Musk's Masterplan part II: solar powered vehicles and autonomous cars that earn you moneyBy Rob Thubron 19 comments
Earlier this month, Elon Musk announced that he would soon reveal the second part of Tesla's "Top Secret Masterplan," the first part - revealed in August 2006 - being the mass production of the Tesla S and Tesla 3. Now, he's finally shown off his company's ambitious plans for the future.
There are four main parts to Musk's "Masterplan, part Deux," as he calls it. The first, as suspected, is related to Tesla's controversial bid for solar panel installer SolarCity, for which Musk is both chairman and its largest shareholder.
The CEO wants to merge the two companies to create a single "solar-roof-with-battery-product" that can cleanly power people's homes, with any excess energy going into a Tesla vehicle's battery. The idea is to make Tesla the only place customers need to go for all their clean energy requirements. Musk says this all-in-one solution can only be made possible through the deal. "We can't do this well if Tesla and SolarCity are different companies," he claimed.
The next part of the plan is to expand the range of vehicles Tesla makes. Right now it's limited to premium sedans and SUVs, but it intends to move beyond this small market with the introduction of a pickup truck, compact SUV, and the Model 3. Moreover, at some point next year, the company hopes to unveil its line of heavy-duty trucks - the Tesla Semi - along with commercial vehicles such as buses.
Probably the most ambitious part of the plan involves Tesla upgrading its vehicles' semi-autonomous Autopilot to a completely self-driving system. Musk says Autopilot in its current form is still in "beta," and will only drop this label when it is fully autonomous and "ten times safer than the US vehicle average." Musk didn't say when this was likely to happen.
The Autopilot upgrade ties in with the last part of the plan: turning your Tesla into an autonomous taxi that brings in money when you're not using it. Since most cars are only in use between five and ten percent of the day, Musk wants owners to be able to add their vehicles to a shared fleet, which can then be rented out, Uber-style, to drive other people around. The fares will be shared with the car owners, helping to offset the cost of the vehicle.
While the first two parts of the plan seem attainable within the next year or so, the autonomous/shared cars idea is obviously a long way off. While the cynical will argue that his ambitious revolve around growing Tesla as a company, Musk says the Masterplan is about moving away from our reliance on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.
"By definition, we must at some point achieve a sustainable energy economy or we will run out of fossil fuels to burn and civilization will collapse. Given that we must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better."