Facing a series of challenges that could determine the long-term success of the California battery-car manufacturers, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has dropped a big hint about the company’s future.
The South African-born entrepreneur issued a tweet on Sunday revealing that he is “Working on Top Secret Tesla Masterplan, Part 2. Hoping to publish later this week.” Fond of social media, Musk has frequently used Twitter, the Tesla blog and other outlets to announce company strategy.
The timing could be significant for Tesla. The carmaker is facing a series of challenges and concerns right now, including the controversial takeover of SolarCity Corp., and a pair of crashes that may be linked to the semi-autonomous Autopilot system used on the Tesla Models S and X battery-electric vehicles.
The latest tweet by Musk echoes a blog entry he posted in August 2006, titled, “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me).” At the time, Tesla was still working up its first entry, a low-volume sports car dubbed the Roadster. But Musk revealed plans to produce what became the Model S sedan and a second smaller four-door.
That offering, the Model 3, will make its debut sometime during the second half of 2017, according to Tesla, and push the maker more into the mainstream with a starting price of around $35,000. Tesla claims to already have about 400,000 advanced reservations for the Model 3, and says that by 2018 production at the company’s Fremont, California factory will reach an annualized rate of 500,000, or nearly 10 times its 2015 volume.
Tesla stock took off in the weeks since the Model 3 made its debut on March 31st during a widely covered event at the Fremont plant. But it has been riding a roller-coaster ever since, investors and analysts responding to a series of positive and negative developments.
There’ve been several reasons to worry in recent weeks. Even some of Tesla’s traditionally most bullish analysts have raised caution flags over the plan to purchase solar panel firm SolarCity – which is run by a Musk relative, the Tesla CEO also serving in a managerial role.
Then there’s the preliminar investigation the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched into Tesla’s Autopilot system later last month. The semi-autonomous technology was blamed for failing to spot a semi-trailer that pulled in front of Joshua Brown’s Model S, leading to the death of 40-year-old Joshua Brown.
(For more on the fatal Tesla Autopilot crash, Click Here.)
Complicating matters, Michigan art dealer Albert Scaglione claims he had turned on the Autopilot system in his own Model X when it crashed into a guardrail and then flipped over on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on July 1.
For its part, Tesla claims that, “Based on the information we have now, we have no reason to believe that Autopilot had anything to do with this accident.” But NHTSA has added that accident to its investigation, reporting last week that it wants “to determine whether automated functions were in use at the time of the crash.”
(Driver claims Autopilot caused second Tesla crash, Click Here for the latest.)
On top of the potential setbacks involving Solar City and Autopilot, Tesla has continued to take hits for quality and reliability issues, especially with the Model X battery-ute. And investors were disappointed by the maker’s second-quarter production and sales numbers.
(Tesla production up for Q2 but sales fall short of goal. Click Here for more.)
So, Tesla could use a bit of a boost at this point, especially if it leads to additional products and sales. Musk has previously hinted that the maker is working up additional vehicles plans, including a second-generation Roadster.
One possible niche it might target would be a smaller battery-based SUV to serve as a companion to the Model 3. That would reflect current market trends in key global markets. In the U.S., trucks, on the whole, now account for about 60% of overall new vehicle sales, and smaller utility vehicles are the market’s fastest-growing niche.
Then again, Musk might shift gears and head off in another direction. He is not only active in solar power but also runs the SpaceX rocket company. And he has been a proponent of a potentially breakthrough long-distance transportation system dubbed the HyperLoop. Meanwhile, Tesla is in the midst of setting up what will become the world’s largest lithium-ion battery plant, and is growing its stationary power source business using some of those batteries.
So, while “Masterplan, Part 2” could focus on new products for Tesla’s vehicle line-up, few would be surprised to see Musk deliver some surprises taking the company into some other new directions.