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Car and Driver: Elon Musk’s Tesla Master Plan, Part Deux: Semis and Pickups, Solar Roofs, and Car Sharing


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Elon Musk Tesla Sign


Ten years ago, members of the press gathered in a hangar at Santa Monica Airport for the public debut of a Silicon Valley company’s new car. Pre-reveal rumors suggested that Tesla’s machine was little more than an electrified Lotus Elise. Prior to the event, the company sent out an e-mail denying this was the case. When the tarp was pulled up, the car was not an electrified Elise in the way that a Firebird is not a Camaro. It’s not, but y’know, it really is. Perhaps more interesting than the Roadster—which was never going to be more than a plaything, despite its claimed-at-the-time 300-mile range—was the company’s plan for its future. It suggested that the funds garnered from starting with an expensive vehicle would allow Tesla to build a car for the masses down the line. A decade and a few swirls ’round the drain later, Tesla now sells a critically acclaimed sedan beloved by its wealthy owners, offers an overly complex crossover based on the same platform, and has taken hundreds of thousands in deposits for its forthcoming mid-priced Model 3 sedan. Now, CEO Elon Musk is rolling out the second phase of his master plan for the company.


In a blog post entitled “Master Plan, Part Deux” (we were pulling for “Master Plan 2: Electric Boogaloo”), Musk makes the case for Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity, outlines when and why Autopilot will emerge from beta testing, suggests that Tesla will move into the heavy-truck segment, and outlines a plan that will seemingly have the company squaring off against Uber.


People of the Sun


Musk’s stated rationale for combining Tesla with SolarCity—a solar-cell company founded at his suggestion by his cousins—is fairly simple. “One ordering experience, one installation, one service contact, one phone app,” he writes. A Tesla app would allow you to control both your home and your car, and the systems would be designed to work together seamlessly. More cynically, Elon’s selling you the car. He also now happens to own the fuel generators you’ll put on your roof.




Beyond the Model 3, Elon suggests a CUV will follow it to market, as well as some form of pickup truck. Given the clamor for crossovers in this country, a Model 3–based ute is a no-brainer proposition, and we doubt the company will make the same complexity-for-complexity’s sake mistakes it made with the Model X. As for the pickup? Out on the West Coast, at least, there are plenty of ecologically minded folks who drive Toyota Tacomas. Most of them are drummers or windsurfers. It makes sense to go for a slice of their pie, not to mention the light-duty urban-delivery market.


But the big revelation is that Tesla’s looking to muscle in on bus and truck titans like Gillig and PACCAR. Musk states, “Both [a heavy truck and a bus] are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year. We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.” A fun-to-operate semi? Might it offer a “mow-down-parked-choppers” mode?


Musk further suggests that future bus service could be handled by smaller vehicles operating in more of an on-demand mode, with “summon” buttons mounted at stops for those without access to smartphones.


Virtual Key Parties


For those with access to smartphones, however, Musk is offering a tantalizing bit of future steak. Those fortunate enough to own a Tesla vehicle in the fully autonomous future will be able to loan it out as an Uber-style ride to those in need of momentary transport. In his own inimitable Barnum-esque fashion, Musk proclaims that a future Tesla could “generate income for you while you’re at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla.” In the future, for just pennies a day, green luxury could be all yours! This, of course, is dependent on full autonomy being both foolproof and legal.


Terror of the Autons


Finally, on the subject of autonomy, Musk continued to defend Autopilot, asserting that it would be “morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.” Regarding its future, he says once Autopilot becomes “approximately 10 times safer than the U.S. vehicle average” Tesla will do away with the “beta” appellation. As for the target number, Musk cites in his post a 2015 NHTSA fatality report that says that “automotive fatalities increased by 8% to one death every 89 million miles” that year.


It’s an audacious outline, and who knows how much of it will actually come to pass beyond the SolarCity merger, the Model 3–based CUV, and the light pickup, all of which seem like pretty safe bets and smart business. On one hand, it took Tesla a decade to get from the initial showing of the Roadster to begin pulling in orders for the car Musk has always wanted to build. On the other hand, that the company did manage to pull it off in 10 years can be seen as a minor miracle. Every major Tesla announcement seems to be accompanied by eye-rolls and delighted wonder in equal measure, and this one is no exception.


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