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Tesla is developing heavy trucks and urban public transit

21 Juillet 2016 - Autoblog

Elon Musk

Elon Musk has just revealed his second master plan for Tesla, ten years after the first such plan was revealed as a road map for the company.

The original plan called for a four-step process: build a low volume car (what became the original Tesla Roadster), then build a medium volume car at a lower price (which became the Model S), to develop an affordable, high-volume car (the recently unveiled but decidedly not on sale yet Model 3).

The fourth step? Not the Model X, which was definitely a later ad-lib. It was to provide solar power to consumers, something most of us didn't think about until the offer to buy SolarCity. Tesla has been a transportation company up until now, whatever Musk says. But things are changing at the company, and this is even reflected in the URL: "motors" is now absent. It's just tesla.com.

Here's the TL;DR version of the new Tesla master plan, which isn't quite as procedural as the last one: Musk wants to build out more of the infrastructure around the electric car. He wants integrated solar production in private homes, he wants electric vehicles in every major automotive segment, he wants to increase autonomous vehicle safety by a factor of ten, and he wants you to use your fully autonomous Tesla as part of a ride-sharing system that will earn you money when you're not using your car.

The plan doesn't go into much detail about the SolarCity acquisition other than to say that the Powerwall home energy storage system will be integrated into the SolarCity solar-roof system. We'll probably hear more about this as Musk fleshes out the specifics of said integration.

Now let's get to the vehicles. Musk doesn't think Tesla will need to build a lower-cost vehicle than the Model 3, because two things are imperative. One, the company desperately needs to scale up production volume – that's something it's cognizant of, and necessary to bring in some positive cash flow. Secondly, it's because Tesla is developing both heavy-duty trucks (think semis) and high passenger-density urban transport (think buses or trams), and plans to unveil them next year.

Add full autonomy to the mix, and Tesla believes we'll be able to shrink the size of the vehicles and eliminate their human operators, which is probably welcome news to fleet managers and logistics folks, but less so to truck and bus drivers. There's some logic to it, as autonomous and connected public transportation and cargo delivery could be controlled either centrally or in a distributed fashion (or both!) for maximum efficiency and minimum congestion.

On the subject of autonomy, Tesla remains resolute that deploying Autopilot in beta form was the correct thing to do, claiming when used correctly it's much safer than a typical human operator. Indeed, the company says it'd be "reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press, or some mercantile calculation of legal liability." Don't expect Autopilot to go away or be renamed, but do expect the "beta" label to go away when the system safe has improved to the point where it's ten times safer than the US vehicle average.

Lastly, car sharing. It's pretty much what it sounds like. Think about what percentage of a 24 hour period you're actually using your personal vehicle. If you're not driving your fully-autonomous vehicle at that moment, Tesla wants to make it possible for you to rent it out to other users. Tesla will also operate fleets in places where this isn't practical based on demand. It sounds neat, but there's a lot of details left to work out, and a lot of local politics to play. Just think about Uber and Lyft's recent experience in Austin.

There's a lot to unpack here, so let this all soak in. There will be more analysis and commentary to come on what this means for Tesla's future, and what it says about the company's current health.

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