Autonomous Vehicles

Published on July 21st, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan

0

Tesla Master Plan 2 Covers SolarCity, Robotaxis, Semi Trucks, Transit, Pickup Trucks, Autonomy, Manufacturing, & Sharing…

July 21st, 2016 by  

As Elon Musk writes in the beginning of “Master Plan, Part Deux,” the original Tesla Master Plan was pretty simple. It was also written about a company Elon didn’t expect to succeed, so you might say that it wasn’t overly ambitious — even if it did mean creating a successful (electric) car company that is today only the 2nd American car company in history to not go bankrupt.

No doubt, what Tesla achieved in the past 10 years is stunning, but Elon’s Part Deux takes everything to another level — almost as if it comes from a man who intends to die on Mars.

The full Master Plan 2 is on the bottom of this article and can be accessed at that link, but below are my own comments/reactions regarding specific segments.

tl;dr

A quick summary of the plan from Elon himself is:

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

Naturally, I think you should read on….

Manufacturing Revolution

I think the manufacturing revolution Elon is focused on is really the core of this plan. This is key to enabling some of the products and certainly to quickly producing them. As has been noted many times by commenters here on CleanTechnica, the biggest technical challenge for EVs to take over the car market is probably just quick scaling of production at this point. This is what Tesla aims to achieve better than any company in history. And this feeds into most of the topics discussed below.

Here’s Elon’s short but strong comments on this matter in the 2nd Master Plan:

What really matters to accelerate a sustainable future 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. A first principles physics analysis of automotive production suggests that somewhere between a 5 to 10 fold improvement is achievable by version 3 on a roughly 2 year iteration cycle. The first Model 3 factory machine should be thought of as version 0.5, with version 1.0 probably in 2018.

Autonomy

Autonomy is key to many segments of the plan as well, and has a long section for several clear reasons, so I’m jumping into this before the other fun stuff.

As Elon notes at the start, all of Tesla’s future vehicles will have self-driving hardware. Furthermore, if one part of the car breaks, the car will be able to drive anyway … um, yeah, that’s a pretty cautious step that I assume is going to be important for getting regulators and the public onboard.

Rather importantly to the many people who think other auto manufacturers will simply be able to take off-the-shelf hardware and match Tesla’s self-driving capabilities, Elon notes what we all should know — much of the work is in the software. That is probably part of the reason Tesla is crushing automotive competitors on semi-autonomous driving features.

I think these are Elon’s key new comments on autonomous driving:

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. It is important to emphasize that refinement and validation of the software will take much longer than putting in place the cameras, radar, sonar and computing hardware.

Even once the software is highly refined and far better than the average human driver, there will still be a significant time gap, varying widely by jurisdiction, before true self-driving is approved by regulators. We expect that worldwide regulatory approval will require something on the order of 6 billion miles (10 billion km). Current fleet learning is happening at just over 3 million miles (5 million km) per day.

I should add a note here to explain why Tesla is deploying partial autonomy now, rather than waiting until some point in the future. The most important reason is that, when used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.

Tesla Transit

I think the most exciting part of Tesla’s new master plan for me — partly because it’s very new, partly because it touches on my city planning roots, and partly because it could improve the lives of a ton of less-advantaged people — is its transit plan.

The idea is basically to create something that is a mixture of normal buses, Uber, and self-driving “robotaxis.” If it is achieved, you will be able to summon a small bus via smartphone or simple buttons at bus stops.

Here are Elon’s words on this part:

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…. 

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. Traffic congestion would improve due to increased passenger areal density by eliminating the center aisle and putting seats where there are currently entryways, and matching acceleration and braking to other vehicles, thus avoiding the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow of traditional heavy buses. It would also take people all the way to their destination. Fixed summon buttons at existing bus stops would serve those who don’t have a phone. Design accommodates wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.

In a tweet, Elon added that the design of the buses is “inspired by some of the California Custom VW combi design art.”

Fun stuff.

Tesla Semi-Truck — Fun & Clean Cargo Trucking

While Tesla Motors co-founder Ian Wright started a heavy-duty extended-range electric truck company years ago, Elon apparently thinks there’s still plenty for Tesla to offer in the semi-truck segment in the coming years.

Aside from the above short bit, Elon simply noted: “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.”

Electric Pickup & Compact SUV, But No Cheap Electric Car

Many EV enthusiasts have been aching for a compelling electric pickup truck from Tesla, and many others for a compact SUV (Tesla Model Y). Tesla aims to satisfy consumer desires there.

Though, there is no plan for a $20,000 electric car, like many had hoped and dreamed. The reason isn’t, though, that Tesla doesn’t want to serve the non-premium market — it’s that Elon believes the Tesla Model 3 could even be profitable if owners decide to share their cars as self-driving robotaxis when not in use. (This is exactly what Julian Cox discussed for us at the 1st Cleantech Revolution Tour conference and in a subsequent article here on CleanTechnica, but let’s just jump into that now….)

Self-Driving Tesla Taxis

Let’s jump straight into the precise quote from Elon:

When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination.

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. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.

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.

As Julian argued, Tesla prefers to opt for customers owning the self-driving cars that the Tesla robotaxi fleet uses, but Elon says that Tesla would supply the cars itself in cities (presumably, large and maybe medium-sized cities) when there aren’t enough customer-owned cars.

The benefits of such a model, in contrast to Tesla owning all of the robotaxis itself, are that Tesla could presumably finance and scale production faster, more people benefit from the technology transition (a lot more people), and people who want to own cars can still own them but participate (presumably enabling a quicker shift to such a sharing system as it entices more people to join in).

