Elon Musk would make a lousy poker player. He is many things — visionary, innovator, creative thinker — but he just can’t keep a secret. When someone asks him a question about what Tesla plans are for the future, his face lights up and he smiles an “I know something you don’t know” smile. Then he spills the beans.
Elon was in Oslo last week to attend a Future of Transportation conference. During a public forum with Norwegian minister of transportation Ketil Solvik-Olsen, Musk talked broadly about his vision and his mission to help the world transition away from using fossil fuels for transportation. Asked about urban congestion and public transportation, he willingly admitted that he and Tesla are thinking about a new kind of vehicle that would replace the standard city bus with a point to point system. He says it would be more efficient and also more appealing to riders.
Then he began extolling the virtues of the upcoming Model 3 and how it will provide emissions free driving that half of all potential customers can afford. That’s when he got that enigmatic smile on his face and said something completely unexpected. “I’m super excited about being able to produce a car that most people can afford. And there will be future cars that are even more affordable down the road, but, with something like the Model 3, it’s designed such that roughly half the people will be able to afford the car. Then, with fourth generation and smaller cars, we’ll ultimately be in the position where everyone will be able to afford the car.”
No one has ever said anything officially, but it is widely believed that eventually Musk wants the entire range of Tesla vehicles to be S-E-X-Y. He was greatly perturbed when Ford laid claim to the name “Model E”, saying that Ford “wanted to kill sex.” Up until now, most people assumed the Model Y will be a variation of the Model 3. Perhaps a crossover version with a variation on the falcon wing doors? But Musk’s remarks in Oslo suggest the Model Y — if there is one — will be a smaller, less expensive entry level car meant to slot in below the Model 3 in the Tesla lineup.
Musk also took time to talk about autonomous driving systems like his company’s Autopilot system. After nearly 50 million miles of driving with Autopilot engaged, Musk says the data shows the risk of an accident is reduced by 50%. He defines an accident as an event that causes the air bags to inflate.
With the more sophisticated self-driving systems Tesla is working on, he expects the risk of accidents to fall even lower. Once there is data from billions of miles of computer controlled driving available to prove it is safer than driving with a human in control, he predicts regulators and the public will embrace autonomous driving technology “surprisingly quickly.”
Did Musk have any tidbits to share with the audience? Yes. He told us for the first time that, when finished, the Gigafactory will look like a diamond and will be oriented precisely with true north. Why? Because “You have to have some romance and sentimentality to these things.” Musk a romantic? Now that’s news!