In a shareholder meeting on Tuesday evening, Tesla CEO Elon Musk addressed a few questions from investors as his company gets ready to move into production on the Model 3, the lower-priced electric vehicle that’s intended to become the company’s bread and butter. As always, Tesla has several big initiatives underway at the same time: it recently announced its solar roof, it’s working to hit ambitious goals on Model S and Model X deliveries, and Musk recently hinted that an all-electric lorry would be announced this coming September.
The CEO started off addressing the new solar roof. Musk reiterated what he tweeted to Ars Technica senior editor Lee Hutchinson in May, that a solar roof may not work for every customer, as the overall price of the product is contingent on the region where you live and the cost of electricity there.
“It depends on what property taxes are, what the cost of financing is, and what the cost of power from the utility is,” Musk said. He added that “there is still a very important role” for traditional solar panels, like if you have a flat roof that’s not visible from the street, or if you have a newer roof.
Musk then turned to electric vehicles. He said the internal vision system that the company has been developing for autonomous driving was “almost there in terms of exceeding the ability of the Hardware 1 cars,” which used Mobileye chips for sensing. Tesla and Mobileye had a falling out last year in the wake of a fatal accident involving a Tesla driver and a truck. The CEO said last night that developing Tesla’s own vision chip has “definitely been a tough slog,” although cars with the Tesla-made hardware will be ready for “full autonomy.” The next software release, Musk said, could come as soon as next week.
The CEO also said that the electric vehicle company is planning to increase its presence on the ground with more stores and factories. On stage, Musk estimated that the US would have 660 Tesla stores and “thousands of stores” would pop up in China. The Tesla factory in Fremont, California, where the Model S and X are made, is also apparently “bursting at the seams” and Tesla is actively scouting three factory locations for additional capacity. Musk said that he expected 10 factories worldwide, but he didn’t specify a time frame, according to a transcript of the meeting from Seeking Alpha.
Model Y clues, Model 3 facts
Musk also said that the Model Y—a future vehicle set to go into production in 2019—would be built at a new factory. Very few details are known about the Model Y, but Musk has said in the past that the company is going to eschew any previous auto platforms in building the Model Y.
“There has been some criticism, like we should sort of derive from the Model 3 platform,” Musk told the crowd Tuesday night. “But I think actually we made a mistake in trying to derive the Model X from the Model S platform. It would have been better to just design an SUV the way an SUV should be designed. Design a sedan, the way a sedan should be designed.”
The CEO added that with a new factory, Tesla could further streamline manufacturing and bring capital expenditures on the car down “by a factor of two between Model 3 and Model Y.”
Tesla will also open up its Model 3 configurator in late July, Musk said, although he admitted configurations would be limited: “We have kept the initial configurations for Model 3 very simple. This is critical to achieving a rapid production ramp.”
Initially, the Model 3 configurations will hinge on colour and wheel size.
Musk also confirmed that a dual-motor Model 3 won’t be available at first. “We were going to start off with dual motor,” he said. “But that’s like: ‘wait a second, we just doubled the probability of something going wrong if we got two motors, because there are two different motor architectures.’ One motor is optimised for highway travel and one is optimised for stop-and-go traffic, which is great for maximising your mileage in city and maximising your… mileage on the freeway and having incredible acceleration. But it’s too much complexity right off the bat.”
The Tesla semi and long shots
Tesla has promised that an all-electric truck will be announced this fall, an endeavour that will compete with current initiatives at other car companies as well. Musk told investors Tuesday night that the company will work closely with its customers to address their most pressing concerns and reach “scale production on the semi in about two years.” The CEO hinted that there could also be more to the September announcement. “I just really recommend showing up for the semi-truck unveiling,” he added.
If the semi and the Model Y are distant but safe bets, Musk’s peripheral endeavours are more flights of fancy. In response to questions about how he divides his time, the CEO answered that Tesla and SpaceX take up most of it, noting that even though he tweets a lot about The Boring Company (a recently created company to channel his efforts to build a futuristic tunnel) and Neuralink, they aren’t his primary preoccupation. “The Boring Company is maybe two percent of my time, Neuralink is three percent to five percent of my time, OpenAI is going to be a couple of percent, and then 90-percent-plus is divided between SpaceX and Tesla.”
“It’s probably slightly more Tesla,” he added. “Tesla is more like a drama magnet.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Musk answered whether he might ever pursue an electric plane. The CEO said that his company had “no plans” to pursue that technology right now, but he added that “it’s not inconceivable.” Still, the problem with battery-powered aviation is the energy density of batteries, Musk said, suggesting that if batteries could get over 500 watt-hours per kilogram, the idea of an electric plane becomes “quite compelling.”