Tesla’s new Solar Glass Roof tiles are the first version ready for a wide rollout

Elon Musk has unveiled a redesign of Tesla’s Solar Roof tiles, dubbed “Solar Glass Roof.” The new roof design will cost around $42,500 for a 2,000-square-foot roof with 10kW of solar capacity before tax credits (or about $21.25 per square foot), according to Tesla’s website, though pricing will vary by size and location. The new roof will come with a 25-year warranty, and be offered in a dark tempered glass finish to start, though Musk said Friday he hopes to unveil new designs “every six to nine months.”

The new version of the Solar Roof is the third design Tesla has come up with, and the company says it should be cheaper and quicker to install than version two, which is what Tesla was selling before Friday’s announcement. With version two, Musk told reporters, Tesla was “basically trying to not lose money” on each installation, in part because that version of the roof needed additional work done after it left the factory and arrived at a home. He called them “quite artisanal,” and compared their installation to “building airplanes and you finish your construction on the runway.”

“[It] just wasn’t a version that was worth scaling,” Musk said.

The new Solar Glass Roof, however, is the first version he feels comfortable scaling production-wise thanks to a simpler design with fewer parts and sub-assemblies. Musk compared the progress to how other technologies tend to need a few iterations before they gain wide adoption. “Windows 1 or 2 didn’t really work, frankly,” he said, presumably referring to Microsoft’s early operating systems.

The billionaire CEO claimed the new roof tiles, which are bigger and more power dense, will help “make roofs come alive,” creating a world “where you look around the neighborhood and the roofs are all gathering energy.”

“I think in the future, it will be odd for roofs to not gather energy,” Musk said.

The promise of the Solar Roof has always been an enticing one. Pay a premium over standard solar panels, and you can get a normal-looking tiled roof that will suck up the sun’s energy all the same. It won’t be for everyone, though. Musk tweeted on Thursday that the Solar Roof will “only make financial sense for new houses or replacement roofs.” If a potential customer’s roof is more than five years away from needing to be replaced, he said, they’re better off going with a standard solar panel setup.

“It costs a price point that is less than what the average roof costs plus solar panels,” Musk said on the call.

Musk originally unveiled the Solar Roof in October of 2016 on the set of Desperate Housewives, right around when Tesla was in the middle of acquiring SolarCity — a company Musk was chairman of, and one founded by his cousins. That deal stirred up a great deal of controversy, with detractors calling it a “bailout” of SolarCity, which had started to struggle after years of growth. A number of Tesla shareholders even sued Musk over the deal, alleging he overvalued SolarCity, and claiming he did not properly recuse himself from the deal. (The lawsuit is still ongoing, and more documents — including Musk’s deposition — were unsealed Friday. Tesla and Musk have denied any impropriety.)

The Solar Roof project itself has been besieged with problems. It was originally supposed to go on sale in 2017, but design issues forced Tesla to delay the launch. Production eventually began in 2018 at the company’s second Gigafactory, a repurposed SolarCity factory in Buffalo, New York, but the rollout of the Solar Roof has been extremely limited while Tesla worked on what Musk referred to as “version three” of the design.

Tesla could use a win on the solar side of the business. The company deployed fewer solar panels in the second quarter of 2019 than in any other quarter since acquiring SolarCity, dropping it to third in the residential solar panel market in the US, and that number just barely ticked up in the third quarter. Tesla tried slashing prices and recently started offering a rental plan for its solar panels, though it’s still too early to tell whether the latter will help the company regain its market lead in the US. Tesla was also sued by Walmart in August, after a number of the retailer’s stores suffered fires allegedly started by Tesla and SolarCity solar panels.

“It’s been quite hard to get to this point,” Musk said Friday. “This was a quite a difficult product because roofs have to last for a long time. And then when you add electrification to the roof,” it gets even more difficult, he said.

Tesla says the new roof will be simpler, faster, and more intuitive to install than previous iterations, and that the goal is to install 1,000 roofs per week in the “next few months.” Musk said he believes the addressable market for the Solar Glass Roof is “100 million homes worldwide.” Musk also said Tesla has two internal installation teams competing on how to best install the new roof (a tactic he recently used with SpaceX’s Starship prototype), and is hiring a lot of installers. But Musk said Tesla will also bring in outside installation companies to figure out how to improve from there.

Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ feature may get early-access release by the end of 2019

Tesla may grant certain customers early access to a “feature complete” version of the company’s “full self-driving” (FSD) capabilities by the end of 2019, Elon Musk said in a call with investors Wednesday. Musk said that this wasn’t “for sure” — but that he thinks Tesla is on track for the release.

It’s a kind of limited beta test, so there won’t be a bunch of Tesla vehicles driving around autonomously by the end of the year. Musk later clarified on the call that by “feature complete,” he means the car will be able to drive from someone’s home to their work without intervention. Drivers will still need to be ready to take control if the car runs into a problem. Some experts have taken issue with the way Musk talks about these features in the past, arguing he is muddying the waters by overselling a Tesla car’s capabilities.

Musk said Tesla Autopilot can handle high-speed driving, while its recently rolled out Smart Summon parking feature can handle low speeds. (How well Smart Summon works is up for debate, given the number of Tesla owners reporting bugs in the system.) The company has yet to allow its customers hands-off control of the vehicle at medium speeds, where they are more likely to encounter traffic signals, intersections, and other complexities. FSD is meant to address that gap in Tesla’s current autonomous capabilities.

There will be limits, Musk cautioned. “It doesn’t mean like every scenario everywhere on Earth, including every corner case,” he said. That contradicts previous statements by Musk. Earlier this year, Musk said Tesla’s vehicles will be able to achieve Level 5 autonomy “without a geofence,” which means they can drive anywhere, under any conditions.

Tesla has said it will activate its FSD feature by mid-2020, so today’s comments indicate the company is feeling bullish about its capabilities. Tesla has an early access program for select drivers that it uses as a testing platform to help iron out software bugs.

Musk previously estimated that by the middle of 2020, Tesla’s autonomous system will have improved to the point where drivers will not have to pay attention to the road. The company also plans to roll out autonomous taxis in some parts of the US. The service will allow Tesla owners to add their cars to a Tesla network, which he said would be akin to Uber or Airbnb.

In the call, Musk said even as the company begins to activate a feature-complete version of its FSD feature to early access members, it won’t mean the car will be fully full self-driving. Drivers will need to stay engaged until the end of 2020 at the earliest, Musk said.

Tesla brought back the FSD package earlier this year after shelving the option in late 2018 amid criticism the company was overselling the autonomy of its vehicles. Earlier this year Musk showed off the custom chip that Tesla will use to tackle this task, though he is well-known for missing his own deadlines.

Customers who are buying a Tesla have the option of purchasing the company’s FSD option for $6,000, or $8,000 after delivery. (The company raised prices by $1,000 in August; Musk has said prices will continue to go up every few months.)

Musk has long argued that Tesla’s self-driving advantage comes from having a large fleet of vehicles — around 425,000 — already on the road. Those cars record situations and provide training data to improve the neural networks needed for self-driving cars. The company’s approach to autonomous vehicles is primarily focused on computer vision, or using cameras — just like humans — to recognize and understand the world.

“We will have more than one million robotaxis on the road,” Musk said earlier this year. “A year from now, we’ll have over a million cars with full self-driving, software… everything.”

Tesla’s Smart Summon parking feature has been used over a million times

Smart Summon, the autonomous parking feature rolled out by Tesla in mid-September, has already been used “over one million times,” the company said in its quarterly earnings statement Wednesday.

The feature enables a Tesla vehicle to leave a parking space and navigate around obstacles to its owner. Tesla owners who purchased the Full Self-Driving option on their car received it as part of the version 10 software update that went out on September 26th. Using just the Tesla app on your smartphone, you can “summon” your car to you from a maximum distance of 200 feet, as long as the car is within your line of sight.

There were some hiccups, though, with some users posting videos on Twitter and YouTube of near crashes or confused, slow-moving vehicles. One Tesla owner tweeted about “front bumper damage,” while another claimed their Model 3 “ran into the side of [a] garage.” A video of a near collision with a speeding SUV left the owner feeling their test of Smart Summon “didn’t go so well.” Another Tesla was filmed seemingly confused by pedestrians and other cars as it tried to make its way across a Walmart parking lot.

