The final design for Tesla’s Model 3, the mass-market $35,000 electric car (and arguably its most important vehicle) will be due in about six weeks, CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday.
“We’re aiming for pencils down in about six weeks, complete pencils down,” Musk said during the Code conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. “If there are ideas for future cool things we’ll have it in version two, version three, in future years type thing.”
This is in contrast to the approach Tesla (TSLA) took with the Model X, a flashy SUV with complex “falcon-wing” doors and numerous other special features that led to production delays and glitches that have plagued the company and early owners. Musk, who has admitted hubris for trying to launch so many new features in the first version, said this week that software upgrades in the vehicle will finally resolve issues with the car.
See Tesla’s Model X P90D:
“We want to do the opposite of what we did with the X, which is make something that is a lot simpler but still something people will love,” Musk said, adding that every design decision will consider how easy it will be to manufacture at volume, at an affordable price, and on schedule.
Musk says almost all of the Model 3 design is done.
Tesla has aggressive plans for the Model 3. The company has doubled original production projections to 100,000 Model 3s in 2017 and 400,000 in 2018. Musk has said Tesla plans to produce 500,000 cars (that includes the Model S sedan, Model X SUV, and Model 3) in 2018 and close to 1 million by 2020—two years ahead of its previous target.
Major suppliers are supportive and are on board, Musk says, which conflicts with a Reuters report last month that suggested suppliers were worried about the production schedule.
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One question that came up twice during the conference: Just how tech-forward will the Model 3 be? Will it, for instance, have semi-autonomous driving features in it like in Autopilot, the hands-free highway tech that is available to owners of the Model S and X? Will the upcoming cars be capable of full autonomy, in which the car’s software handles all operations without the need for human intervention?
Musk wouldn’t budge when asked if the Model 3 would be autonomous. But a knowing grin, and a promise that he would hold another Tesla event at the end of year to talk about that, suggests full autonomy is in the company’s playbook.
“Let me just say we’re going to do the obvious thing,” Musk said. “It’s really obvious.”
Musk has actually alluded to this before. Just hours after the Model 3 unveiling on March 31—and with already tens of thousands of orders received—Musk tweeted a cryptic message that some speculated meant the car, or at least the software in it, would have the capability to become fully autonomous.
Musk told Fortune in December that Tesla would achieve complete autonomy in cars in about two years, a timeline he reiterated Wednesday night. That means by the time Musk makes his end-of-the-year announcement, presumably about autonomy, the company would be just one year away from achieving the goal.
The Model 3 wasn’t the only topic he addressed in a wide-ranging interview at Code conference that covered space travel, Mars, nuclear war, artificial intelligence, and the chances we’re all living in a simulation like the one depicted in the Keanu Reeves film the “Matrix.”
More automotive thoughts from Musk:
On the popularity of autonomy and electric vehicles:
“There have been so many announcements about autonomous EV startups, I’m waiting for my mom to announce one.”
“It’s encouraging to see all of this activity. From Tesla’s standpoint we want to take a set of actions that are likely to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy, so scale up production as fast as we can, half a million cars by 2018 timeframe, maybe a 1 million cars a year by 2020. I see a clear path to get there. Autonomy is clearly very important. People are going to want autonomy. It’s going to be odd to have a car without autonomy in the future.”
On Google and why he doesn’t see the company as a future competitor:
“Google’s done a great job of showing the potential of autonomous transport, but they’re not a car company so they would potentially license their technology to another car companies.”
On Apple and why the company will be a competitor to Tesla:
“Apple? Yeah, that’ll be more direct. I hope it works out. I think they should have embarked on this project sooner, actually…I don’t think they’ll be in volume production until 2020. That would be like the soonest.”
On the scale of the Gigafactory, the massive battery factory the company is building in Nevada:
“It’s like an alien dreadnought, it’s really crazy.”
On electric car range:
“Energy density is not the issue. If you were to buy a Model S today it’s close to 300 miles. Range is not an issue. We could build a 400-mile range car today, that wouldn’t be too big of a deal. What really matters is decreasing the cost per unit of energy of the battery packs so you can make the car affordable.”