Elon Musk’s master plan: part two is here, and it’s a doozy. Rather than set out a short-term vision, he’s setting out a plan for how Tesla will save the world. No, actually.
In the plan, he’s outlining how Tesla as we know it is going to change. Forget fast sports cars: the future Tesla will feature pickup trucks, semi trailers and urban buses, with those concepts to be unveiled next year.
Musk’s plan is centered around four main themes:
- integrating solar power and energy storage into every house in the world
- making vehicles autonomous
- sharing vehicles among users
- make all vehicles, be they cars, trucks, or buses, fully electric
A lot of this isn’t actually revolutionary, per se: the end of per-person car ownership has been predicted by the rise of Uber, Powerwall and Solar City are already working on the non-grid energy part, and everyone and their startup-friendly dog is developing a self-driving vehicle of some kind.
But to bring all the pieces together in one company, while also saying that this plan is going to save the human race? That’s ballsy. But I guess this is Elon Musk we’re talking about.
Let’s take a deeper look at the four planks of Musk’s new master plan.
Integrate Energy Generation and Storage
“Create a smoothly integrated and beautiful solar-roof-with-battery product that just works, empowering the individual as their own utility, and then scale that throughout the world. One ordering experience, one installation, one service contact, one phone app.”
This is basically just the extension of something Musk has already been working on. SolarCity is Musk’s solar power startup, which Tesla recently acquired (to the dismay of its shareholders). Powerwall is a Tesla initiative that installs a large battery pack in people’s houses, letting the users take advantage of lower-priced electricity during the evening.
All that Musk is proposing here (if you can call the disruption of a national piece of infrastructure and the fossil fuel industry “all”) is using distributed, off-grid solar power as the basis for energy generation.
It’s not an outlandish idea. Scientists and economists have said that solar power is maturing as a technology, and we’re going to reach a point in the not-too-distant future where it’s a viable replacement for our grid.
But rather than having a couple large solar farms distributed across the country, Musk thinks we’ll be better off with local-scale energy production. That’s actually a rather revolutionary idea. The concepts of economies of scale and specialization are deeply built into our economy, and suggest that a few large plants are a better solution than a whole bunch of smaller solar cells.
Whatever your belief, Musk ties local-scale energy generation (and storage — extensive energy storage is a must when relying on solar power) directly into the rest of his master plan, which is already likely to annoy the established energy industry.
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.
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.
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.”
This is the part that will probably excite most Tesla fans. Right now, Tesla is strictly a car maker, and the products it currently sells are high-end vehicles.
What Musk is proposing here is a complete Teslaization of everything that moves on our roads. It’s ambitious, to say the least, but it seems that Tesla is already well on the way to designing these vehicles, if they’re ready to be unveiled as soon as next year.
Tesla will need all the headstart it can get here. Semi trucks and buses are a very different business to cars, and the existing car-makers have already been the quickest to adopt new technology. Autonomous trucks have already “platooned” their way across Europe, and a self-driving bus from Mercedes did a run from Amsterdam’s busy airport just this week.
Presumably, Tesla is relying on its experience with electric vehicles to give it the edge here. It’s an ambitious new industry to dive head-first into, so at the very least, Musk isn’t lacking ambition.
“As the technology matures, all Tesla vehicles will have the hardware necessary to be fully self-driving with fail-operational capability, meaning that any given system in the car could break and your car will still drive itself safely.”
This part of Musk’s plan is the least surprising. Tesla is already leading the way in terms of autonomous vehicles, and Musk just confirms that this is going to continue.
The rest of this section really just reads like a defense of the recent Autopilot controversy. Musk points out that “when used correctly, [Autopilot] is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves.” This is technically correct, although the sample size is so small that it’s not so much verified fact as a statistic, open to interpretation.
“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.”
This is a different version of the sharing economy as envisioned by some analysts. What Musk is saying here is that everyone (or at least, everyone’s Tesla) will be driving for Uber in the off-time. Musk is right that this will bring down the cost of car ownership, although he’s still forgetting that with depreciation and other wear and tear, the gains from renting out your car might be not that high.
An expansion of the sharing economy isn’t all, though. Musk buried the lede, telling us that Tesla is going to become a rent-a-car service sometime in the future:
“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.”
So, not only is Tesla going to make pickups, semis, and operate a bus route, but it’s also going to become an Uber rival.
No one ever accused Elon Musk of thinking small.