Tesla's Big News Sparks Talk: Model Y, Self-Driving, Superchargers and More

Tesla is set to make a big announcement on Thursday, but nobody is quite sure what it will include. CEO Elon Musk announced on Wednesday that the company is planning to release new information at 2 p.m. Pacific time, leading to speculation that the reveal could concern one of its key product areas.

Update: The big news from Tesla was the availability of a $35,000 Model 3 and that it would be closing all its dealerships.

While Musk’s Twitter post was thin on details, its timing has led to suggestions that it could involve further details about an upcoming product. This includes the Tesla Model Y sports utility vehicle, already expected to launch in March.

Update: Musk announced on March 3 the date of an “unveil event” for the Tesla Model Y.

It could also cover the company’s third-generation superchargers, designed to replenish consumers’ batteries in a matter of minutes. Rumors also point to news around the company’s autonomous driving efforts, with an in-house chip expected to launch in a matter of months.

The news comes at a big time for Tesla. Fresh from a year of aggressive expansion, where it moved from producing just over 2,000 cars per week to around 7,000, the company now dominates the American sedan market with its entry-level Model 3. The car is now expected to launch in new markets like Europe and China, as work continues on reaching the promised $35,000 starting price. Beyond the Model Y, Tesla also has plans for a pickup truck, Semi electric truck, and second-generation Roadster.

Here are some of the likely candidates for Musk’s big announcement.

Tesla’s Big News: Model Y

Tesla first outlined the idea of a compact SUV back in 2016, where he detailed the company’s master plan to expand out of simply making premium vehicles for a niche consumer and shift to a mass market firm. This plan also covered the Model 3 and the upcoming pickup truck. Musk said in July 2018 that “we’ve almost finished the design in the studio of Model Y, and we will probably debut the prototype, you know, roughly in March of next year.”

Since then, Musk has gradually ramped up the hype around the Model Y. He told investors this month that where the Model 3 has a global demand of around 700,000 to 800,000 vehicles per year, the Model Y is set to exceed that as the compact SUV is more popular globally. The car is also set to avoid the manufacturing headaches of the Model 3, as it shares 75 percent of its components.

As the company’s next big project, speculation is bubbling that the announcement could relate to this car:

“The all-new midsized crossover/SUV is Tesla’s chance to take the learnings from the Model S, X, and 3 in design and manufacturing to offer a product in a far larger and faster growing global segment,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote in a Wednesday note shared with CNBC. “The key downside to providing too much information about the Model Y and its enhanced capabilities in software and hardware is that it could steal the thunder of the still-ramping Model 3 just as it’s getting introduced into key international markets.”

Not everyone is hopeful that it will be the Model Y. Baird analyst Ben Kallo told clients in a note seen by Business Insider that “we believe management is cognizant of the short-term need to reassure investors on Model 3 demand and margins,” with another vehicle making things more complicated.

Tesla’s Big News: Autonomous Driving

Speculation is mounting that the announcement could be related to autonomous driving. Entires in the fleet tracking website TeslaFi show a Model S P100D in California upgraded to a software version titled “terminal/HW3-mileage” this week. The name brings to mind “Hardware 3,” the company’s name for the upcoming in-house A.I. chip designed to support autonomous driving.

The chip is designed to slot into existing “Hardware 2” vehicles, replacing the Nvidia Drive PX 2 with a chip that offers 10 times the processing capabilities to enable full, point-to-point autonomous rides. Musk stated in October 2018 that he expects all new Tesla vehicles to start shipping with the new chip in around six months’ time, which would place a launch around March.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the full autonomy software will be ready. Musk said in an interview earlier this month that that’s likely to arrive in 2020.

Tesla’s Big News: Supercharger

Another possibility is the launch of a third generation of superchargers. The company’s current network, with 12,888 stations globally, powers up a Tesla to around 80 percent charge in around 30 minutes using 120 kilowatts of power.

Musk suggested in December 2016 that the new version could run at 350 kilowatts. The company has backtracked on this idea since, with Musk stating in a May 2018 earnings call that “it doesn’t actually make a ton of sense, unless you got a monster battery pack or have like a crazy high C rating,” adding that a figure that could make more sense is “something along the couple of hundred, 200-250 kW, maybe.”

Whether these will offer the zombie-proofing promised before, and how they will fit into the company’s plans for Semi truck megachargers, may become clearer by the end of Thursday.

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