Autopilot, Model X, 50% yearly growthTesla Motors held its annual meeting of shareholders yesterday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. It's always a good time to get some updates on how things are going and future plans, and this year is no exception. The biggest news for Tesla fans was probably about the upcoming Model X. As late as it is now compared to the original release target of late 2013, it is coming! Musk reaffirmed that deliveries should be starting in "3 or 4 months".
Those who have been waiting might be rewarded for their patience, because Musk says that he's been testing the latest iterations, and he thinks "the Model X may arguably be a better SUV than the Model S is a sedan." That's saying a lot considering that the Model S has been showered with awards and praise, has received a 99/100 from Consumer Reports, calling it the "best car they've ever tested", and had the highest crash rating ever (5.4 stars out of 5).
The company's stated goal has always been to catalyze the switch over to electric vehicles, and to get there they need to make a lot more EVs (as well as influencing other automakers, which they're definitely doing). Musk seems to think that over the next few years, sales should increase at an average of about 50% per year. Not necessarily exactly 50% each year, but over a few years he thinks that a reasonable average.
That's good news because even small numbers start to get big quickly when they compound at these types of rates. Tesla will make a bigger difference relatively rapidly, and that rate should keep going up as the much more affordable Model 3 is launched in a couple years (the Model 3 will be unveiled in March 2016).
There were also some news about Tesla's 'Autopilot' feature (the cars will be self-driving in certain conditions, and use sensors to increase safety). Here's what Musk had to say about it:
The current autopilot version-one hardware consists of a forward radar, a forward camera, and 360 degree ultrasonics that go out to about 5 meters or roughly 16 feet around the car. That allows us to do what we call highway autopilot as well as some cool features like autopark and being able to summon the car on private property.
I’m testing the latest version of autopilot every week. Typically, two or three builds per week that I’m testing on my car, we’re making gradual progress towards what I would say is releasable software. But it is quite a tricky thing. And we want to make sure that our testing is exhaustive before we release the software. But if we keep making progress I think we will be able to get it out to early access customers, which is our public beta program, around the end of this month.
The expectation [for autopilot] is that someone is paying attention to the road and is ready to take over if there’s an issue. It’s really intended in the same way that autopilot for an aircraft works.
So technically, not a robot car yet, but getting there step by step.
GigafactoryMusk also gave an update on the battery Gigafactory that is being built in Nevada. He joked about how progress is fairly easy to keep track of because bloggers are taking photos and flying drones around, so all you have to do is "search the internet".
He said that Phase 1 should be complete by the end of 2016, and at that point the factory will be producing batteries (though obviously not at its maximum rate).
Battery SwappingMusk also commented on the battery swapping stations that they've installed between LA and San Francisco, saying that it's not being used very much. I suspect not because it's not good, but because with the long range of the Model S and free Supercharger popping up all around, there's very little reason to pay to have your battery swapped.
This is actually a good thing! It means that Tesla actually was overkill in trying to reassure people and kill 'range anxiety', and they succeeded. If there is ever demand for it, they can start building more battery swapping stations, but it the meantime it looks like Superchargers are enough.
You can see the video of the shareholder meeting here: Tesla 2015 AGM