Ride the Lighting, The Unofficial Tesla Podcast, is hosted by Ryan McCaffrey, is the leading Tesla Podcast and features the most interesting Tesla-related news of the week and has featured prominent guests such as Elon Musk, Franz von Holzhausen, and Randy Pobst. Recently he had our very own Ben Schaffer on for a lengthy interview about the history of Unplugged Performance as well as tuning Teslas and more topics.  You can listen to the interview on this link or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any major podcast platform.  If you would like to support Ryan please subscribe to his podcast and support it directly if you like his work.  What follows is a direct transcript of the one-hour interview.

Ryan McCaffrey: My guest today is Ben Schaffer, the Co-Founder of Unplugged Performance. You’ve heard me mention him on the podcast before. Turns out the history is rather interesting, and they’ve got their fingers in a lot of different Tesla-related pies, as it were. So Ben, first of all, welcome. Thanks for joining me.

Ben Schaffer: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be doing this with you.

Ryan McCaffrey: Likewise. I always like to start by just giving people the quick background. I don’t want to assume anybody’s been listening for however 300-something episodes this is. Just give us the elevator pitch on Unplugged Performance for my audience that may not be too familiar with you yet.

Ben Schaffer:  We exist to do the things that Tesla maybe wants to do, but doesn’t have the bandwidth to do. So where Tesla has a limited amount of options and diversification in their production, we do all of the fun, crazy stuff that’s less efficient that they’re not doing. And that also includes racing and motorsports, but really it’s about making the cars more personalized and better for each individual owner’s use case.

Ryan McCaffrey:        And so as part of that, what are some of your most popular products? Because you’ve got stuff for all four Teslas that are currently in production. I want to talk to you about Koenigsegg. I had talked about that on the podcast when that deal first came up, but what are some of the things that people most commonly come to you for?

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah, it’s in some ways hard to summarize because our objective is that we look at the design ethos of each Tesla and what the vehicle is meant to do. In the Tesla terminology, we try to figure out how to “turn it up to 11”. And what that means, it means different things for different cars. So how to make a Model Y perfect might be a different recipe than how to make, in the future, a Roadster perfect, or even how to make a Plaid Model S perfect. And perfection means different things to different people. So popular products, for example, we make a suspension kit for the Model Y that we call the Luxury Suspension that we feel makes it ride a bit better around town. That’s what our customers tell us. And that’s very different from our stories about Pikes Peak and racing Plaids.

We’re not exactly that easy to summarize in terms of “do we sell wheels or suspension or carbon fiber parts or interior upgrades?” We basically think more about how can we make this car better and make it better for different people because the amazing thing about a Tesla is that it could be used as a robotaxi or even a yellow cab in New York, but it also can be used for someone who wants to go racing on the weekend. And those are very different use cases for the same technology.

Ryan McCaffrey:        That’s a good point. Yeah, very true. I like that. I like that sort of there is no one size fits all when it comes to these, just even these four Teslas, let alone the ones that are coming down the road, which I’m going to ask you about later in the interview as well. So we’ll come back to Unplugged Performance as a company here in a bit, but I want to back up and talk about you specifically for a second, because I always like to ask anybody that I have as a guest on this show how you got into Tesla. What is your Tesla origin story, Ben?

Ben Schaffer:  Well, I was always a car enthusiast and I started 22 years ago, back when I was 20 years old, modifying sports cars. Back then it was Japanese sports cars. Found myself involved in the first Fast & Furious movie, did a bunch of different stuff with various motorsports and Japanese cars. And then in 2012, actually early 2013, we bought an office building where we still are in Hawthorne next to Tesla’s Design Studio. And at the time we were modifying very loud cars. Now it’s a little bit different with Tesla, but we had some very loud cars, 1,000-plus-horsepower Nissan GT-Rs. And we were going up and down the street testing for our customers. And one day our neighbors at Tesla knocked on our door. We gave them a tour of what we were doing and we started a relationship. And very shortly after, my mind was fully convinced that this was the future and I wanted to be an active participant in it.

Ryan McCaffrey:        So was it a test drive or a test ride that did it for you as it has for so many of us?

Ben Schaffer:  Yes. So thankfully I was a shareholder prior, in 2012, in the very early days. And I always liked the philosophy of the company. But as a car enthusiast, like many at that time, I was a little bit at odds with whether this was something that was exciting as someone who likes to drive and likes to modify cars. And actually, it was perhaps the opposite in 2012, where there was this philosophy that a lot of car enthusiasts shared at the time that electric cars could become a bad thing, or the death of car culture as some people on a negative standpoint would say because they felt these cars couldn’t be modified. And people argued they had no soul and all these kinds of arguments.

So I didn’t think in 2012, when I started buying Tesla stock, that this was going to be a business choice. I felt it was just something I believed in. After I met a couple of the directors at Tesla in 2013, I thought this is amazing. I love what these guys are doing. I’m going to go and drive one of these cars. And in fact, I went out and bought a 2013 P85+ Model S.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Nice.

Ben Schaffer:  And within really the first day of owning that car and driving it, I was a 100% convinced, but I would describe it as a mixture of fear and excitement. I was fearful because at that point I had already spent 13 years trying to build an automotive aftermarket that I loved in terms of racing and supporting customers around the world. And I was fearful because it marked the distinct change that at the time most people would look at that and say, “This is the end of an era, or the end of everything,” depending on how you look at it. And bear in mind in 2013, nobody had ever modified an electric car at any kind of level. There was no aftermarket parts for Teslas. No one had thought about doing any of these things.

So long story short, I drove the car. And it occurred to me that the things that automotive companies do, for example making transmissions that shift faster. Everyone was trying to optimize how fast the transmission can shift. And this car doesn’t shift. You can’t be faster than never for shifting. We’d always have car debates about what’s better, a big V12, or turbocharged 6, or a supercharged naturally aspirated. The reason for all these debates is what’s more responsive? You can’t be more responsive than 100% torque with an electric motor. It’s just not possible. And then for driving dynamics, you want a low center of gravity. You can’t be better than having all the weight in the bottom of the car with the battery pack.

So when I started looking at this, it was very obvious to me right away that this is a recipe that is definably better from an engineering standpoint. I didn’t go at it from an environmental aspect, although that was a nice benefit. I went at it purely as a car enthusiast, and I thought to myself, it’s this and nothing else. And either we need to create the future that we want as car enthusiasts and embrace it, or everyone around me was pushing back and saying, “Oh, that’s not the future I want.” So we wanted to create that future of this car culture that can coexist in an EV world.

Ryan McCaffrey:        See, I’m glad you said that because I talk about that with people a lot in my life, where one thing I love about Tesla itself and specifically the Tesla community is that there are several ways in. You can be a total green-conscious, environmentally-conscious person and want to come at it that way. You can be-

Ben Schaffer:  Absolutely.

