Tesla CEO Elon Musk has this week revealed ambitious plans for more models, fully-autonomous mobility – and huge expansion outside of the automotive world.
Following a tweet last week where Musk hinted that he was planning ‘the next big thing’ from the American electric brand, the Tesla boss has finally published ‘Part Deux’ of his master plan – a decade after the first installment.
In it, he describes a world that lives on sustainable energy, with a wider range of Tesla models, and autonomous cars that can earn you money while you aren’t using them.
Recap: Master Plan, part one
The Tesla boss says the goals he set in the first master plan are now in the final stages of completion, which consisted of:
So far, stages one and two were completed with the Roadster and Model S respectively, while stage three will be satisfied when the Model 3 enters production next year. Finally, stage four will be ticked off once Tesla merges with SolarCity – a rooftop solar panel company which is run by Musk’s cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive. Musk is SolarCity’s single largest shareholder.
In his latest post, Tesla’s CEO talks of how risky it was to start a car company – let alone an electric one – in the US at a time when most manufacturers were struggling.
He writes: “As of 2016, the number of American car companies that haven’t gone bankrupt is a grand total of two: Ford and Tesla. Starting a car company is idiotic and an electric car company is idiocy squared”.
As part of the final stage of his original master plan, Musk says that society as a whole needs to achieve a sustainable energy economy before fossil fuels run out.
“The faster we achieve sustainability, the better,” he said.
In ‘Part Deux’, Musk covers four new stages that he wants the company to focus on in the short- to mid-term.
Integrate Energy Generation and Storage
Above: Tesla Model S
Continuing from the final stage of ‘Master Plan Part One’, first on Musk’s agenda is to create a solar energy solution that seamlessly integrates with storage.
The aim is to make the individual their own utility, and one day roll out this solution globally.
Musk writes that Tesla cannot achieve this alone, so Tesla will merge with SolarCity to pursue this goal, using Tesla’s Powerwall and SolarCity’s solar energy solutions.
Expand to cover the major forms of terrestrial transport
Above: Tesla Model X
Next up for the electric brand is to introduce the new Model 3, a compact SUV and a “new kind of pick-up truck”, so it can address “most of the consumer market”.
However, these new products are unlikely to be priced below the Model 3’s US$35,000 ($46,750) starting price – Musk suggests such a product is “unlikely to be necessary”. That’s where the next stage comes in, but more on that later.
In addition to passenger vehicles, Musk believes we need another two types of electric vehicles; heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport (like buses).
According to the company’s boss, Tesla is already in the early stages of developing emissionless versions of these vehicles, which should be ready for unveiling sometime next year.
Musk believes the ‘Tesla Semi’ (not related to the new Nikola truck) will significantly reduce the costs associated with cargo transport while increasing safety.
The company aims to use autonomous technology to shrink the size of buses and change the role of the bus driver to fleet manager. Increased passenger density is possible through the elimination of the centre aisle – putting more people on public transport and less people on the road.
An autonomous electric bus would also avoid the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow generally associated with traditional buses by matching acceleration and braking with other vehicles.
Above: Tesla Autopilot
As driverless technology advances, all Tesla vehicles will be equipped with the hardware necessary to be fully autonomous with fail-operational capability – that is, the vehicle will still drive safely even if one of the car’s systems were to break.
In the face of the car accident that claimed the life of a Tesla driver using Autopilot, Musk makes it very clear that the current autonomous system has a long way to go before we can fully rely on the software to get us from A to B with no driver input.
“It is important to emphasize that refinement and validation of the software will take much longer than putting in place the cameras, radar, sonar and computing hardware”, Musk writes.
“Even once the software is highly refined and far better than the average human driver, there will still be a significant time gap, varying widely by jurisdiction, before true self-driving is approved by regulators.”
“We expect that worldwide regulatory approval will require something on the order of 6 billion miles (10 billion km). Current fleet learning is happening at just over 3 million miles (5 million km) per day,” he added.
Musk argues that Autopilot, “when used correctly”, is already safer than a human driver and would be “morally reprehensible” to try and delay the release of autonomous technology for fear of negative media attention or “mercantile calculation of legal liability”.
The Tesla boss also explains why Autopilot is currently referred to as a “beta” software – because it is constantly being improved, and in its current form should not be fully relied upon by the driver to take control of the vehicle.
“It would no more make sense to disable Tesla’s Autopilot, as some have called for, than it would to disable autopilot in aircraft, after which our system is named,” he said.
“Once we get to the point where Autopilot is approximately 10 times safer than the US vehicle average, the beta label will be removed.”
Above: Tesla Model 3
Once vehicles are fully autonomous, Musk says you will be able to summon your vehicle from just about anywhere and, when it picks you up, you can let the system take the wheel while you sleep, read or watch a movie.
Musk says once this capability is possible, owners will be able to add their vehicles to a Tesla shared fleet, which operates like an autonomous Uber.
Through the Tesla smartphone app, you would tell your car to join the fleet and pick up passengers, generating income while you work or relax on a holiday.
Such an initiative would significantly reduce the cost of ownership to the point where Musk believes almost anyone could own a Tesla.
“In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are,” he said.
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