Musk: Tesla plans to build trucks, autonomous fleet

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Tesla Motors Inc. has ambitious plans to expand its vehicle lineup into all major segments including pickups and heavy-duty trucks, and eventually offer a full fleet of self-driving vehicles.

The plans were outlined Wednesday night by Tesla CEO Elon Musk through a blog post outlining the Palo Alto, California-based company’s blueprint. In addition to trucks, the plan includes mass-transit vehicles, ride-sharing and self-driving technologies that are 10 times safer than a person at the wheel.

Musk did not give a time line for the products. It’s been 10 years since he released the company’s first plan in August 2006 that loosely outlined its current products and the Model 3, which is due out by the end of next year.

The new master plan follows weeks of negative publicity for Tesla involving its beta Autopilot system, including a fatal accident in Florida that prompted federal officials to open investigations into the semi-autonomous driving feature that uses cameras, radar and computers to detect objects, automatically steer and adjust speed, and brake if necessary.

Musk said Tesla released the system as a beta, or test, version not “in any normal sense of the word” as is used to test software and determine bugs. He said it “is called beta in order to decrease complacency and indicate that it will continue to improve (Autopilot is always off by default).”

“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,” he said.

The beta designation, he said, will be removed from Autopilot once the technology “is approximately 10 times safer than the U.S. vehicle average.” Autopilot miles, according to Musk, will soon exceed twice the one death every 89 million miles Americans drove in 2015.

Musk has said recently on Twitter that Tesla is working on an Autopilot improvement as a result of the fatal crash in which the system did not detect a semi-trailer rig turning left in front of the Model S at a highway intersection. The automaker said Autopilot failed to see the white trailer against a bright sky.

One new feature would let drivers add their cars to the Tesla shared fleet to generate income: Other people could tap a button on a phone app and the fully self-driving car would pick them up.

New SUV, trucks

Tesla plans to expand its lineup to “address most of the consumer market,” according to Musk. That includes the Model 3 sedan, a future compact SUV and a “new kind of pickup truck.”

A less-expensive vehicle than the $35,000 Model 3, Musk said, “is unlikely to be necessary” because of its plans for ride-sharing and autonomy.

“What really matters to accelerate a sustainable future is being able to scale up production volume as quickly as possible,” Musk wrote in the blog post called “Master Plan, Part Deux.”

The company earlier this year announced plans to produce 500,000 vehicles annually by 2018 — two years ahead of schedule and a more than five-fold increase in its expected production for 2016.

Tesla, which has been notoriously late on product launches, plans to unveil its “heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport” in 2017. He said both are in early stages of development.

“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,” he said.


Musk has been laying the groundwork for the new plan since he released the company’s first master plan in August 2006, when the company was only offering a $100,000-plus roadster. That plan included ambitions to build a “wide range of models,” including a “sporty four-door family car” (now known as the Model S) and an “even more affordable” model (upcoming Model 3).

The first plan, Musk wrote Wednesday, “wasn’t all that complicated.” He said it was designed as an attempt to defend the company against “the inevitable attacks Tesla would face accusing us of just caring about making cars for rich people.”

Musk also gave an overview of Tesla’s mission “to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy.” He mentioned offering SolarCity systems to Tesla customers to generate about 50 miles a day of electricity.

In the new plan, the first goal was to integrate Tesla and SolarCity — a solar panel company of which Musk is chair and leading shareholder — into a cohesive experience that delivers solar power and energy storage.

“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,” Musk wrote in the new plan.

Tesla last month announced intentions to acquire SolarCity for $2.8 billion. The announcement was met with skepticism and caused the company’s stock to dip below $200. It has since recovered and closed Wednesday at $228.36 per share, up 1.38 percent.

(313) 222-2504

Twitter: @MikeWayland