Tesla's 'Master Plan' future for self-driving cars and solar power

Elon Musk, Tesla Motors chief executive has unveiled a ‘master plan’ that will see his company broaden its product portfolio into electric trucks and buses, car sharing and solar energy systems.

Writing on the Tesla blog under a post titled "Master Plan, Part Deux," Musk outlined his vision for the future of the company that will see it expand beyond products and services solely devoted to electric cars and batteries. 

The strategy includes plans to develop car and ride-sharing programs in addition to commercial vehicles - industries that are already highly competitive with businesses that have an ample head start on Tesla.

The post serves to outline the importance of renewable energy and autonomous vehicles in Tesla’s future. Summarising his intentions in four points, Musk says the company will:

  1. Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  2. Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  3. Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  4. Enable your car to make money for you when you aren't using it

Tesla’s new vehicles, which will be fully revealed next year, will range from a commercial truck called the Tesla Semi to a public transport bus, a ‘new kind of pickup truck’ and a compact SUV.

Musk also wants to acquire solar panel installer SolarCity, where he is already a major shareholder owning 22 per cent of its shares.

“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,” he wrote.

On 21 June 2016, Musk proposed Tesla buy SolarCity. He outlined a combined company that could provide consumers with the tools for a largely carbon-free lifestyle, electric cars recharged with electricity generated by SolarCity solar panel systems, or stored in the home using battery packs produced by Tesla's battery Gigafactory which is currently under construction.

The plan did not detail how he intends to finance the potential buyout at a time when both Tesla and SolarCity are burning through cash.

Continuing, Musk said he envisions Tesla owners allowing others to use their vehicles through a smartphone application and indicated there would be a ‘Tesla shared fleet’. Musk did not offer details as to how that fleet would be managed.

"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," he said. Such a service would put Tesla in direct competition with ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft, as well as planned moves in to this area by other car manufacturers such as Ford and Volkswagen.

Musk said all future Tesla products will have fully self-driving capability, including trucks and buses.

The company has recently been beset with concerns that its self-driving feature, called Autopilot, is not yet ready for real driving conditions following a crash in May where a Tesla Model S car that was being autonomously steered crashed into a truck, killing its driver. The incident became the first fatal crash involving an autonomous car, prompting a federal investigation. 

Musk vigorously defended Tesla's decision to offer a ‘beta’ system to allow partial autonomy in its vehicles

"When used correctly, it [Autopilot] is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves," he wrote.

Musk did not say when fully autonomous Teslas would be ready, but indicated it could require roughly five years of additional testing.

The large volume of data Tesla collects from its cars on the road has armed it with information to publicly counter, and possibly legally defend its claims of safety.

Should Tesla be called on to defend the technology in court, lawyers said information collected by the electronic car maker could be central in judging liability.

The stakes are high for an industry that is investing heavily in self-driving technologies and car connectivity, which are frequently touted as safety improvements. As more connected cars roll out, automakers will have access to more detailed data as to what a vehicle, and its driver, were doing before a crash.

Most major automakers, such as Ford and Nissan, as well as tech companies like Google and Apple, are investing heavily in automated driving technology.  

Germany's Daimler AG is also working on automated heavy trucks and electric commercial vehicles which will bring them in direct competition with Tesla’s future plans.

To raise funds, Tesla sold about $1.7bn in new shares in May, much of that will be used to accelerate development of its new Model 3 car lineup and reach a production pace of 500,000 vehicles a year by 2018.

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