Ryan McCaffrey:        A safety-minded parent or just a safety-minded person that just wants to be in the safest car. Or you can want a car that’s going to blow everybody else away down at the drag strip or off a stoplight. And there’s all these different, great ways in, and so I love that you came in the performance route. But I got to back up a second. You just glossed over this very humbly, I might add, of that you were involved with the first Fast & The Furious movie. So you got to back up and tell that story real quick.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. I’ve had a variety of interesting life experiences with this hobby that somehow has started into a career. I was involved in the first one. Actually the filming we were doing, ironically in the arc of my life, was a block away from where our office is in Hawthorne. At the time I wasn’t even living in California. So there’s always some great ironies of life when you look back of here I am modifying electric cars in an office a block away from… 1999 or 2000 we were filming in Hawthorne on Prairie Ave. doing the street-racing scene, and that’s now famous with and Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. I was out there for a week overnight filming that. So life is strange how things twist and turn, but somehow there’s still a running a plot line through all of it, at least in my arc of what I’ve been doing with modifying cars.

So yeah, I was involved in the first one, primarily as an extra. I spent a week in Hawthorne during that street racing scene and another week at the airport in San Bernardino doing the Race Wars scene. And then I came back helping them with movie cars for Tokyo Drift, and then for the fourth one as well, working with Dennis McCarthy, who have managed picture cars for the franchise. And then kind of fell out of it. I love what they’ve done from a commercialization standpoint, but I’m a purist. And I felt like the first movie represented the street racing scene and the car world, that it was fairly authentic as a car movie. And over time it’s become just another Mission Impossible or Bond kind of franchise, which is great for them, it prints money for them. But from a car-enthusiast standpoint, it lost some of the purity a long time ago.

Ryan McCaffrey:        And I want to touch base back on one other thing you said, too. So I was asking you how you got into Tesla and you mentioned your 2013 P85+. One, I’m curious if you still have that car. And two, did you buy the car sight… Was that the first Tesla you drove period, was actually ordering, or had you managed to get a little seat time with a Model S or an original Roadster prior to actually pushing the button to order the car?

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah, good questions. I had it for a long time. We ended up selling it off about three years ago, but we ended up doing our refresh… We have a refresh front bumper that makes the old cars look newer. So it ended up looking like a much newer car with the color change. And it was a beautiful, great car for a long time. Don’t have it anymore. And yes, either by luck and some magical brilliance or stupidity, I had never driven a Tesla until I bought one. A I figured that with the cars being designed right next door to me and budding relationship with amazing neighbors, it was something that I needed to take seriously and explore. And I just went full in, at least as someone to purchase. What I thought was it’d an amazing daily driver and I would enjoy it and learn about our neighbors. Who knows?

I didn’t think, oh, this is going to change every minute of how I spent my day. Because what happened next was some people talk about being all in on the stock. For us it was a little bit different. I was all in on adding value to the ecosystem that Tesla had. Because from that moment forward, I announced to my team that we’re pivoting and every dollar that we’d earned for Bulletproof was going to fund a new brand, which ended up becoming Unplugged Performance. And it’s fairly capital-intensive because in the aftermarket most companies deal with products that already exist. If you want to upgrade brakes or suspension, you can source those things. But in this case, there was no one who had ever made suspension for a Tesla or brakes for a Tesla or body panels for a Tesla. The only thing that anyone had ever done was vinyl wraps and stereo systems.

So we had to create the parts from scratch for a customer that didn’t exist. And then we had to explain to people why this actually wasn’t a bad idea to actually want to modify a Tesla because everyone was very fearful of even touching the cars early on. And that evolved over time from trying to advocate why this might not be a stupid idea and could actually be fun to creating community events, to creating our TeslaCorsa Track Day series that we have done 25 or so now to get people to experience their cars in a safe environment at higher speeds. It really was creating an aftermarket in… But when I say aftermarket, what I really mean was creating a car culture in the way that I’m used to seeing it.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Yeah, and communities.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. From zero. And it was fascinating. Even these big industry trade shows like SEMA, we were the first to bring a Tesla to SEMA. And I remember every step of the way the amazing biases people have. Sometimes amazement, sometimes just pure anger of like, you’re an intruder. You shouldn’t be here. What is this thing? And there was a level of education and experience that needed to be conveyed and taught. And we felt that that was a responsibility that was important to us to do our best to tell that story. And it was a really stupid, dangerous, bad business choice because we bet everything we had on something where there was no customers. But like many people who I’m sure you’ve talked to, our conviction in what Tesla’s mission was and continues to be unshakeable.

Ryan McCaffrey:        No, I love that. I think for a lot of people listening to me and listening to this podcast, and I know it’s the case for me, once I drove a Tesla, I couldn’t think about anything else anymore. Not that I’m completely dismissive of gasoline cars. I mean, if I could get my hands on another DeLorean, which is… I owned a DeLorean for a long time. I would do it tomorrow if another-

Ben Schaffer:  Sure.

Ryan McCaffrey:        There’s still a love there, but I just didn’t… I just knew this was the future. I had the lucky experience that I talked about in my very first episode, years and years ago, for me, it was the original Roadster in 2009 that I got to drive. And it was like I was Neo seeing the code in The Matrix, you know what I mean?

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Like I was seeing everything through a new lens, so I know exactly where you’re coming from on that.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. I definitely felt too many pains of being too early in 2013. So I’m perhaps lucky I didn’t see that in 2009, because already 2013 to 2017, I felt like I was just arguing against a wall and no one believed what I was saying. Same with SpaceX. Our neighbors are SpaceX and I’ve been arguing the values of SpaceX for a long time. And until they started landing rockets, people didn’t jump on the bandwagon. And now everything Elon touches everyone assumes is going to be a home run because he’s racked up some success, but early on that was not the vibe. The vibe was pretty much these guys are going to fail. They’re doing crazy stuff that doesn’t make any sense. And it took people to bet with their time and with their money and to advocate that this is the future that will work.

But yeah, 2009, honestly, I was a little negative on the Roadster when I saw it. And I have to say as a car purist, I thought it was a weird choice that they took a Lotus, which their philosophy is lightweight, and added a bunch of weight on the batteries. And I saw that and I’m like, yeah, I don’t know if I agree with that conceptually. But obviously, it was the right choice and it worked and it led to all these amazing things. But as a car purist, I always think about how to make the car more of something that it was designed to be. And that felt like it was changing the character of the car in an unusual way. Granted it was probably born out of constraints of what was available for a chassis.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Exactly. Yeah. You’d probably have a unique perspective on this because I’ve always been of the opinion that things like Insane Mode and later Ludicrous Mode and Plaid, that these things exist, yes, because Tesla can do them and they’re fun. But to me, I’ve always thought that those were kind of the secret weapon to get traditional car guys, car culture guys, to have a little bit of interest and dare I say, even a little respect for electric cars. When you start seeing this progression over time and now, I imagine you could speak to this rather well in what you’re seeing in your clientele and just the traffic to your website, and every aspect of your business, that as the electric cars, and Teslas specifically, are pushing this performance envelope, it’s getting more attention and more, dare I say, credibility from the traditional car culture and performance car world, right?

