There’s something of an air of celebration going on right now at Tesla Motors[NASDAQ:TLSA]. Not only was the Tesla Roadster unveiled ten years ago to the day but it was also the day (apparently) that Tesla CEO Elon Musk credits as the day when is grand master plan for changing the world was finally written. And while that actual document wasn’t published until August 2, 2006 by Musk in a blog post entitled The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (Just Between You and Me) the anniversary of the Tesla Roadster’s debut seems like an appropriate time to look back on how things have gone for the company thus far.
It would seem that Musk agrees, because he’s just released the long-promised second part of his grand master plan in which Tesla Motors ceases to be an electric automaker and becomes just Tesla. At the same time, Musk’s plan calls for a massive expansion of its reach into the world of clean, renewable energy, providing integration between energy generation and storage, and expanding its reach to cover all major forms of terrestrial transportation on earth.
Yes, that’s right. Tesla wants to shed its mantle of the past decade and become what equates to a global multinational, linking everything from solar panels on your roof to the school bus your children get in the morning, the car you take on road trips and even the car sharing service you ride home in. And at the heart of that vision lies what we can only assume to be one of the largest infrastructure projects we’ve seen as a species because without seriously intensive big data, Musk’s vision for Tesla just can’t happen.
We’ll come to the specifics in a second, but first we think it’s worth tracing back to Tesla’s roots — and Musk’s original grand master plan. Far simpler than the second part revealed today, Musk’s original plan focused on bringing a series of ever-more affordable and technically impressive cars to market. Starting with the 100 percent electric Tesla Roadster (a car out of most people’s price range), Musk planned for profits from the Roadster to fund development of a less expensive, more practical mid-volume electric car — the Tesla Model S. And with that car in series production, Musk had planned for profits from the S (and the X) to fund the production even more affordable, high-volume electric car. That car of course, being the Tesla Model 3 — a car Tesla hopes will enter production late next year with a starting price tag of $35,000 before incentives.
The final part of Tesla’s original master plan — provide solar power — has for the most part been something Tesla has focused less on, but Musk says his first master plan is pretty much completed after just ten years and now it’s time to focus on part two. And while we note that first part of the plan wasn’t as plain sailing as it might seem — Tesla nearly ran out of cash on multiple occasions, has yet to turn a significant profit and has relied heavily on funds raised from numerous public offerings — we can’t argue the fact that Tesla has met most of its original goals in a remarkably short time frame.
Building on those successes, the second part of Tesla’s grand master plan is far more wide-reaching than we’d have predicted, but a fair part of it is no surprise, especially given Tesla’s recent move to acquire photovoltaic solar panel company Solar City. Indeed, Musk’s first bullet point in his second part of the grand master plan (Integrate Energy Generation and Storage) admits Tesla needs the expertise and skills of SolarCity in order to achieve its goals of creating “a smoothly integrated and beautiful solar-roof-with-battery product that just works.”
“We can’t do this well if Tesla and SolarCity are different companies, which is why we need to combine and break down the the barriers inherent to being separate companies,” Musk writes.”Now that Tesla is ready to scale Powerwall and SolarCity is ready to provide highly differentiated solar, the time has come to bring them together.”
The second item on Musk’s list of “Master Plan, Part Deux” is a dramatic expansion of Tesla’s current vehicular portfolio, covering “The Major Forms of Terrestrial Transport” in an attempt to offer a truly sustainable future.
As Musk notes in his blog post, the only real way that society will make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will be if heavy-duty trucks and mass transit also make the switch. And that means developing long-range heavy haulers and a high-density mass transit solution for urban areas. And this is on top of the market debut of the Model 3, a future compact SUV and what Musk calls “a new kind of pickup truck” that Tesla is already working hard to develop.
Interestingly too, despite the massive amount on its plate with both Gigafactory completion and bringing Model 3 to market, Musk also hints in his post that Tesla is already well on the way to developing both its ‘Tesla Semi” and its high passenger-density vehicle. Promising that both will be unveiled next year (presumably in a similar fashion to the way in which Model S and Model X were unveiled a few years before production), Musk said that they will both have a massive impact on their respective industries.
The Tesla Semi, it appears, will do pretty much what you’d expect, offering a long-distance electric tractor-trailer unit for haulage firms and driver-owners alike that will deliver substantial savings over traditional diesel-powered vehicles. For mass transit in urban centers however, Musk hints that something very different will be revealed to what we’re currently used to seeing.
“With the advent of autonomy, it will probably make sense to shrink the size of buses and transition the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager,” he wrote. ”
Traffic congestion would improve due to increased passenger areal density by eliminating the center 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. 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.”
Which brings us to Musk’s final two goals for Tesla’s part two master plan: truly autonomous vehicles that can be summoned at will to pick you up from “pretty much anywhere” and offer fully autonomous operation that really does make it possible for you to fall asleep, watch a movie or catch up on work while travelling.
With regard to Tesla’s current Autopilot system, Musk said that Tesla will remove the moniker ‘beta’ from Autopilot when it is “approximately 10 times safer than the U.S. vehicle average.” Already he writes, Autopilot has proven itself far more reliable than human drivers with far less fatalities per mile than non autonomous vehicles. In fact, right now, there’s one fatality on average for every 89 million miles travelled by non-autonomous vehicles. Tesla’s ratio is closer to one fatality for every 180 million miles driven.
As for the calls to temporarily turn off Autopilot or rename it in the light of the May fatality in which Autopilot is suspected of having played a part? “The most important reason 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,” Musk states.
But perhaps the most interesting piece of news from Musk in his post — other than the fact that Tesla intends to commercialize not only the cars themselves but the factories they are built in — is the fact that Tesla intends to leverage autonomous vehicle technologies to make it possible for Tesla owners to make money from their cars even when they are not using them.
“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 explains in his post. “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 5% to 10% 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.”
Adding that Tesla intends to operate its own fleet of vehicles in busy cities where there are not enough customer-owned cars, it’s clear that Musk no-longer views Tesla as just an automaker. Which is perhaps why Tesla changed its principal domain this week from TeslaMotors.com to Tesla.com — and perhaps why the rest of the automotive industry are now starting to take note.
If Tesla succeeds in its goals — and there are plenty of hurdles along the way determined to stop that from happening — it could very well be the company that changes not only the way we travel, but the way we generate, store and use energy forever. And while we’ve called Tesla out in the past for what we view are outlandish or bizarre business choices, we’ve got to admit that if any one company can defy business logic and the odds to do it — it’s this one.
Will Tesla be a household name in 100 years’ time? Does Tesla have what it takes to make the seemingly impossible happen? Or is this just the latest in a long line of promises designed to keep the company’s bank accounts furnished until the next big thing is announced?
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