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For Tesla, Self-Driving Cars Are Only the Beginning

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author photo by Russ Heaps September 2016

Electric vehicles (EVs) were the starting point for Tesla and its ambitious creator and CEO Elon Musk, but his vision ranges far beyond the electric sedan and crossover his company currently produces. It even goes further than the more-affordable Model 3 when it eventually makes it into production.

Among other things, Musk has his eye on self-driving cars, which he believes will be 10 times safer than human-controlled vehicles. In a recently published mission statement -- or Master Plan, Part Deux, as Musk refers to it -- that's long on big ideas but short on details, he divulges several key projects underway at Tesla. He certainly isn't afraid to dream.

Chicken or the Egg

"What really matters to accelerate a sustainable future," he wrote, "is being able to scale up production volume as quickly as possible. That is why Tesla engineering has transitioned to focus heavily on designing the machine that makes the machine -- turning the factory itself into a product."

What does that mean, exactly? He has tasked his battalion of engineers with improving and refining the production process more than the product itself. He argues that for Tesla, production is the product, adding that an engineer's efforts are as much as 10 times more productive when spent on the process rather than the product. Because of this perspective, Musk believes Tesla's production processes will continue to improve, saving time and increasing quality.

Expanding the Product Line

Having an ever-more efficient production facility will come in handy with the variety of vehicles Musk wants to produce. In addition to the $35,000 Model 3 sport sedan projected to reach consumers late in 2017, Musk is promising a compact crossover and some sort of pickup truck. But he doesn't stop there.

Teasing a reveal sometime next year, Musk announced that Tesla is already developing two more EVs: a semi for hauling big loads and a buslike mass-transit vehicle. Both would operate as autonomous vehicles. He sees Tesla's bus as more flexible and accessible than current mass transit, with the ability to be summoned by fixed call buttons scattered around the city. Such buses would be able to carry people all the way to their ultimate destinations.

Self-Driving Cars

Musk sees a future where every Tesla product will be totally autonomous. Although he believes the day when our highways are filled with vehicles operating without any human input is still a long way off, he's convinced it's coming. Validating the technology to the satisfaction of government regulators will be the big stumbling block, he wrote, requiring several billion miles of testing.

Tesla will press ahead with incorporating autonomous technology into its vehicles. Musk's goal is to make its autopilot 10 times safer than the average U.S. vehicle.

Getting a Return

A true autonomous vehicle that comes running when summoned and operates completely without human input can and should be a source of income for its owner. At least that's the way Musk views it. The Tesla app will allow owners to add their vehicles to Tesla's shared fleet when not in use. Most owners, he reasoned, use their vehicle no more than 10 percent of the day. The rest of the time their vehicle could be making them money by transporting other people, offsetting some or all of the ownership costs.

What it means to you: Right now, most of this means nothing to you and me. This latest master plan didn't offer any hint of how Musk might pay for all or even any of this. But when Musk dreams, things tend to happen.

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Used 2016 Tesla Model X P90D
Used 2016 Tesla Model X
$99,980
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Used 2016 Tesla Model S AWD Performance
Used 2016 Tesla Model S
$88,980
Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
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Used 2016 Tesla Model S AWD
Used 2016 Tesla Model S
$63,480
Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
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Used 2016 Tesla Model S AWD
Used 2016 Tesla Model S
$73,980
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For Tesla, Self-Driving Cars Are Only the Beginning - Autotrader