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. I think it can almost be summed up as anyone who believes in this mission is eager to show why this is the superior way. And when it comes to technology, there should be a natural drive, both from Tesla and from the car-enthusiast community to show that this is the best way to accomplish something across a million different hats that it wears. You talk about the entry point of people entering because of environmental reasons or because it’s a great, comfortable daily driver, or because it goes fast in a straight line, or whatever it is. What I look at in terms of… Because again, I’m not just a shareholder, I’m very much an activist in trying to push the message forward. So what I look at is where does the message get lost and how do I fight for it? So one of the reasons that we raced at Pikes Peak and created TeslaCorsa events is because when you say, “The car’s really fast in a straight line,” what I hear is the car’s not great at Laguna Seca or at Pikes Peak.

And what I want to do is prove that it is. I want to beat hybrid cars not in a straight line. That’s already done. I want to beat them around the Nürburgring and Laguna Seca and Pikes Peak because that’s still fresh territory to conquer. And I think that the nature of what you’re describing early on is very much just Elon and the engineering team’s confidence that this car can be great everything, but they have to prove that bit by bit. And every step of the way there were technology hurdles that weren’t yet ready. A great example is my old Model S was a great car in a straight line, but after a minute it would overheat on the racetrack. So it was not a really fun car to bring to Buttonwillow or Laguna Seca because you got a minute and then you got frustrated, whereas the new generation of car is far superior at that.

So over time, the remaining things that Tesla doesn’t win on get chipped away. People can argue about range, but at a certain point range becomes a number that has no meaning because you don’t want to drive that long without taking a break. All these things become metrics that at some point don’t matter anymore as the technology thrives and wins. And we’re just trying to be an accelerant in that conceptually, as far as showing new things a Tesla can do better, and that’s not limited to lap times in racing. It can be off-roading. It can be comfort. It could be helping to extend the range. One of the products that we have which doesn’t fit really many unique aspects is we developed in CFD parts that help the car go a further range more efficiently for the Model 3. We call it an Efficiency Package.

There’s always things we can do to make the car better, and that’s the beauty of the aftermarket. So the thing about us, by the way, and this is a question that I want to dispel. Some people say, “Oh, you think you’re smarter than Tesla. You can do things they can’t do.” No, that’s 100% not it. We do the things that they don’t want to do and can’t do because they’re a large car manufacturer. So when we add range to a car, what we’re doing are things that they maybe didn’t want to do because of either some obscure homologation rule for selling a car overseas, like one of them is there’s a ramp angle of how you can load a car into a ferry. We don’t care about loading cars into ferries. So the angle in which we design our front lip spoiler doesn’t abide by that, and we’re cheating that system and maybe Tesla could have done it and didn’t. Don’t know.

But most of the advantages we have is we play by a different rule book in terms of the options we can take. And for Tesla, they want to make one thing and make it a million times. So it’s not that we’re smarter or better, it’s just that we play by a different rule set.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Right. And they’re KPIs, as it were, are different. They could maybe do the things that you’re doing. Not maybe, they definitely could. But what’s the ROI on that for them when they’re a publicly traded company that has their own…

Ben Schaffer:  And the key thing is not so much ROI as opportunity costs, which is the same subject, but the opportunity cost of taking their eye off the ball of high-scale production is very painful. So they just don’t have the bandwidth to even think about these things.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Yeah. No, and it’s funny. I was going to ask you, and you kind of answered the question already. I was going to say that Unplugged Performance moving in right next door to the Tesla Design Studio had to be intentional, but in fact-

Ben Schaffer:  Not at all.

Ryan McCaffrey:        … it sounds like it was a complete freak coincidence that has changed your life.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. We were actually here before they were, technically. Yeah. So I started in 2000 and our offices were down the street in Gardena in 2004. I think Tesla opened up here, I want to say 2008 if I had to guess. So we’ve been in the neighborhood before they were really active, and it’s just pure coincidence, which is kind of cool.

Ryan McCaffrey:        That’s really great. Now, presumably, it was on your 2013, P85+ Model S. Do you remember your first Tesla modification to your own car, no matter how small it may have been?

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. Well, it was a lot of things at once. So once I decided that this needed to happen, and by I decided it needed to happen what I mean is creating this idea of modifying electric cars as an enthusiast movement, there’s a recipe for making that work. And that recipe is very similar. My older origins of ushering in some Japanese cartooning was the same idea. You kind of learn what excites people and what’s fun to do. So we started by hiring a carbon fiber manufacturing team. We brought in the guy from Italy, from Ferrari’s Formula 1 team. We brought in a guy from Seattle, from Boeing. And we started from scratch, all in-house, making body panels out of carbon fiber that made the car look exciting.

So the first things we did was basically make a carbon fiber arrow kit. We lowered the car. We put some 22-inch wheels on it. And we brought it out to an event called TMC Connect back, I want to say, in 2013 or 2014 as kind of the first car that had a whole bunch of modifications done to it. And the reality for a car enthusiast is most people start by looking at something and saying, “That excites me.” And then they go deeper into what does it drive like and what does it brake like? But the first step, you have to hook someone visually and say, “Oh, that’s something that I’m interested in and I want to learn more about.” So without that, nothing starts.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Oh, that’s cool. No, that’s awesome. Now, speaking of cool, you recently… There was a post from none other than Mr.Franz von Holzhausen himself, the chief designer at Tesla. He brought his personal Model 3 to you guys for some mods. So I’m curious, what did Franz have done and what was it like to just have him in the shop and just chat, talk Tesla with him a little bit?

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. I’m grateful we can talk about this because this is not a new thing. This has been around for a while. Franz was a customer of ours pretty close to when the Model 3 came out with that car. And our default is that we don’t name customers or talk about things unless we’re granted the opportunity to, because I feel like that trust is oftentimes… Trust is misused very often. And as full disclosure, we’re under NDA with Tesla so we’re pretty much used to saying nothing about anything.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Yeah. Makes sense.

Ben Schaffer:  I’m accustomed to that. So it was only recently that I was chatting with Franz and he was like, “Yeah, talk about it. It’s cool. No big deal.” So I’m thankful that I can even talk about it because if you imagine our excitement and just pride of being a part of this visionary guy who designed the car, of seeing our parts on his car, we spent four years saying nothing. And every time people would see the car and see that it was lowered on our suspension, we were silent and no one knew anything about it. So it was one of those things where we love our clients, whoever they are, but this one’s very special to us because he created these amazing cars that we get to modify.

