It’s hard to imagine being more excited about a car than many of us are about the Tesla Model 3, but I think the Tesla Model Y will be an even bigger deal. A relatively affordable, “compact” SUV with falcon-wing doors that beats the pants off of a Porsche and has approximately double the “fuel economy” of a Toyota Prius? Please, tell me more.
Tesla Model Y
Naturally, with Tesla’s #1 focus being Model 3 right now (and world domination on the side), Elon isn’t leaking too much info regarding the development work being done on Tesla Model Y, but he did confirm this week that the next Tesla vehicle is a small SUV (we’ve known this for a long time, but it’s good to get another confirmation).
Falcon-wing doors on the Model Y? Really? Well, that is all but confirmed. Last year, when asked on Twitter if the Model 3 would have falcon-wing doors, Elon responded, “there will be a Model 3 and a Model Y. One of the two will.” The Model 3 doesn’t have them.
One of the less-predicted announcements in Elon’s Tesla Master Plan, Part Deux, was that Tesla would be jumping into the transit world (small transit, not big transit) with the eventual release of Tesla buses:
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.
He provided a hint of what the buses would look like, in reply to curiosity from Dana Hull of Bloomberg:
It's inspired by some of the California Custom VW combi design art
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 21, 2016
This week, Elon provided one more interesting detail: this Tesla Bus will be built on the Model X platform. Logical. Efficient. Sure to be hot and steamy.
This reiterates that he’s really thinking about a small vehicle, which has its place in the grand scheme of various transit options. I’m super curious to hear more about this aspect of Tesla’s future, both because of my city planning background and because it’s just fun to explore the next frontier of technology and transport.
Back to the focus of the week: the machines that build the machines.
As Elon told us on a conference call last year, the really exciting thing about Gigafactory 1 isn’t even what it produces — it’s that it is, in a sense, the ultimate product.
Elon highlighted on another call that a key different between Tesla philosophy and Google philosophy was that Elon thinks the biggest opportunity is in the manufacturing process, while Google (presumably Google head and close Elon friend Larry Page) sees the biggest opportunity in the design of the product. Elon admitted that he wasn’t claiming he was definitely correct with that philosophy, but that was a critical point for Tesla.
- “The factory itself is considered to be a product. The factory is the machine that builds the machine. It actually deserves more attention from creative and problem solving engineers than the product it makes. What we’re seeing, if we take a creative engineer and apply them to designing the machine that makes the machine, they can make 5 times as much headway per hour, than if they work on the product itself.”
- “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.”
That’s a pretty convincing case on the superiority of Tesla’s philosophy and what seems to be Elon’s premier career passion right now.
Building off of that, and building off of previous statements, it’s obvious that Tesla is planning to get several Gigafactories up and running as soon as possible. On that topic, Elon said this week that they plan to have at least one Gigafactory on each continent eventually. Europe and Asia (China) seem to be next in line.
But what does eventually mean? That’s the question many of us are on the edge of our seats waiting to hear. However, I’d add caution that I think a common use of “eventually” as “in the end” isn’t a conclusion you want to make. I’m thinking the actual long-term goal of Tesla is to have a few or several Gigafactories on each continent. Just do the math: Gigafactory 1 is supposed to be able to produce batteries for 1.5 million Tesla cars once fully up and running. Global auto sales were nearly 88 million in 2015, are expected to 89 million in 2016, and are widely expected to be in the tens of millions for years to come. If conventional automakers aren’t willing to pick up the pace and transition to electric cars before falling into bankruptcy, Tesla will need to supply a significant portion of the market. And then there are semi trucks, buses, etc., to produce and fill with batteries.
Elon already sounds crazy enough to people with more conservative vision. I presume he’s holding back on the grand statements but is dreaming of dozens of Tesla Gigafactories eventually.