Not content with shaking up the automotive consumer car world, Elon Musk has announced his company’s plans for the future.
The billionaire entrepreneur has stated the direction he wants to take Tesla, and it’s an interesting but not altogether surprising one. Already, the firm has helped persuade the world that electric mobility is actually a genuinely viable alternative to petrol and diesel – and that it can outperform them in almost every respect too, but now he wants to move toward wider transportation issues.
Dubbed his, “Master Plan, Part Deux”, Elon Musk has spelled out four key points as follows:
- Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
- Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
- Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
- Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it
However, before we get to those points, it’s important to look at what his original Master Plan aimed at achieving. He summarises this as such:
- Create a low volume car, which would necessarily be expensive
- Use that money to develop a medium volume car at a lower price
- Provide solar power. No kidding, this has literally been on our website for 10 years.
To explain this a little further, Musk considered that the first point in the original Master Plan was necessary, as it was all he could afford to hope to achieve with the money he earned from the sale of PayPal. He comments:
“As of 2016, the number of American car companies that haven’t gone bankrupt is a grand total of two: Ford and Tesla. Starting a car company is idiotic and an electric car company is idiocy squared.”
The other points have been met with the forthcoming Tesla Model 3 and Solar City. These are important as, Musk puts it, civilisation cannot continue to burn fossil fuels and a move to sustainable energy is necessary for it to continue and indeed survive.
Therefore the four points in the “Master Plan, Part Deux” may be achieved by the following.
Integrate Energy Generation and Storage
Apparently, the plan is to create an integrated “solar-roof-with-battery product” that can be used around the world to enable homes to produce their own electricity. Solar roof tops are nothing new, neither are batteries and neither, for that matter, are rooftops. So, this could work – but, critically, it would have to be affordable. Elon Musk uses this idea to help justify the moving together of Tesla Motors and SolarCity.
Expand to Cover the Major Forms of Terrestrial Transport
“Today, Tesla addresses two relatively small segments of premium sedans and SUVs. With the Model 3, a future compact SUV and a new kind of pickup truck, we plan to address most of the consumer market. A lower cost vehicle than the Model 3 is unlikely to be necessary, because of the third part of the plan described below.”
Says Elon Musk. So, sadly don’t expect a Tesla Twizy anytime soon. Madcap ideas like that are fraught with historical humour and nobody need dare utter Sinclair C5… So, Elon has a point. There will be others who address the need for less expensive modes of transport than the Model 3, but for now Tesla won’t be the manufacturer to do so – and that’s fair enough.
Instead, Elon’s plan for transporting the masses is with autonomous buses. Now, I for one dislike the bus. They’re big, cumbersome and – around here at least – are driven with such haste I worry for my life each time I’m in one. Jerky doesn’t quite describe the average bus driver’s skills. However, they’re under a huge amount of pressure, it’s a tough job, passengers can be awful and so too can navigating a massive truck through narrow not-for-cars designed roads. And that’s where autonomy steps in. Though this subject has been marred with a recent fatality, it would be ludicrous to believe that one death should mean the entire idea of autonomy is scrapped. It’s still in its early stages, however, and more development needs to be completed before an autonomous bus exists. Tesla’s answer?
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.
Additionally, there are plans to automate the factory line so that it too will become an automated system. I hear the cries of workers everywhere. However, there’ll still be work, but it will be in designing the machine that makes the machines, rather than the machines themselves.
Similarly, the now out of work bus driver would instead become the fleet manager. Think of it like super market self checkouts, where one cashier monitors several tills, rather than being sat at just one. Elon’s idea for autonomous buses is nothing new either, as in a nutshell he thinks they should be smaller and more approachable to various people with a different seating layout. They should also go to your destination, rather than be limited to stops. This isn’t too far removed from a working model that already exists in some countries, including Russia, where minivan-sized buses can be summoned wherever you may be on a street and then you can ask them to stop wherever you like too. The difference between the present and Elon’s vision, of course, is one of autonomous driving.
Answering the question of reliability, Elon says that autonomous hardware will be fitted to each and every Tesla and with, “fail-operational capability”, or in other words if a component breaks, there’s a fail-safe and the car will remain safe. This is the same approach used in the aero industry, so is nothing new and completely viable.
How long will we have to wait for a truly autonomous experience? Elon reckons around 6 billion miles (10 billion km). Today, “fleet learning is happening at 3 million miles per day (5 million km).”
Once self-driving is approved by regulators, Elon believes that car sharing could work and even make profit for drivers.
“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. 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.”
Elon Musk was able to successfully achieve his first Master Plan and it seems reasonable that his second will too. There’s nothing actually too radical, impractical or illogical with his goals. However, we consumers are possibly the thorn in his plan. We’re who can dictate whether we actually want these things. Do you mind sharing your car, where you store your kids teddy in the glove box? Do you want to go on a bus that has no driver late at night? It is our mindset that could dictate whether the Master Plan is a success, or not.