These Are Elon Musk’s Top 3 Priorities at Tesla

October 27, 2016, 12:16 AM UTC
Tour Of Tesla Motors Inc.'s Gigafactory With Remarks By Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk And Co-Founder Jeffrey Straubel
Billionaire Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc., left, speaks as Jeffrey Straubel, chief technical officer and co-founder of Tesla Motors Inc., looks on during a press event at the company's new Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. Tesla officially opened its Gigafactory on Tuesday, a little more than two years after construction began. The factory is about 14 percent complete but when it's finished, it will be about 10 million square feet, or about the size of 262 NFL football fields.
Photograph by Troy Harvey—Bloomberg via Getty Images

In an earnings call following one of Tesla’s best quarters ever, Tesla CEO Elon Musk disclosed the three things he’s currently prioritizing at his electric car company.

Those priorities include making sure that the company’s upcoming Model 3 is on time and inexpensive enough, advancing Tesla’s autonomous vehicle software, and ramping up the company’s high-energy battery pack for cars.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Model 3 is at the top of the list.

The company has only launched three cars in its 13-year lifetime, and the Model 3 will be the company’s fourth car. But the car will be Tesla’s (TSLA) first lower-priced car, with a planned cost of $35,000. The company’s other cars commonly go for six figures depending on the features.

In order to meet the Model 3’s low price, Tesla is racing to lower the cost of batteries that will power the car, by building a massive battery factory outside of Reno, Nevada. The car’s batteries, made in conjunction with Japanese giant Panasonic, will be larger in size than traditional lithium-ion batteries and will have other new features.

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The company is trying to get the first Model 3 cars to customers by the end of 2017, as well as ramp up manufacturing of all its cars to 500,000 units per year by 2018, up from about 80,000 in 2016. Meeting that timeline could be difficult. Tesla has missed these types of deadlines in the past.

That Musk is also prioritizing the company’s Autopilot software—which currently aids Tesla drivers with steering, lane changing, and even parking—also isn’t too surprising. The company had a high profile fatal accident when one of its customers had Autopilot enabled.

Following the death, the company upgraded its software and recently announced that all new cars produced at the factory will have new hardware that can make them fully self-driving (when Tesla’s software enables it). That new hardware includes 8 cameras, powerful computing, and a next-gen radar system.

Many companies are aggressively moving into autonomous vehicles, from traditional auto industry firms like GM and Nissan, to startups including Otto and Cruise Automation, to ride-sharing upstarts like Uber. Tesla has an opportunity to lead with its self-driving car tech, but it will have to work quickly to maintain a head start.

Tesla Just Introduced a New High-Energy Battery Pack

Musk’s third Tesla priority is a little more counter intuitive. Two months ago the company announced it’s working on a 100-kilowatt hour battery pack for its cars that can enable them to accelerate more quickly and drive further on a single charge. The 100-kilowatt battery can last for 315 miles, which is the longest range ever for a production electric vehicle.

Currently the battery pack is only being made in limited amounts, and it uses a new battery cell cooling system, battery cell architecture, and electronics.

Musk said on Wednesday’s earnings call that there is high demand for the 100-kilowatt hour battery pack, and that he gets daily updates on the technology’s progress. In fact, he said after he got off the earnings call, he would be focused on that battery production line.

While the 100-kilowatt battery may seem like the stuff of energy nerds, it actually represents everything that Tesla has worked on for the last decade. If the company can offer the high-energy battery pack much more widely, it could beat out many competitors also launching electric cars in the coming years.

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