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Tesla plans electric pick-up, bus and semi-trailer

Plans afoot: Tesla’s Elon Musk has gone public with his company’s proposed expansion plans, not only in the electric vehicle field but also solar power and car sharing.

New models, new business areas detailed in Elon Musk’s Tesla ‘Master Plan Deux’

Tesla logo21 Jul 2016

TESLA founder and CEO Elon Musk has promised a “new kind of pick-up truck”, a compact SUV and even a driverless urban bus and a heavy-duty truck called Tesla Semi in the California-based company’s future electric vehicle range.

Car sharing, one-stop-shop solar power roofs with integrated battery storage, and autonomous driving technology that is 10 times safer than manual driving also have been mooted in Mr Musk’s much-touted second master plan released today, 10 years on from his first master plan that helped to set the vision for his company today.

The new wide-ranging plan that he dubbed ‘Master Plan Deux’ covers proposed products and technologies that are already under development at Tesla, while also expanding the company’s operations beyond car and battery production into new areas such as solar power via Tesla’s recent acquisition of American company SolarCity.

Mr Musk said Tesla’s future vehicle product range would cover “the major forms of terrestrial transport”, well beyond its current line-up of three vehicles.

“With the Model 3, a future compact SUV and a new kind of pick-up truck, we plan to address most of the consumer market,” he said.

He goes on: “In addition to consumer vehicles, there are two other types of electric vehicle needed – heavy-duty trucks and high-passenger-density urban transport.

“Both 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.”

Mr Musk said Tesla’s autonomous driving technology would permit smaller urban buses and “transition the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager”.

“Traffic congestion would improve due to increased passenger areal density by eliminating the centre aisle and putting seats where there are currently entryways, and matching acceleration and braking to other vehicles, thus avoiding the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow of traditional heavy buses,” he said.

“It would also take people all the way to their destination. Fixed summon buttons at existing bus stops would serve those who don’t have a phone. Design accommodates wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.”

Mr Musk said a Tesla model cheaper than its upcoming 2017 Model 3 would be unlikely because of improvements in scale and efficiency of Tesla 3 production by 2018.

This indicates that the Tesla 3 price – set at $35,000 ($48,433) in the US for buyers wanting to get in the queue now – will come down over time.

“What really matters to accelerate a sustainable future is being able to scale up production volume as quickly as possible,” he said. “That is why Tesla engineering has transitioned to focus heavily on designing the machine that makes the machine – turning the factory itself into a product.

“A first-principles physics analysis of automotive production suggests that somewhere between a five-to-10-fold improvement is achievable by version three on a roughly two-year iteration cycle“The first Model 3 factory machine should be thought of as version 0.5, with version 1.0 probably in 2018.”

Mr Musk said that as autonomous driving technology matured, all Tesla vehicles would get “fail-operational capability”, meaning the car would still drive itself safely if any system in the car broke.

“It is important to emphasise that refinement and validation of the software will take much longer than putting in place the cameras, radar, sonar and computing hardware,” he said.

“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 six billion miles (10 billion km). Current fleet learning is happening at just over three million miles (5 million km) per day.”

Mr Musk defended Tesla’s installation of the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature in its current models, despite the recent death of a Tesla S driver who allegedly was watching a video when his car – driving on Autopilot – slammed into a truck turning across a highway.

“The most important reason (for introducing Autopilot) is that, when used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves, and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability,” he said.

Mr Musk said Tesla referred to the current Autopilot system as beta “to decrease complacency and indicate that it will continue to improve”.

“Once we get to the point where Autopilot is approximately 10 times safer than the US vehicle average, the beta label will be removed,” he said.

Mr Musk said that when true self-driving was approved by regulators, it would permit car-sharing by Tesla owners.

“You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it 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,” he said.

“This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for five per cent to 10 per cent of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.

“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.”

In Australia, the next Tesla model introduction will be the Tesla Model X SUV that will reach the first customers late this year with prices starting at $111,900 plus on-road costs.

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