And yeah, since then we’ve done a bunch of updates to it, which is really fun. At this point, we have our suspension, our coilover suspension on it, which is adjustable for height and for ride comfort. We have our sway bars on it. We have all of our suspension arms on it, front and back for comfort and adjustability and adjustability of alignment. We have all of our brakes on it as well. We have a big brake kit on there now with our carbon ceramic rotors, front and back. Everything basically that we do that doesn’t touch design is on there. And as you can imagine, I’m a little bit apprehensive to change the design of a designer’s car because we really don’t want to step on their toes there. This is his baby, as far as how it looks, so I leave that to him.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. I had the pleasure of interviewing him on episode 220. Yeah. Same thing. It was just really cool to get to talk to the guy that designed my car that I love so much. It was just a-

Ben Schaffer:  It’s amazing. Yeah.

Ryan McCaffrey:        I’d never had that experience with any other car. I’ve never met any of the other car designers of cars I’ve had before so that was fun.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. I’ve thankfully had the pleasure of working closely with [Hiroshi] Tamura-San, who developed the R35 [GT-R for Nissan], and [Tesuya] Tada-San, who developed the 86 for Toyota. So I’m used to working with engineers and designers, but in this case [Franz,] he’s our neighbor and our client and our inspiration so it’s very special. It’s a very special relationship.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Oh, that’s great. And we’re going to talk about another von Holzhausen a little later in this interview. We’ll get to that, but now I want to pivot to just talk a little racing for just a minute here. I’ve had Randy Pobst on the show after, I believe, his first Pikes Peak run.

Ben Schaffer:  Nice.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Now, Randy, a professional race car driver. He’d done a ton of work with Motor Trend and was this… How did you come to end up partnering up with Randy? How did that relationship start?

Ben Schaffer:  I end up with some really amazing collaborations that blow my own mind sometimes. The most recent one, which is the most obscure of all, is I partnered with Trey Parker from South Park, which is just like the weirdest collaboration because there’s no automotive connection. He’s not even a car guy. So that’s really unusual. Koenigsegg is another one which is unusual. So all of these things have this kind of strange unexpected thing. And I don’t have a perfect answer as to how we build these relationships other than I think just authenticity and passion. Anyone who looks at what we do can understand that we do it for the love, not for the money. And in most cases, we make choices that are really bad on the money side, but are just because it’s the purest way of doing things.

And while that doesn’t always bring in the big dollars, I think it brings in a lot of interesting relationships and respect because people know that we come with a pure heart. And Randy, I think, was a very similar way where he could just tell we were really excited about this. And I told him that I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. He’s an American icon and legend in motor sports. Even in college, I had one of his cars on my wall going way back. So for Randy, the origins of it were that I wanted someone who had driven and experienced every kind of car to help us on product development to give us feedback on our suspension and to get involved in TeslaCorsa.

So what we did was we brought him out to drive a bunch of our different packages on the Model 3 to give continuous feedback on our suspension. And we did a really cool driver coaching experience for all of our TeslaCorsa drivers, where Randy spent an hour in the classroom and talked about driving technique and then did some one-on-ones with some of the guys, and it was really fun. And then from there, he always said he wanted to run Pikes Peak. I’d wanted to run Pikes Peak. I wanted to run a team to do it. Actually, we were going to go into Pikes Peak a couple years before that. And we had a partner who was going to share half the cost in Europe, who after we paid our entry fee, ended up flaking on us and we had to kind of bail out.

But yeah, fun and strange fact, we were going to race a older Model S P85D against Faraday, and we were going to have Dai [Yoshihara] as our driver, who now races for Evasive. We were signed up and then we couldn’t afford to foot the bill on our own and we lost our other partner. So that got delayed a couple years, and the rest is history.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Well, yeah, that history. So second year now for Pikes Peak with the Model S Plaid. And I just want to back up to last year with this because I was just having fun following along with this whole thing as you guys were just working around the clock to get it done because Pikes Peak came. It hit right… The Model S Plaid, the first deliveries were whatever, June. You probably remember the date exactly. It was somewhere around like June 12th, June 10th, something like that. Right in the middle of June there. I was at the launch event, first customer deliveries. And you had to put together a car, a Plaid for Pikes Peak in literal days. And then you ran a heck of an event afterward. You guys did great.

Ben Schaffer:  Thank you. Yeah, that was quite an experience. Yeah. They launched the Plaid and it was either 24 or 48 hours later we were racing the Plaid race car at Laguna Seca. That was our initial test. And we always try to do a little bit of shakedown and dial the car in before we get to Pikes Peak, but this was a real, real challenging schedule to accomplish. And it caught a lot of people by surprise because we were messaging to everyone we were going to race our Model 3 again. And we were actually building the Model 3 for a while to do that. And then did a last minute pivot, which I think surprised a lot of people.

Ryan McCaffrey:        I expect, or I suspect that a lot of the other driving teams were asking a lot of questions about the Plaid that first year.

Ben Schaffer:  What’s fascinating, still is that I think people are still wrapping their heads around whether a Tesla can be a great race car, and the lap times, I think, are a resounding yes. But on paper, it’s a very strange car to race. Even this year, or last year for that matter, we’re racing at Pikes Peak, and Pikes Peak is not a normal thing. Most people, when they think about racing, they think, oh, how does this compare to this car that I know? How does this compare it to Lamborghini or a McLaren? Pikes Peak has roughly 90 entries and the cars there, most of them are absurd, crazy, dedicated from the ground up race builds to just do one thing, which is to race this mountain. And those cars usually weigh 2,000 pounds less than our four-door, daily-driven, mass-produced sedan.

So when you build a race car that weighs almost 5,000 pounds and has four doors and two trunks and autopilot and all these crazy things, and you race against purpose-built race cars, no one really knows how to interpret that. Everyone thinks it’s just strange, because it is strange. It’s strange that the Plaid with motorsports equipment like we do can even be in the conversation against purpose-built race cars that are just a totally different platform and design, and everything is different. Nonetheless, it happens to go really fast and we’re always mind-boggled over it. An example of a car that I love looking at. They’re just a fascinating debate is Porsche has many, many fast cars. I’m a big fan of Porsche. When you look at their 911, it’s iconic. They have the GT3, which is fast. They have a GT3 RS, which is faster. They have the GT2 RS, which is the fastest.

And then they have this multimillion-dollar, they call it a 935, which is so fast that it’s not street-legal. It costs a couple million dollars and it’s basically Porsche’s unlimited budget modification version of their fastest car, which is GT2 RS. And that car has raced the past two years with the driver Jeffrey Zwart, who is a legend. Very, very famous driver. Raced that mountain many times. And I love comparing our Plaid versus that because it’s just such an absurd comparison to think a company like Porsche with their fastest car and unlimited budget versus a car that is a mass-production sedan that we’ve modified, should these things even be debated? It makes it interesting to even have the conversation. And it just so happens that we were faster. If you combine qualifying and the midsection, we were faster than that car with the Plaid this year, which I didn’t even expect to be a conversation.

