After Tesla Inc. reported earnings on Wednesday, Elon Musk cracked open the lid on his box of secrets.
While most investors focused on rising costs and execution risk as he prepares for his most important product launch, the CEO dropped a pile of hints about what new adventures may be in store for the darling of America’s electrified future. Here are 14 noteworthy nuggets:
- Model 3 is “close to the bullseye.” As Tesla approaches the July launch of its first mass-market car, Musk provided details that may assuage nervous investors (and reservation holders). The newest Schuler press line has been powered on, paint shop prep is complete, the welding and assembly lines are coming together, and there have been no major hiccups with the test cars. “It’s been pretty close to the bullseye,” Musk said. “I don’t know anything that would prevent us from starting production in July and exceeding 5,000 units a week by the end of the year.”
- The Model Y is coming in 2019—on a new platform. Tesla plans to launch its follow-on car to the Model 3, a compact SUV called the Model Y, in late 2019 or 2020. Musk said the Y will be built on an entirely new platform from the 3, which surprised a number of analysts and may be partly responsible for the stock falling 5 percent on Thursday. Building a new vehicle from scratch costs more and takes longer than a more subtle redesign, but Musk said doing so will allow Tesla to dramatically increase the rate of production with a new level of robotic manufacturing. 1 While Musk said the Model 3 is “perhaps 3 to 4 times more automated than a Model S or a Model X,” he added that “the Model Y will be—there will be nothing close to it.”
- Tesla’s pickup truck may be coming sooner than you think. Tesla recently announced that it would unveil its all-electric long-haul semi truck in September. But there was still no word on the pickup truck Musk mentioned in his “Master Plan, Part Deux” blog post last summer. The semi and the pickup, Musk said this week, “are not going to be separated that widely in time.” Interestingly, Musk said the semi isn’t as complex as most people assume and is made largely from Model 3 parts, including “a bunch of Model 3 motors” powering up in unison.
- Reservations for the Model 3 are increasing, despite Tesla’s best efforts. The response to the Model 3’s unveiling last year was unprecedented, with 373,000 deposits of $1,000 just in the first six weeks. Since then, Tesla has been trying to convince reservation holders to upgrade to a Model S, a practice Musk calls “anti-selling” the Model 3. He anti-sold things so much on the call that analysts wondered if Model S sales might be faltering. The company hasn’t provided an updated number of Model 3 reservations since last year, but Musk said that “net reservations continue to climb week after week ... every week.”
- Tesla is building its own bodyshops. Following criticism about wait times for body work, Tesla will launch a new network of company-owned bodyshops. It's also opening 100 new retail, delivery, and service locations in anticipation of the Model 3. When customers need to have work done in the future, Musk said, the loaner vehicles they’ll receive will all be top-of-the-line P100D versions of the Model S and Model X.
- Tesla is adding mobile repair trucks, too. Most repairs don’t require a car lift, Musk said, and mobile trucks are cheaper and more convenient. “Proactive service”—where Tesla identifies problems remotely before the driver is even aware of them—and the ability to efficiently schedule service “more than offsets” the cost of driving to meet customers, Musk said. For bigger problems, the service centers are expanding, some with as many as 80 car lifts.
- There’s no backtracking on the Model 3 ramp. Tesla reiterated its wild production-rate goals for the Model 3: 5,000 a week by the end of this year and 10,000 a week by the end of 2018—which would outpace all of the electric cars sold planet-wide last year. When combined with Model S and Model X sales, it would be an unprecedented leap forward for electric cars.
- Solar is moving into Tesla stores. Tesla is going after an Apple Store strategy for solar power, which I wrote about here before the company’s acquisition of SolarCity. The combined company has halted door-to-door sales of solar panels and begun testing sales in its Tesla auto stores. Initial trials found the new strategy was 50 to 100 percent more effective than at the best non-Tesla locations selling SolarCity products. More than 70 stores will be staffed for solar sales over the next six months.
- The solar roof is on track to begin production this quarter. Production of Tesla's remarkable solar shingles will begin at Tesla's Fremont solar plant and then shift to its new factory in Buffalo, New York, with additional investments from Tesla's partner, Panasonic. The company was supposed to begin taking orders in April but has let that deadline slip.
- Energy storage is about to take off. There’s been a delay between the first and second generations of Tesla’s Powerwall home battery, and utility-scale Powerpack sales have been concentrated among only a handful of large projects. Musk sees “quite a dramatic ... like really dramatic” ramp in battery storage coming toward the end of 2017. The Nevada Gigafactory is on track to surpass its goal of 35 gigawatt hours of battery cell production in 2018, Musk said, and the company expects to ultimately produce more than 100 gigawatt hours at that location.
- A Gigafactory comes to China? Tesla is getting ready to announce multiple new factories abroad. When asked whether anything is in store for China, the world’s biggest electric-car market, Musk dropped some hints. “I don't think this is quite the right timing to make any announcements” he said, “but I would expect us to define our plans more clearly by the end of this year.”
- There may be no Tesla bus after all. In Musk’s “Master Plan” blog post last year, he described a sort of small, autonomous bus for public transportation. He’s reconsidering. “I don’t know if the bus thing, if that’s actually going to be something that makes sense.” He predicted that fully self-driving cars will reduce the price of taking a taxi service—so low in fact that people won’t want to take larger buses on pre-defined routes. He said it’s still possible Tesla will come out with a vehicle that's structurally similar to the Model-X but that can hold 10 or 12 people at a time. To alleviate congestion, Musk said he now prefers the long-term idea of building massive networks of tunnels.
- More Superchargers coming, and then even more. Tesla recently announced that it will be doubling the number of high-speed Superchargers this year, but the charging network is nowhere near its peak, Musk said. It’s “going to continue to increase dramatically” after 2017.
- Musk won’t be CEO of Tesla forever. Elon Musk, at age 45, is arguably the world’s most famous living inventor and entrepreneur. This poses a unique key-person risk for Tesla. What happens if he gets bored? Musk insisted that while he doesn’t plan to run the company forever, he will work on design and technology “for as long as I can possibly contribute to Tesla ... hopefully stopping before I get senile or too crazy.”