The secret vehicle at the heart of Tesla’s new master plan

About four hours During Tesla’s marathon investor day, someone in the audience tried again to bring up Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla (and Twitter and SpaceX) to this day. From a stage at the Gigafactory in Austin, Texas, Musk announced an ambitious “Master Plan 3” to save the world. For a production investment of 10 trillion dollars, the world can move to a mass renewable electricity grid, electric cars, planes and ships.

“Earth can and will transition to a sustainable energy economy, and it will do so in a lifetime,” Musk said. More details will be revealed in the upcoming white paper, he said. But the presentation was short on detail on one part of the electric transition in Tesla’s offering: the next-generation vehicle that’s been teased for years, promising something more affordable, more efficient and more efficient than anything else built into it. The current lineup. The vehicle or group of vehicles will be critical to Tesla’s goal of selling 20 million vehicles by 2030. 1.3 million will be sold in 2022.

What will an investor drive to the company’s executives? Musk declined to share. “If we answered your question, we’d be jumping the gun,” he said, adding that the company will make separate arrangements to release the mystery vehicle somewhere down the line. Slides shown during the presentation showed only car-shaped figures under gray sheets.

Instead, 17 company executives shared some information on the vehicle during presentations focused on everything from design to supply chain to manufacturing to environmental impacts and legal issues.

The next-generation vehicle is not just a car, but an approach to building vehicles focused on “affordability and desirability,” said Lars Moravi, Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering. It will be built in a new factory near Monterrey, Mexico, announced at an event on Wednesday, and will be Tesla’s sixth battery and electric vehicle factory. Executives say the next-gen car will have a 40 percent smaller manufacturing footprint and cut production costs by 50 percent.

Wall Street seemed to expect a little more detail. The company’s stock price was down 5 percent Thursday morning.

Gene Munster, managing partner at Deepwater Asset Management, said in a note to investors: “The highly anticipated Master Plan 3 theme has left me with more questions than answers.”

“Musk and company failed to put the cherry on top — a real vision of a low-cost Tesla, if only in concept,” Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insight at Edmunds, an auto industry research firm, said in an emailed comment.

A truly affordable electric car has long been the company’s target. Tesla’s original master plan—published in 2006, before Musk became CEO—was simple, but at the time, radical: Build an electric sports car, and use that money to make cheaper and cheaper electric cars. The company claims its second electric sedan, the Model 3, will be battery-powered for the masses, but the car sold for just $35,000 during its launch. Its base model now sells for $43,000. Meanwhile, older automakers inspired by Tesla’s vision have stepped into the gap: the Chevrolet Bolt starts at $26,500 today, and the Nissan Leaf starts at $28,000.

In the year The second master plan, published in 2016, promised self-driving cars and shared robotaxis, and promoted the automaker’s (now struggling) solar panel business. The robots on the wheels haven’t been seen yet — though Wednesday’s events did feature a cameo from Optimus, the still-indestructible humanoid robot built by Tesla.

Musk doesn’t meet his own deadlines, but he always excels at motivating others with great speeches and sweeping visions. It now looks beyond cars to robots. “I want to be anyone who is an investor on Earth, not just the investors who own Tesla stock today,” he said.

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