In the end, the event was a challenge for other reasons. But in terms of the ability to put down power and brake and handle cornering and do all the dynamic things that separate an event like this from drag racing, this goes back to the earlier conversation. We all want to advocate that electric cars have benefits for a wide variety of use cases. Trying to take a really heavy, mass-produced car and race against the best car Porsche can make for the unlimited budget they have, and having it be even in the conversation, nevermind a split second faster, mind-blowing even to me and we put a lot of time into this. It shouldn’t even be possible, but the technology underpinning the Plaid is so good that these things are even a possibility.

Ryan McCaffrey:        And Mother Nature did you in this year, did she not?

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. There’s a lot of sayings. About Pikes Peak regarding a race against the mountain, a race against nature. They say the mountain decides. There’s all these different things because it’s… The mountain does decide. When you race against an environment, usually it’s a track like Laguna Seca or these kinds of things. That track is always the same. You can go there and you can learn from your past experiences and you can maybe test a few times and you can dial it in. Pikes Peak is just the most frustrating, crazy, stupid, amazing… It’s an extreme race on all levels. And the reason I say that is because the road actually moves week by week. Because the climate and the mountain changes and moves and the expansion with temperature changes, the real conditions are different every year, and they’re terrible to begin with.

So in the best case, they’re terrible. In a worst case they’re deadly. And that’s just the road conditions. And then you have the fact that the weather changes based on altitude. So you might have good or bad weather at different sections of the track. And then you only get to do the damn race one time a year and you don’t ever get to practice it. You actually can’t ever run it during practice. You can only run sections. You can’t run the whole thing. So you go up there, you spend all this time to prepare to do something. In our case, it takes about a month of preparation to even get up there. And then the bottom line is you don’t really have much control over a whole lot. You make the car as fast as you can make it. You get the driver prepared as they can be. And then on race day, it is what it is. And there’s no other race that I know of that can be that frustrating where you can have all these what ifs and no answers for any of them. And Pikes Peak is definitely that.

Ryan McCaffrey:        There’s something here about that though, right?

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah, exactly. I mean, what makes it frustrating is what makes it unique, which is what makes it amazing, which is what hooks you. And this is the challenge that I was kind of joking about after this last race is I feel like the year before we won our division against some open-wheel race cars and some really, really, really crazy stuff. And when you win, you feel like you have to go back to defend your victory.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Sure.

Ben Schaffer:  And then if you don’t do well and something happens, you feel like you have to go back to see what it could have done. And you start running through these scenarios and you realize, oh damn. I’m signed up for life because no matter what happens, I feel like I have to go back. There’s very few scenarios where you think, okay, I’ve done that. I’m finished. I’ve proven what I need to prove. So it hooks people and people go back over and over because there’s always unfinished business up there.

Ryan McCaffrey:        So what lessons from this year are you going to apply for next year?

Ben Schaffer:  First of all, as heartbreaking as it was that we couldn’t get a full run in, for people who probably don’t know anything about what I’m talking about, what happened this past the year last month was that we had horrible weather where there was no visibility. There was really heavy fog and drivers couldn’t see. And we had a much more extreme disadvantage in that about halfway through the race, our windshield fogged up in the direct location of line of sight for the driver. So you couldn’t see through the windshield, and even if you could, you couldn’t see outside. So it was being blindfolded twice. And the challenge was in a conventional car that has knobs or dials, the driver would know how to just turn that and crank the defroster up. In our case, the windows were down. So that was potentially helpful, but not enough. And the defroster was on, but it wasn’t on max.

And it was an oversight for us that this could even be a possibility with the windows down and the defroster on like level two or three. And yeah, in hindsight, if we ran the defroster on max, or if maybe we did some anti-fog treatments of the windshield or something else, in hindsight, there’s a lot of easy ways we could have solved it. But the nature of Pikes Peak is that it’s always something like this that gets you. There’s an infinite number of problems lurking around the corner. Usually those problems are damage to the car during practice and parts breaking and failing so we bring a lot of spares now. In fact, I jokingly say the best way to prepare for Pikes Peak is to have a second car on standby, which we had to do our first time when we totaled our Model 3 and had to buy another card to rebuild our first car to get up to the top of the mountain on race day.

It’s an event that’s extremely stupid to do. And if you’re dumb enough to do it, you need to be ready to fight to the death to get it done, which is a real test of character. And in our case when we had to rebuild a totaled car that had the frame bent and the drive units broken front and back, and the subframes broken front and back, and everyone told us we couldn’t rebuild it, the only reason I think we did was because it was Tesla. When I thought about it with our previous experience, with other cars, it’s kind of like okay, it didn’t work out for me. I’m going to go home. But with Tesla, with what we were doing, something…

It’s in the water here in Hawthorne. I jokingly say that, but really it’s being around SpaceX and being around Tesla as our neighbors that I feel like it changed us, not because we are Tesla stockholders or invest in Unplugged, but because we think more deeply about adversity being just something that can be overcome versus something to quit. And we fight a lot deeper than most people are willing to fight. And we don’t really know when to give up because that’s part of the Tesla and SpaceX DNA. And I think we just kind of absorbed some of that.

Ryan McCaffrey:        I want to talk about another awesome thing you guys have going on, because there are many, and that is your recent partnership with Koenigsegg. So you and Koenigsegg are teaming up to make a bunch of carbon fiber stuff for all of the four Teslas. I got to know how that came to be because at some point that must have been either a fun phone call or something. I mean, I have heard, I’ve read that Christian von Koenigsegg is a Tesla fan himself.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah, yeah.

Ryan McCaffrey:        I’ve even heard that he has a Model 3 as a daily driver. I don’t know if that’s true.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah.

Ryan McCaffrey:        But I’m curious how this partnership comes about.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah, we’re very fortunate that we have these partners who arguably don’t need us at all. They just happen to like us and want to see us succeed. And that’s an amazing bit of goodwill that we… It’s never lost on us. Koenigsegg, for anyone who doesn’t know, is similar to brands like Ferrari and Bugatti that are just really, really uncompromising, expensive cars. The difference is arguably-

Ryan McCaffrey:        They make hypercars.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. Arguably Koenigsegg’s cars are better than a Ferrari or Bugatti because they outperform them. They cost more and they’re just more special. I think they start about $5 million a car. So it’d be the same thing if someone said, “Oh, Ferrari’s manufacturing for us.” It’s like that, except Koenigsegg is actually even a smaller company and even harder to get to become a partner. And they make the best stuff in the world as far as I’m concerned.

So it’s unusual that they’d manufacture parts for us on the same assembly line as their $5 million cars, because we’re having parts made that even will go on a Model Y. It’s a very weird concept that you have only $5 million cars and then Model Y parts. It’s hard to justify, but it’s exactly what you described. The Christian von Koenigsegg, the founder, I’ve always thought of him very similarly to how I think of Elon in terms of being a very pure engineer. The difference is they work from different constraints. Engineering, it starts with what’s the problem you’re trying to solve. In Elon’s case, that’s very well-known, the problem he’s trying to solve, and he’s done a fantastic job of staying focused on that through all of his enterprises.