Tesla (TSLA) + SolarCity (SCTY)

Of course, we’ve thoroughly hashed out the potential Tesla Motors acquisition of SolarCity, so I won’t spend more time on that. Check out “74% Of Cleantech Enthusiasts Support Tesla’s SolarCity Acquisition Offer” for more on the topic. Needless to say, Elon wants to create a one-stop-shop and app for top-of-the-line solar energy, energy storage, and electric vehicles.


Elon apparently pulled an all-nighter and more to write Master Plan 2, and as you can see, it’s not very long. So, I’m guessing that a lot of the work went into running numbers, evaluating (further than before) how to get to the end goals and what would be needed on several fronts (social, technical, regulatory, etc.).

How will the stock market react to TSLA once it digests all of this? I’m curious, as a shareholder and simply as an obsessed observer of humans and society.

Given that we are nearly at the 10-year anniversary of Elon’s first Tesla Master Plan, and it is nearly complete, I don’t think this new plan was simply a reaction to recent controversy around Autopilot and SolarCity (as many have suggested). But I think it’s clear from the segments spent discussing these matters that the controversies are still top of mind for Elon. Does he really need to spend so much time addressing the media circus around these topics? Possibly, but I hope that this second master plan closes the door on the topics for him and he spends his time working on achieving the plan rather than responding to trolls. As they say, don’t feed the trolls….

Below the line is the full “Master Plan, Part Deux” for your own evaluation, or just click that link.


The first master plan that I wrote 10 years ago is now in the final stages of completion. It wasn’t all that complicated and basically consisted of:

  1. Create a low volume car, which would necessarily be expensive
  2. Use that money to develop a medium volume car at a lower price
  3. Use that money to create an affordable, high volume car
    And…
  4. Provide solar power. No kidding, this has literally been on our website for 10 years.

The reason we had to start off with step 1 was that it was all I could afford to do with what I made from PayPal. I thought our chances of success were so low that I didn’t want to risk anyone’s funds in the beginning but my own. The list of successful car company startups is short. As of 2016, the number of American car companies that haven’t gone bankrupt is a grand total of two: Ford and Tesla. Starting a car company is idiotic and an electric car company is idiocy squared.

Also, a low volume car means a much smaller, simpler factory, albeit with most things done by hand. Without economies of scale, anything we built would be expensive, whether it was an economy sedan or a sports car. While at least some people would be prepared to pay a high price for a sports car, no one was going to pay $100k for an electric Honda Civic, no matter how cool it looked.

Part of the reason I wrote the first master plan was to defend against the inevitable attacks Tesla would face accusing us of just caring about making cars for rich people, implying that we felt there was a shortage of sports car companies or some other bizarre rationale. Unfortunately, the blog didn’t stop countless attack articles on exactly these grounds, so it pretty much completely failed that objective.

However, the main reason was to explain how our actions fit into a larger picture, so that they would seem less random. The point of all this was, and remains, accelerating the advent of sustainable energy, so that we can imagine far into the future and life is still good. That’s what “sustainable” means. It’s not some silly, hippy thing — it matters for everyone.

By definition, we must at some point achieve a sustainable energy economy or we will run out of fossil fuels to burn and civilization will collapse. Given that we must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better.

Here is what we plan to do to make that day come sooner:

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.

We can’t do this well if Tesla and SolarCity are different companies, which is why we need to combine and break down the barriers inherent to being separate companies. That they are separate at all, despite similar origins and pursuit of the same overarching goal of sustainable energy, is largely an accident of history. 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.

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. A lower cost vehicle than the Model 3 is unlikely to be necessary, because of the third part of the plan described below.

What really matters to accelerate a sustainable future 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. A first principles physics analysis of automotive production suggests that somewhere between a 5 to 10 fold improvement is achievable by version 3 on a roughly 2 year iteration cycle. The first Model 3 factory machine should be thought of as version 0.5, with version 1.0 probably in 2018.

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. Traffic congestion would improve due to increased passenger areal density by eliminating the center aisle and putting seats where there are currently entryways, and matching acceleration and braking to other vehicles, thus avoiding the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow of traditional heavy buses. It would also take people all the way to their destination. Fixed summon buttons at existing bus stops would serve those who don’t have a phone. Design accommodates wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.

Autonomy
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. It is important to emphasize that refinement and validation of the software will take much longer than putting in place the cameras, radar, sonar and computing hardware.

Even once the software is highly refined and far better than the average human driver, there will still be a significant time gap, varying widely by jurisdiction, before true self-driving is approved by regulators. We expect that worldwide regulatory approval will require something on the order of 6 billion miles (10 billion km). Current fleet learning is happening at just over 3 million miles (5 million km) per day.

I should add a note here to explain why Tesla is deploying partial autonomy now, rather than waiting until some point in the future. The most important reason is that, when used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.

According to the recently released 2015 NHTSA report, automotive fatalities increased by 8% to one death every 89 million miles. Autopilot miles will soon exceed twice that number and the system gets better every day. It would no more make sense to disable Tesla’s Autopilot, as some have called for, than it would to disable autopilot in aircraft, after which our system is named.

It is also important to explain why we refer to Autopilot as “beta”. This is not beta software in any normal sense of the word. Every release goes through extensive internal validation before it reaches any customers. It is called beta in order to decrease complacency and indicate that it will continue to improve (Autopilot is always off by default). Once we get to the point where Autopilot is approximately 10 times safer than the US vehicle average, the beta label will be removed.

Sharing
When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination.

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. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.

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, in short, Master Plan, Part Deux is:

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


Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.



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