Battery Pickups and Commercial Aircraft? Tesla’s Musk Exploring New Options

There are, of course, some more immediate problems.

by on Nov.14, 2013

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk isn't limiting himself to battery sedans.

One thing that’s become obvious about South African-born billionaire Elon Musk: he is willing to spend his money on anything that interests him, and in recent years that has covered a range of bases as diverse as electric cars, rocket ships, solar panels and even high-speed inter-urban transportation.

So, what next?  Musk has been dropping a number of different hints of late, and based on his history, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see more than a few new projects surface.  In fact, the Tesla Motor Co. founder and CEO has dropped a few hints of his own in recent days, telling one interviewer there is “an interesting opportunity” in the commercial aviation industry, while suggesting to another “we have to deliver” a competitor to the most popular vehicle in the U.S. market. That seems to translate into an electric pickup.

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Indeed, Musk’s comments on CNN Money wouldn’t be the first time he has expressed an interest in putting a batteries into a truck. He first broached the subject last April during a visit to Texas, at the time going so far as to suggest, ““When we do establish a manufacturing plant outside of California, Texas would be a leading candidate for that.”

Of course, the idea of setting up a second manufacturing plant seems a long ways away – except to a visionary looking well into the future. Tesla only launched production at its first real factory in the spring of 2012 and is continuing to slowly ramp up the rate at which its first major product, the Model S, is now rolling down the line.  But at a current rate of around 5,500 a month, it’s a long way from using up the capacity of what was once the old General Motors/Toyota joint venture assembly line, then known as NUMMI, in Fremont, California.

That factory is scheduled to add a second product line, the Model X battery SUV, late next year, and Tesla has just inked a new deal with Panasonic to boost its supply of batteries as demand has so far been exceeding supply.

(Three workers hospitalized after accident at Tesla plant. Click Here for details.)

Musk has made it clear for some time that he doesn’t plan to stop with just two models, both of which will nudge into the $100,000 range when fully loaded with options and their longest-range battery packs.  But he has told on several occasions that his next target would be a smaller, more mainstream vehicle that would start reaching down into the range of competitors’ offerings, such as the Nissan Leaf.

Might he shift directions? “If you’re trying to replace the most gasoline miles driven, you have to look at what people are buying,” Musk said at a conference sponsored by Business Insider‘s. He then pointed to the Ford F-150, reminding his audience it is “the best selling car in America. If people are voting that’s their car, then that’s the car we have to deliver.”

(Cadillac to launch ELR plug-in, may follow with range of other battery-based vehicles. Click Here for the exclusive report.)

Of course, pickup truck buyers are a demanding group, and as loyal as any market segment in the U.S., as Toyota and Nissan have learned, much to their chagrin.

But never mind nameplate loyalty, would truck buyers really be willing to trade their big V-8s for electric propulsion? Well, perhaps not in years past, though the latest sales numbers reveal that more fuel-efficient offerings are gaining traction – V-6s now accounting for roughly half of those F-Series sales.

And, on one hand, few vehicles would be better able to tuck away a big battery pack than a full-size pickup – though whether that would result in a significant compromise in critical factors such as payload and towing capacity – never mind range – remains to be seen.

There is also the question of whether Tesla will continue to maintain its recent momentum.  A series of fires involving the Model S sedan has raised critical concerns, at least among industry analysts and investors, though sales have so far shown no immediate impact. For his part, CEO Musk has declared recent media coverage of Tesla’s problems “extremely inaccurate.”

(For the latest on the Tesla Model S fires – and Musk’s comment there will be no recall, Click Here.)

One thing about visionaries, they seldom have just one new idea on the drawing board at one time.  Even as Musk manages Tesla’s growth, oversees the expansion of his SpaceX rocket launch company, and pushes forward with a solar cell venture, he is also tinkering with a sci-fi-like proposal to shoot travelers from one city to another inside low-pressure tubes.

And now, he has suggested in an interview with CNBC’s Russ Sorkin, he might also turn his attention to commercial aircraft.  But not something using a power source as mundane as jets or turbines.  He is examining the possibility of a supersonic aircraft that would use an electric propulsion system to take off and land vertically.

There is “an interesting opportunity” for “radical” change in an aviation industry, he told Sorkin, that has largely used the same basic technology for well over a half century. Eventually, Musk declared, he believes that just about all forms of transportation – short of rockets – will be electrically powered.  Of course, visionaries and StarTrek fans might ask him why not rockets, as well.

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One Response to “Battery Pickups and Commercial Aircraft? Tesla’s Musk Exploring New Options”

  1. Jorge M. says:

    Elon craves media attention.

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