Christian’s problem he is trying to solve is totally different. He just wants to make the ultimate driving experience. Doesn’t care what it costs and he doesn’t care if he has one customer. He just wants to build an uncompromising tour de force of engineering and technology. But both people are purists in that engineering drives them, and they’re both amazing innovators. They just innovate on different metrics. So it’s no question or surprise that Christian von Koenigsegg admires what Tesla’s done, Elon’s done because engineers are fans of engineers. And both of them, I think, are very much leaders in their field. They’re just operating at different things.

So for us, what I think about is how to make the ultimate Tesla and the ultimate experience for Tesla owners. And I always thought, man, if I can merge these worlds somehow, like bring the best of both, that would be an amazing value to be created for anyone who likes cars. So Christian, a handful of years ago, similar to Franz became a customer. And I had learned that he was actively involved driving a Model 3 and also a Model S. He drives both. And ended up becoming also close with a number of people on their team, including their head designer who previously designed the Bugatti Chiron. He also designed the Lamborghini Huracán. He designed the Koenigsegg Gemera. So their designer is a friend and we’re doing some projects with him separately. And then Christian von Koenigsegg and their team said, “Hey, our factory’s your factory. Let’s talk about engineering and production and we can do stuff together.” And so we’ve been working together on a handful of things that are just trying to have fun and make cool stuff.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Well, for my audience, that’s curious that might like, well, wait a second. Can I get a Koenigsegg Unplugged Performance carbon fiber piece for my car? You’ve got spoilers, right? Are there anything else? What’s the lineup of the Koenigsegg stuff?

Ben Schaffer:  Spoiler alert. Yeah. Yeah. We definitely have spoilers for the Model S, for the Model X, Model 3, and Model Y. We have a handful of things that are evolving. We have some front fenders for the Model 3, which are probably way too expensive for that car, but are beautiful. But what’s interesting is we’re going to do some lifestyle stuff that anyone can get, so that’s going to be pretty fun. Actually, one of the things that maybe is a theme is I like working with people that inspire me and I like kind of connecting the dots of inspiration. So we’re coming up with something that we haven’t talked about yet, but it’s small but neat. We’re making a key chain that’s Koenigsegg carbon fiber, and that utilizes von Holzhausen Banbū Leather as well.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Oh, cool.

Ben Schaffer:  So we’re kind of linking together all the people that we love. It’s going to be a Koenigsegg, von Holzhausen, Unplugged little mini product. It’s not going to be super expensive. Anyone can get it. Stupid little things that make us happy. So we’re doing stuff like that as well. Just trying to bring a piece of the best of the world to others, because a lot of car fans, I think, appreciate Koenigsegg and these best-in-the-world things, but are not going to spend $5 million on a car. So if I can get them a key chain for less than $100 or whatever it is, it’s being able to touch something that previously was untouchable.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Oh, I love that. I love that. Now, speaking of von Holzhausen, as you just mentioned, that is Vicki von Holzhausen, Franz’s wife. She’s an accomplished automotive designer herself-

Ben Schaffer:  Yes.

Ryan McCaffrey:        … who now does vegan fashion design. You have partnered up with her to offer the aforementioned. You mentioned the Banbū Leather. It is a vegan material made from bamboo. You are doing custom interiors with this material. How does that work? So you got to give me the origin story here. Does this happen through Franz? Does Vicki reach out after Franz is talking about you at home? What’s the origin there?

Ben Schaffer:  Oh, man. Yeah, I’m trying to think of how it even started. So a little bit of background. Franz and Vicki met through the automotive industry when they were both working at GM. And Vicki has had an amazing career, mostly on interiors. I believe she worked for Mercedes as well. And people oftentimes confuse von Holzhausen because the last name now is iconic with Franz, as being Franz’s company. It is not. It is definitely Vicki’s business. Franz has got his hands full with doing plenty of stuff with Tesla. So this is really Vicki’s thing.

And Vicki, I think, found a very amazing opportunity and that she recognized that if she can innovate a material science and create a product that arguably is better than leather, that feels and looks like leather but that is eco-friendly, that that’s a big opportunity for the world to experience. And she created this company, which the real strength of the business is the intellectual property they created around these different materials that can be used for a million different things. And I’ve been following her journey for a while, which up until recently was you see mostly media around women’s handbags and accessories, and then they sell to Apple. There’s some Apple product.

So it was always something in the back of my mind of why can’t this be applied to automotive? It makes perfect sense. And I think that the philosophy that most people that listen to this podcast share, which is Tesla’s philosophy, is this idea of sustainability. And in my point of view, my philosophy is more specifically sustainability without compromising the quality and value of whatever you’re doing. I want sustainability without any compromise. And she has just made these amazing materials that can be applied to anything. And I think she has a really strong future in hopefully a lot of car manufacturers maybe using this material because I think it makes a really great interior. But this is probably still early days for that, so we have the amazing situation where we’re basically a first customer for this material use that obviously works well for… And we have a collaboration backpack that’s co-branded. Unplugged von Holzhausen backpack. It works great for backpacks. It works great for laptop bags and for all the things they’ve been doing. But automotive seating makes perfect sense, so we’re out there doing that now.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Yeah. And on that note, there’s one car for sure that exists so far and that car is a new Model S and it is up for a raffle on Omaze that benefits charity. It benefits the JuJu Foundation.

Ben Schaffer:  Yes.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Now, the von Holzhausen interior package with the Banbū that Unplugged Performance offers, it is not cheap. It is a $30,000 interior package. So I’m just curious. I mean, that’s a lot of money by any metric, and I’m not saying it isn’t worth it because I haven’t experienced it, but that’s actually exactly what I want to ask you. Can you describe to me and to anybody listening how it really feels both to the touch, but also the vibe of it? Can you do your best to kind of quantify what this experience is like with this material, with the von Holzhausen interior?

Ben Schaffer:  Absolutely. Yeah. Well, first of all, it’s important for us that you don’t need to spend $30,000 to experience it. We’re doing these key chains and backpacks and other items that we’re a part of where you can have that at a fraction of that cost and experience it. But yeah, the feeling of it is… Well, the Banbū Leather in particular. They have two different kinds of leather. They have a Technik-Leather, which is, amazingly, I can’t figure this out, made out of recycled plastic bottles, which is mind-blowing, and plant material combined. And then the Banbū Leather, which is made out of bamboo, obviously. Both of them are amazing. The backpack is made out of the leather that uses the recycled bottles and plant product, and then the Banbū Leather is what we do on the car interiors.

