Elon Confirms Tesla Model 3 Production Will Begin In July, New Autopilot Software Update In June

When Elon Musk said last year that production of the Tesla Model 3 would begin in July of 2017, everyone rolled their eyes and snickered up their sleeves. After the Model X fiasco, the conventional wisdom said projections by the serial entrepreneur were always wildly optimistic. July? More like December, if past experience is any guide. Even Musk admitted the timetable was ambitious and that actual production by late in the third quarter was more realistic.

Tesla Model 3

On May 21, Musk took to Twitter to tell his faithful followers that a major Autopilot software upgrade for cars with the Hardware 2 package of autonomous driving sensors is coming in June. The HW2 package has been baked into all cars manufactured since last October, but the software to make all the pieces function smoothly together has been a work in progress. Right at this moment, cars with the older HW1 package are still able to do some things the newer cars cannot. Midway through a series of tweets about the new software update, Musk slipped in this little tidbit:

So Model 3 production really will begin in July, just as Elon promised, according to this latest update. How fast will the line move at the beginning? When will the Design Studio that allows people to actually order their cars go live? What options will be available first? All of those questions will have to wait for answers. For now, all we know is the first Model 3 sedans will start rolling off the assembly line in about two months time.

Musk being Musk, he had lots of other things to say. To one owner of an older Model S who said he was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Model 3, he said, “I’d highly recommend upgrading to latest Model S (which is approx version 4). Only if you really want a smaller sedan, should you get a 3.” The reference to a “version 4” reinforces one of the advantages that comes with owning a Tesla — no annual model changes. The cars evolve; they do not become obsolete.

Musk has been actively working to temper people’s expectations for the Model 3 for a few months, saying the car is a smaller, simpler car with less techno-features. His message is that the Model S is like a BMW 7 Series sedan, and the Model 3 will be more like the BMW 3 Series. Both are fine cars, but they are built to appeal to different audiences.

He also put the kibosh (again) on any hopes that people with older cars could upgrade them to the new Hardware 2. “There’s just no way. Hundreds of parts and most of wiring harness would have to be replaced. Would cost more to retrofit than trading in.”

What about that software update? What is that all about? Musk tweeted, “Excited about the Tesla Autopilot software release rolling out next month. New control algorithm feels as smooth as silk.” Some owners have complained that the Autopilot on their HW2 equipped cars does not operate as smoothly as they would like. “Yeah, control algorithm is safe, but unpleasant. New one is even safer, but super smooth,” Musk says.

Here are a few other key points from Musk’s most recent Twitter blast: Parallel parking and automatic rain sensing wipers will be part of the June software update for cars with HW2 package. Those features are already available to drivers of cars with the first-generation sensor package, so the new update should bring the two into parity with each other. Musk promised an improved web browser would also be part of the upgrade.

A cross-country autonomous driving demonstration run from LA to NYC continues to be planned for later this year. “Still on for end of year. Just software limited. Any Tesla car with HW2 (all cars built since Oct last year) will be able to do this.” What Musk is saying somewhat indirectly is that all cars with the HW2 sensor package will be capable of full Level 5 autonomy once state and federal regulators give their approval and the demo run would be carefully controlled so as not to run afoul and any legal restrictions.

Finally, Musk was asked about when Teslas would be available in India. “Maybe I’m misinformed, but I was told that 30% of parts must be locally sourced and the supply doesn’t yet exist in India to support that.”

India is widely considered to be in the cards for a future Tesla factory. The world is eagerly anticipating where Tesla will build new factories next as the company begins making millions of cars a year, something Musk has suggested it will do by 2020.

China is a given, most observers think, but where in China is a closely guarded secret at present. A factory somewhere in Europe is also widely expected, with several local groups already wooing Tesla with highly creative ad campaigns designed to convince Musk theirs is the best place. Perhaps that news will come in Elon’s next Twitter barrage.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.