Elon Musk: Tesla Model X gullwing doors aren’t a gimmick

June 10, 2015, 1:25 PM UTC
Franz von Holzhausen
Franz von Holzhausen, Chief Designer, Tesla Motors talks about the doors on the Tesla Model X at media previews for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Photograph by Paul Sancya — AP

In less than 90 minutes, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk squeezed more than a half dozen notable announcements and updates into the company’s annual shareholder meeting—many in response to shareholder questions.

It was a smorgasbord of little informational nuggets, some critically important to the company’s future. Musk even addressed the topic of when SpaceX, the rocket maker that Musk also leads, might go public. (For the record, Musk answered: “Once flights to Mars begin.”)

Before Musk took the stage, two shareholders submitted proposals asking Tesla to end the use of animal products in interior car features such as leather seating and to consider becoming the first cruelty-free premium car brand. Tesla’s board of directors recommended voting against both proposals. However, during the Q&A when a member of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals pressed Musk to offer leather-free materials, he responded, “We’ll look into it.”

Aside from vegan cars—which I suspect is low on the company’s to-do list—there are a number important changes underway at Tesla. Here’s what you might have missed.

CFO Deepak Ahuja is retiring

I cannot overstate what Tesla (TSLA) loses with Deepak Ahuja’s departure. One of the early executives at Tesla—and the company’s first CFO—Deepak Ahuja has a deep knowledge of the company’s operations as well as the broader automotive industry. He guided the company through its IPO in 2010 and through darker financial times, including 2013 when the struggling company almost sold to Google.

As Musk brought Ahuja on stage, he credited the CFO for “staying calm and steady through some incredibly difficult times.”

“I’ve discovered more potential in myself than I could have imagined,” Ahuja said, with a knowing smile directed at Musk while on stage at the shareholder’s meeting. The company broadcast the meeting over the web from the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

Ahuja, who was an executive Ford Motor prior to joining Tesla, will remain in his position until the company hires a new CFO and will continue to be involved after to ensure a smooth transition, the company said.

Model X deliveries will begin in three to four months

The date hasn’t changed—and that’s the important detail. It was more than three years ago when Musk revealed an early prototype of the Model X. Since then, at least 20,000 people have plunked down $5,000 to secure a reservation for the crossover sport utility vehicle with falcon-winged rear doors and seating for seven.

The date has been pushed back numerous times. Earlier this year, Musk said the company would start delivering the Model X late in the third quarter. Musk reiterated that same timeline during the shareholder’s meeting.

He also told investors he reviews the latest iteration of the Model X every week.

“Model X may arguably be a better SUV than a Model S is a sedan,” Musk said at the shareholder’s meeting, adding that the company is focused on ensuring features like the falcon-winged doors and second row seating aren’t gimmicky, and instead provide genuine improvement in utility.

Tesla doubles the power output of Powerwall

Even though demand for Tesla’s Powerwall home batteries has been “crazy off the hook” since their big reveal April 30, there have been critics. Tesla took some of that negative feedback to heart and decided to dramatically increase the power capability of the home batteries, Musk said.

The Powerwall, a sleek and suitcase-sized 220-pound lithium-ion battery designed to store energy generated by solar power at the residential level, comes in 7 kilowatt-hour and 10 kwh sizes. The 10 kwh unit is meant to be a source of backup power. The 7 kwh version, when combined with solar panels, is designed to be used daily to extend the environmental and cost benefits of solar after the sun has gone down.

Tesla has doubled the peak power output of the Powerwall to 7 kilowatts from 3.3 kilowatts without raising the price of about $3,500.

Musk also added that customers who already have solar installed at their homes will be the first to receive Powerwall shipments.

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Autopilot to be released this month

Tesla’s autopilot feature, which will allow hands-free steering—will become available to early access customers by the end of June.

Musk tests the latest version of autopilot every week and says the company is making gradual progress towards releasing the software.

“It is quite a tricky thing and we want to make sure our testing is exhaustive before releasing the software,” Musk said. The feature will be similar to autopilot in airplanes. The pilot, or in this case the driver, must be ready to take control of the car.

A fully autonomous vehicle is at least three years away, Musk said, adding that it could take an additional one to three years for governments to come up with regulations around self-driving cars.

The gigafactory will be producing batteries by mid-2016

Musk told investors the company expects to have phase one of the $5 billion factory built, operating and producing battery packs by middle of 2016.

Tesla’s ability to produce an affordable electric car (the Model III) for the masses hinges almost entirely on its gigafactory project. Completing the first phase by next year will be a critically important milestone for Tesla and the Model III.

Speaking of the Model III, it will have a single motor, but …

Musk said in a response to a shareholder question that perhaps customers will be able to upgrade to a dual motor, or all-wheel drive, version of the Model III.

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