Both of them are a little bit different. The backpack has more of a textured surface, if you will. And the Banbū is a smooth surface, but the Banbū… I’ll give you an example. Previous to this, we’ve always done custom interiors. Actually, one of the recipe of our original 2013 Model S was we ripped out the full interior and we made the whole interior out of Alcantara, which is a man-made material. And I would maybe argue that might have been one of the first vegan interiors. We actually jokingly called it a vegan interior back then, because for us, we didn’t feel there was a demand for it. We just thought it was almost funny that there was no leather in it. But yeah, back then we were using Alcantara to do the full interior of that car. And in this case…

Oh, yeah. What I was getting to was that we used to use Ferrari leather, Porsche leather, Rolls-Royce leather. Whatever customers would ask us to source, we would get the highest grade materials and use it. I would say the Banbū Leather is very similar to Ferrari leather. I would argue that it actually feels a little bit better than Ferrari leather. And it also has a couple benefits of being lighter weight for automotive purists, and being more resistant to wear. It has more resistance to stains and to wrinkles. I think it’ll wear a lot better over time, although it’s still pretty early.

So for me, it’s always great when you feel like you have a product that wins at everything and is good for the environment because then you can sleep well at night and also know that you have the best stuff. And I think we’re at an inflection point as far as materials for automotive use and otherwise where it’s kind of like Beyond Meat and the various meat companies. I’m not sure that’s really perfected yet, but I feel like in a handful of years I’m going to be able to have the best meat ever that’s synthetic versus natural. And I feel like where maybe they are now with interiors, where this has no compromise and is better than animal-based leather already.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Yeah. And I’m even starting to finally see other automakers advertise specifically vegan interior, which was not a thing we saw up until Tesla really started pushing that envelope the last few years.

Ben Schaffer:  It’s great there’s awareness for it. Yeah. I mean, it was unfortunate that the customers never had a choice originally. I think the choice is the most important thing, and thankfully we’re at a reflection point where people are knowing they can ask for it. And that’s really great because everything is consumer-driven. On our side, we started Unplugged when there was no customer and tried to go top down and to show our philosophy and create a community. But the most powerful thing is when community asks for things, the market comes to them. So if people ask for this stuff, it’ll continue to grow.

Ryan McCaffrey:        And to give it a plug here, because again… Actually, can you speak a little bit more about the specific, the car, the Unplugged Performance-modified Model S that is being raffled because, again, A, it’s for a good cause. The raffle tickets, I actually bought some myself. I went on Omaze.

Ben Schaffer:  Oh, thank you.

Ryan McCaffrey:        And I entered.

Ben Schaffer:  That’s cool.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Because why not? And it’s supporting the JuJu Foundation. But you guys have done quite a number on this car, aside from the interior.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah. We’ve done a lot. So Omaze, by the way, is a fantastic organization. They’ve raised a ton of money for charity and they partner with different charities and give away everything from homes to all kinds of crazy stuff. And they do some high-end cars. Originally, I think the first Tesla Omaze gave away was Kimbal Musk’s original Model 3.

Ryan McCaffrey:        I remember that.

Ben Schaffer:  Which was kind of neat, back in the day. And yeah, so we have this thing we call the S-APEX program. A lot of our branding terminology is borrowed from SpaceX. So we have the Ascension, the APEX. These kind of things are rocketry terms is how we kind of think of it just as an ode to our neighbors. Our S-APEX is what we consider to be the pinnacle of what the Model S can be. It’s a carbon fiber wide-body with upgraded suspension, brakes, wheels, and we do a full custom interior on the car. We’ve been making S-APEXs for about four or five years now. They generally run about $130,000 plus the base car. So it’s like a $250-260,000 car. It’s definitely not for everyone, but we feel that the pinnacle of what the Model S Plaid performance can be is this. This is our best version or our apex of what the technology can bring for a perfect street-driven car.

And for the interiors, thankfully now von Holzhausen material is a possibility. This is the first one that we’ve done that is not animal leather and that is von Holzhausen leather. I hope we get to do many more like that. And Omaze is taking this amazing car and having it up as a raffle. Someone’s going to win it for not that much of an investment. And we’ve done this a couple times with Omaze. This is our second S-APEX and our third or fourth car in general. And we’re actually just starting another really cool project for Omaze that’ll debut in November.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Excellent.

Ben Schaffer:  Again, one of these things where you can feel like you’re doing something awesome, and also feel like you’re adding to humanity is a really, really nice win-win. I love those things.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Yeah. And for anybody interested that wants to get some raffle tickets and have a chance to win this, again, money’s going to a good cause, you can go on Omaze.com And just search for it. Or it’s also there. I found there’s a nice, easy link, right on vonHolzhausen.com/pages/unplugged-performance. That’s another way into that Omaze giveaway as well.

Now, Ben, before I let you go, I was poking around the website to get ready for this interview and I saw that you’ve got a couple of other interesting things on that website of yours. Under Cybertruck it says, “We are working on the ultimate version of the Tesla Cybertruck that will allow our customers to experience the electrified off-roading and high performance like nothing out there. The complete Unplugged Performance Cybertruck conversion program is set to be released in…” Well, I guess you’ve got to update the date on there.

Ben Schaffer:  We all do.

Ryan McCaffrey:        It says late 2022.

Ben Schaffer:  Yeah, we’re all in that boat.

Ryan McCaffrey:        We’ll have to switch that up a little bit. Are you doing a big old cool lift kit for the Cybertruck?

Ben Schaffer:  We should update it to just two weeks and just continuous two weeks.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Yeah. Check back in two weeks.

Ben Schaffer:  It’ll be ready in two weeks. Yeah. Yeah, we definitely have some exciting plans for the Cybertruck. It’s too early to get too deep into what those plans are, but I think you can imagine. Much like when we opened this conversation and talked about there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. I always think about what’s the furthest potential of what the technology can be, and then I try to build that outcome. And the beauty for us is that Tesla always leaves stuff on the table because for Tesla, if they can’t make a million carbon copies of it, they’re probably not going to do it. So that leaves a lot of room for us to play in terms of all the… If you imagine the technology of what it can do and take it to the furthest extremes of different use cases, it’s a fascinating future ahead. So we got a lot of stuff in the works, but yeah, two weeks from now, we’ll see.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Well, you say that Tesla always leaves something on the table, and you’re mostly right, but the Roadster, the next-generation Tesla Roadster in theory should be a car that leaves nothing on the table but-

Ben Schaffer:  I disagree.

Ryan McCaffrey:        … on your website, yes. You have a Tesla Roadster section and where you specifically say, “We are working on the performance and visual products for the Tesla Roadster.” So any little hints as to what you’ve got in mind in either of those categories?

Ben Schaffer:  Well, bear in mind, even, I think, Tesla will say that until the product is ready they’re not even sure what they’re making because they change their mind quite a lot internally, as you can see. There’s twist and turns every product and development until launch day. And even after launch, you still see changes. Like on the Model S Plaid, we’ve seen so many changes. People think the taillights and headlights just retrofit, they do not. There’s a lot of changes on that car that happened even when the headlights and taillights changed. So I can’t speak nor can anyone on what the future will bring for the vehicle. What I can tell you is that any mass-produced car inherently leaves something on the table because they’re designing a car for someone’s grandmother to drive, maybe not the Roadster, but for most cars, they’re designing it for our friends in Norway with cold weather. They’re designing it for people of any age, people of any preference or style in terms of usability.

