert-Pilz, managed to introduce me to one of her acquaintances, someone who worked for Tesla in Silicon Valley. Later we found out this acquaintance was the Vice-President of Tesla’s Truck and Programmes division. Everything happened quickly after that. Our trip was sorted within a day. In the end, it took us a few months to get what we wanted.”
The world of electric trucks
The assignment revolved around researching the differences between the European and North American truck market, focusing specifically on electric trucks. “Tesla has been wanting to develop an electric truck for a while when we contacted them, one for both the American and the European market,” says Peter.
Erik ten Hove explains that both markets differ substantially from one another. “In the US, one mainly uses trailers to store goods whilst in The Netherlands, we use transit companies,” he says. “In that regard, we have made a few recommendations Tesla hadn’t even thought about.”
Quieter, clean, cheaper
Besides the way goods are stored, the six students found out that Europe is more ready for electric trucks than the US. “European truckers usually drive shorter distances than their American counterparts. This is why companies in the US worry about the reach of electric trucks,” says Eland. “Europe, generally speaking, seems to be more open for electric trucks. The companies we have spoken with, all renown firms, are all interested in investigating alternative modes of freight transport.”
Electric trucks have several advantages, says Robin van Verseveld. They are cleaner in terms of emissions, and they male less noise. “This allows companies to load and offload even at night, also in densely populated areas. This improved their efficiency and turn-over,” he says. “If you need to offload at night, you need a truck that is quiet. That cancels out diesel trucks.”
Test rides with Tesla’s fastest car
Researching the potential of electric trucks in the US and Europe took about eight weeks, including a one-week trip to the US. “We had made arrangements to meet Tesla’s Truck and Programme Vice-President Jerome Guillen somewhere in Silicon Valley,” says Peter. “Where we were supposed to meet, we felt a bit lost. We saw nothing but buildings with mirrored windows, but no Tesla branding. When we entered the building, we were told that this was the company’s secret research & development centre!”
Whilst at Tesla, the students got a good sense about how Tesla operates and what goes down behind closed doors. Peter: “We also made a couple of test rides, including one with the company’s fastest car, the Model S P100D.”
Seeing and admiring Tesla’s first electric semi-truck, which was officially launched in November this year, was a true highlight, says Erik. “The first reports about this truck started to trickle in somewhere around September. We, however, can say that we have seen then truck in January already,” he says.
The power of your network
Their MBA studies at Business School Netherlands were fundamental to the success of their group assignment. “The module International Management, in particular, came in handy,” says Davy Emans. “This module teaches you how to work with people from different cultures, particularly from a business point of view.”
The group’s Tesla adventure has made their study group considerably stronger, which has had a positive effect on completing the assignment and the rest of their studies. This could have been different, says Robin. “An international assignment like this one can bring a group closer together, but it can also drive it apart.”
The most important lesson the students have learned from their assignment is that who you know is as important as what you know. Robin: “It doesn’t matter how big the world is: if you have the right connections, you can get a foot in the door anywhere, Tesla included.”
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