Peek into the future of Tesla

The body of a Tesla Model S is lifted by an automated crane at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, in a 2011 file photograph.
The body of a Tesla Model S is lifted by an automated crane at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, in a 2011 file photograph.PHOTO: REUTERS

It is reconsidering its plan to launch a bus and Elon Musk will not be CEO forever

After Tesla Inc reported earnings on Wednesday, Mr Elon Musk cracked open the lid on his box of secrets. 

As he prepares for his most important product launch, the CEO dropped a pile of hints about what new adventures may be in store for the company. Here are some noteworthy nuggets.

1. Model 3 is "close to the bullseye". As Tesla approaches the July launch of its first mass-market car, Mr Musk provided details that may assuage nervous investors (and reservation holders).

The newest Schuler press line has been powered on, paint shop prep is complete, the welding and assembly lines are coming together and there have been no major hiccups with the test cars.

"It's been pretty close to the bullseye," he said. "I don't know anything that would prevent us from starting production in July and exceeding 5,000 units a week by the end of the year."

2. The Model Y is coming in 2019 - on a new platform.  Tesla plans to launch its follow-on car to the Model 3, a compact SUV called the Model Y, in late 2019 or 2020.

Mr Musk said the Y will be built on an entirely new platform from the 3. Building a new vehicle from scratch costs more and takes longer than a redesign, but he said doing so will allow Tesla to dramatically increase the rate of production with a new level of robotic manufacturing.

3. Tesla's pick-up truck may be coming sooner than you think. It recently announced that it would unveil its all-electric long-haul semi-truck in September.

But there was still no word on the truck Mr Musk mentioned in his "Master Plan, Part Deux" blog post last summer.

The semi and the pick-up, he said this week, "are not going to be separated that widely in time".

4. Tesla is building its own bodyshops. Following criticism about wait times for body work, it will launch a new network of company-owned bodyshops. It is also opening 100 new retail, delivery and service locations in anticipation of the Model 3.

When customers need to have work done in the future, Mr Musk said, the loaner vehicles they will get will be top-of-the-line P100D versions of the Models S and X. 

5. Energy storage is about to take off.

Mr Musk sees "quite a dramatic... like really dramatic" ramp in battery storage coming towards the end of this year.

The Nevada Gigafactory is on track to surpass its goal of 35 gigawatt hours of battery cell production next year, Mr Musk said, and the company expects to ultimately produce more than 100 gigawatt hours at that location. 

6. Tesla is getting ready to announce multiple new factories abroad. When asked whether anything is in store for China, the world's biggest electric-car market, Mr Musk dropped some hints.

"I don't think this is quite the right timing to make any announcements," he said, "but I would expect us to define our plans more clearly by the end of this year."

7. There may be no Tesla bus after all.

In Mr Musk's "Master Plan" blog post last year, he described a sort of small, autonomous bus for public transportation.

He is reconsidering. "I don't know if the bus thing, if that's actually going to be something that makes sense."

He predicted that fully self-driving cars will reduce the price of taking a taxi service - so low in fact that people will not want to take larger buses on pre-defined routes.

He said it is still possible Tesla will come out with a vehicle that is structurally similar to the Model X, but that can hold 10 or 12 people at a time. To alleviate congestion, Mr Musk said he now prefers the long-term idea of building massive networks of tunnels.

8. Mr Musk will not be CEO of Tesla forever. At age 45, he is arguably the world's most famous living inventor and entrepreneur. This poses a unique key-person risk for Tesla: What happens if he gets bored?

Mr Musk insisted that while he does not plan to run the company forever , he will work on design and technology "for as long as I can possibly contribute to Tesla... hopefully stopping before I get senile or too crazy".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline 'Peek into the future of Tesla'. Print Edition | Subscribe