So you can always imagine there’s an opportunity to make a car that can go faster and be better just by changing the dials a little bit. Making it maybe a little bit less friendly as a daily driver and more attuned for the track or whatever it may be. And the other hint I will tell you is that one of the key reasons strategically why it was important for me to partner with Koenigsegg is because of the Roadster. We have an obvious price-point challenge of trying to offer Koenigsegg parts for a Model Y, but when it comes to the Roadster, we can take more liberties with the stuff we can develop because we feel that whatever the Roadster is, it’ll be a very good value and a high-volume hypercar.

And that always leaves an opportunity to have a car that is not as good of a value, but is much more uncompromising and extreme in terms of how it’s developed. And if you take our recipe and say, okay if our Model S Plaid is almost twice the price of the Model S and has all these amazing things, what can we do with twice the price of a Roadster? And the answer is a lot. So if there’s a customer that’ll support a Roadster at two X the price, we’re going to build something that is absolutely insane. And these things will happen for sure.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Oh, I look forward to seeing that. That’ll be cool. All right. Two more questions before I let you go here. I’ve kept you-

Ben Schaffer:  Bring it on.

Ryan McCaffrey:        … an hour already.

Ben Schaffer:  No, I love this. Keep it going.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Oh, I’m having a ball too. I appreciate your time. Are there any plans to work with non-Tesla EVs at Unplugged Performance?

Ben Schaffer:  It’s been so hard to develop such a wide range of products in terms of… In the aftermarket usually, companies are really good at one or two things. They’re really good at just making suspension, or really good at just making wheels, or really good at just making carbon fiber. For us to develop a complete car program, we had to become great at all the different components that make a car great. And most of the secret of that is that we recruit and attract the best talent and engineers of factories to accomplish it, which is not easy. So the root of your question is that the hard work is done. We know how to work with the best manufacturers and engineers to develop what we feel are some of the best products that someone like even Franz, who’s seen everything, chooses to trust us on that.

So we could do that for any car without that much work, because the hard stuff is done. However, we have a fierce loyalty to Tesla, which is, I think, obvious at this point. And also we’re quite busy trying to keep up with Tesla. The situation changed, where it used to be that we were fighting for people to want to buy Teslas and Teslas weren’t that popular. And we had very few people who we could even talk to about modifying. And it changed now where we have to run as fast as they run, which is near impossible. So we’re going as fast as we can on product development and engineering and staffing, and trying to just keep up because they keep making new cars and keep changing their cars. And every time they do that, we have to engineer new solutions. So we’re really busy.

And because we’re so busy, could we do the same things for a Lucid or a Rivian? Of course we could, and it probably would be relatively easy after all the stuff we’ve done, but I don’t really see a driving need for that on our end. And we love Tesla and there’s more work to be done.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Yeah. That’s totally fair. Yeah. I mean, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. It makes a lot of sense. All right. Last question for you, Ben, here. Share with me your vision for what Unplugged Performance looks like in five years from now.

Ben Schaffer:  Man. Well, I love pushing the envelope with Tesla and all the different products they have, so part of that would be trying to envision what products are out there in the market from Tesla in five years, but there’s always something exciting to try to make better or different. I really don’t think there’s going to be a point in time maybe ever for Tesla where they feel like they want to devote resources to motorsports or to custom work or whatever it may be. So I think we have a value add that we create for these different use cases. Another example, by the way, is we had a client with a wheelchair who wanted to buy a Model X Plaid. Desperately wanted it, but Tesla wouldn’t make any solution that would allow him to put the wheelchair in the back. And we were able to retrofit the car, and he’s driving a Model X Plaid and loving it, but he wouldn’t be in that car if there weren’t solutions being made.

So I think where we’re at in five years looks a lot like whatever the Tesla product roadmap is in five years. And what more niche use cases there are to either show the extremes of the technology through motorsports or show the use cases through different customizations. And our main focus is to whatever we do to build a car that looks, feels, and functions like Tesla could have made it themselves. Everything we do should look appropriate on a Tesla showroom floor, and should be something that doesn’t compromise in its aesthetic and its function. That’s really important to us. And I think the aftermarket generally fails pretty miserably at being too extreme in one category or another and not giving the cohesive design engineering thought that car manufacturers do. It’s really important for us to hit the right notes in terms of design and function. And yeah, as long as Tesla keeps growing, it’s impossible to even imagine where Tesla’s at in five years and the kind of work we have to do to keep up with that. But we’re having fun and just pushing.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Well. So, all right. So in five years, if Tesla wants to acquire Unplugged Performance to make you their M division as it were, would that be an awesome thing or would that be a… Are you just happy to kind of still have total control over your own thing and just be next door?

Ben Schaffer:  It’s hard to speculate on what ifs. The thing for us is really that we love the freedom and flexibility to add our own value as we see it onto the products. And for the moment it’s fantastic because we just go based on feeling. We go based on what we think the platform can need to benefit from. And that degree of freedom from design and engineering is fantastic that we can do that. And as long as we can keep doing that in some form or another, I’m very happy because I have the satisfaction of seeing smiling customer faces and changing how people think about Teslas and EVs doing these events. And man, I’ll give you a closing thought from my side, which is something-

Ryan McCaffrey:        Please.

Ben Schaffer:  That I share with people. People in the industry I share this with, not so much on podcasts. The most depressing thing for me before I started Unplugged was I felt like I was in a dying industry where everyone that was already a car enthusiast was in there, was going to phase out, and no one young was going to care. And the most uplifting thing that I have is seeing customers who have never modified a car before, never been to a track before, never done any of these things getting pulled in through Tesla, coming to us and seeing their excitement around going to car meets and going to events and hanging out with other people and talking about cars. And the friendships that are built around the car community are as important as the cars themselves.

And all of these things happen. All these things are happening for first-timers. And that’s the best thing ever is to see new people excited and passionate about cars. Because without that, we’re just riding horses around. It’s really important that car culture evolves and survives. And the most important metric I think about is whenever I hear a story about someone who has never done whatever the thing is before, they never modified their car, they’ve never been to the track. And now they’re super excited and pumped up and they’re making all these new friends, that’s the best feeling of all, the most important thing of all.

Ryan McCaffrey:        Well said, Ben. Well said. Ben Schaffer, co-founder of Unplugged Performance. Check out their website, UnpluggedPerformance.com. And one more time the Omaze giveaway for the Model S-APEX with the von Holzhausen Banbū interior can be found at vonholzhausen.com/pages/unplugged-performance. There we go. Make sure I get it right, Ben, thank you so much for chatting with me.

Ben Schaffer:  Thank you. It’s an honor. I appreciate it.


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