Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk delivered part 2 of his “master plan” today, and two big parts of it are new vehicles, but not consumer models: Tesla is working on both a heavy-duty semi truck and a “high passenger-density urban transport” that would operate in cities and fit the role of a bus in city settings.
In the post describing this next stage to the now-famous master plan, Musk talked about additional consumer vehicles, including both a compact SUV separate from the Model X, and a “new kind of pickup truck,” both of which he’s alluded to before. But he said that besides their consumer offerings, two other kinds of electric vehicles are “needed”: the semi truck, and the so-called urban transport, both of which are going to be ready to show to the public as early as next year according to Musk.
The reason the Tesla Semi (as Musk refers to the truck) is necessary is because it should help drastically reduce cargo transportation costs (fuel represents a significant portion of trucking costs, and that’s passed on to the consumer). It’s also key because a Tesla transport would increase safety, Musk says, as well as making it “really fun” for vehicle operators.
As for the multi-passenger vehicle, Musk has something more ambitious in mind than just electric buses. He describes switching the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager, using autonomy to help one person conducting vehicles manage a number of vehicles, instead of just one. The design would allow passengers to also be taken directly to their destination of choice, instead of relying on fixed stops, and summoning vehicles would be handled either by phone (likely via app) or fixed summon buttons located at traditional bus stops.
Of course, this anticipates a higher degree of autonomy than is possible in public transport in cities today, but Musk’s vision also describes a fleet of self-driving Teslas that let owners defray the cost by participating in the vehicle inventory side of an automated car sharing service. Multi-passenger urban transport is likely closer than that vision, but both will require a lot of intervening steps to become a reality.