Tesla has a new master plan. It's not a new car — just big thoughts on planet Earth
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Tesla promised a big announcement last night, a new master plan for the company. Some people expected to hear about a new Tesla vehicle. Instead, they heard a speech from Elon Musk. NPR's Camila Domonoske was watching. Good morning.
CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK, this is great. So rarely do we hear anything from Elon Musk. Now he speaks. What did he tell the investors?
DOMONOSKE: Well, this was all about climate change. He opened this event, this Investor Day, with - I mean, in some ways, it was vintage Tesla because Tesla was always about saving the planet. Here's a bit of what Musk said.
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ELON MUSK: I really wanted today to be not just about Tesla investors who own stock but, really, anyone who is an investor in Earth. What we're trying to convey is a message of hope and optimism and optimism that is based on actual physics and real calculations, not - it's not wishful thinking.
DOMONOSKE: And so this was the master plan that he laid out. It was nothing more or less than the fact that it's possible to pivot away from fossil fuels completely. And he put a price tag on it. He said that would cost $10 trillion to planet Earth, which he said would be less than we would spend on fossil fuels over the same period. Now, obviously, lots of groups do talk about transitioning away from fossil fuels as something that's feasible, albeit very challenging. Those groups also tend to emphasize things like public transit or reducing car use overall, which Musk did not. But he emphasized - this was a big chunk of the night - that a shift to sustainable energy will happen.
INSKEEP: OK, that's all very interesting, wades into public policy. But why had investors instead been hoping that the head of Tesla would say something about a new product?
DOMONOSKE: Well, I mean, the joke is because they are a car company, right?
INSKEEP: Oh, yes.
DOMONOSKE: But there's more to it. This is actually tied to the climate goals because having specifically more cheap - cheaper, more affordable electric vehicles is essential for widespread adoption of them. It's also essential for Tesla's financial future, which is why investors care. Tesla says there is a next generation of vehicles on the way, that they will be cheaper and that they will be better. Investors and analysts were really hoping to see them last night, and that did not happen.
INSKEEP: I just want to put some numbers on the table. Some years ago, the cheapest Tesla was, like, $100,000 or something. They've unveiled less expensive models, but they're still pretty expensive as cars go, right?
DOMONOSKE: Well, the Model 3 is actually cheaper than the average new car in the United States. But the average new vehicle these days is incredibly expensive. The Model 3, even after tax credits, is still more than $35,000, and other Teslas are more expensive than that.
INSKEEP: OK. So if they didn't unveil that cheaper vehicle, what did they have to say for themselves at this meeting for investors from the company?
DOMONOSKE: Well, they did talk about changes in manufacturing that they claim would cut costs in half for future vehicles, basically building the front and the back of the vehicle separately and then putting them together with the sides. Tesla has done all kinds of experiments and changes with manufacturing in the past, some of which, like pivoting entirely to robots, didn't really go very well for the company; others, like incorporating the battery into the bottom of the vehicle, that have been pretty transformative for the industry. So that's something to watch moving forward, this new manufacturing technique. There were lots of other smaller details that they announced that were sort of all over the place and designed to show that they're still innovating or still cutting costs, even though they don't have that much anticipated new, cheaper vehicle to unveil.
INSKEEP: OK. So after all that, how do investors feel about the company?
DOMONOSKE: Well, they may not have loved the direction that this talk went in last night. They do overall feel a lot better about Tesla than they did just a few months ago. There were big price cuts, strong earnings, and drivers do still really like the cars.
INSKEEP: NPR's Camila Domonoske, thanks so much.
DOMONOSKE: Thank you.
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