But the company says it expects to roll out over-the-air software updates in the future that may address some of these snags.

“Our neural network learning approach enables us to continue to iterate and improve functionality over time,” Tesla says.

Update October 23rd, 7:29PM ET: In a call with investors, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company would be releasing an improved version of Smart Summon in the coming weeks. Tesla’s “massive fleet” of vehicles “allows us to check these corner cases and learn from them and use them to learn and become rapidly better,” Musk said.

Tesla ekes out a profit as all eyes turn to its China Gigafactory

A record number of cars shipped in the third quarter of 2019 were enough to help Tesla turn a modest profit, according to financial figures released by the Silicon Valley automaker on Wednesday. And with the Shanghai Gigafactory nearly ready to begin production of the Model 3, Tesla’s most affordable car, all eyes are now on China to see what kind of lift the automaker can get in the biggest market for electric vehicles in the world.

Tesla reported a net income of $143 million, and generated $6.3 billion of revenue, which is down slightly from the second quarter, and down about $520 million from the third quarter of 2018. That marks the first year-over-year quarterly revenue decline for Tesla since 2012, though the company attributes the drop to a tripling in the number of customers leasing its cars. (Tesla started leasing Model 3s in April of this year.) The company said it ended the quarter with $5.3 billion in cash.

Tesla says it turned its first profit since the fourth quarter of 2018 by slashing operating costs, which are the “lowest level since Model 3 production started” — likely aided by multiple workforce cuts the company has made, and Elon Musk’s “nano” managing. The company also benefited from selling $134 million in regulatory credits, and booked $30 million of revenue from the money it has charged customers over the years for the “full self-driving” version of Autopilot. Tesla plans to count more of that “deferred revenue” as profit in coming quarters as it rolls out new features that are part of that “full self-driving” software package. (This quarter, it shipped the “Smart Summon” parking feature.)

On October 2nd, Tesla announced it delivered around 97,000 cars in the third quarter of 2019, meaning the company just edged out the 95,356 it shipped in the second quarter. Despite getting off to a slow start in 2019 (due in part to the company shifting focus to starting deliveries of the Model 3 in Europe and China), Tesla has already shipped more cars in three quarters this year than it has in all of 2018, thanks in large part to the popularity of the Model 3 — especially because Model S and X sales have dropped nearly 40 percent compared to the third quarter of 2018.

But that slow start means Tesla has to pull off an even more impressive fourth quarter just to hit the low end of what Elon Musk estimates for the year, which was that the company would ship between 360,000 and 400,000 cars. Still, Tesla turned a profit for the first time since ending 2018 with back-to-back profitable quarters; Musk has made repeated predictions that the automaker would eventually lift itself out of the red.

This is where the new Gigafactory comes in. China is the biggest market for EVs and, despite a recent downturn in both the automotive market and overall economy, still represents a huge opportunity for Tesla. Until now, all of the cars Tesla sold in China were made in the US and shipped to China, making them subject to tariffs and the shifting winds of the trade war. Producing cars locally means Tesla should be able to sell more in China, even with a sagging Chinese economy.

In its letter to investors, Tesla says its factory in China is “ahead of schedule,” and that the company is already producing Model 3s “on a trial basis.” Tesla says trial production of the Model Y, which is slated to begin in mid-2020, is ahead of schedule.

Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory didn’t come easy; the company spent years lobbying and negotiating to find a way in. It wasn’t until China announced plans in July 2018 to relax rules that previously required foreign automakers to partner with Chinese car companies that Tesla inked a deal to build its third Gigafactory.

After months of site selection and final negotiations, Tesla broke ground on the Shanghai Gigafactory in January of this year. The factory took shape at a rapid pace, with construction workers operating around the clock to raise the giant building out of what was a field of mud. Now, Tesla says, the Shanghai Gigafactory is “ready for production.” Tesla also says the new Gigafactory cost 65 percent less than the Model 3 production system it built out in the US, which is scattered between the Gigafactory in Nevada and the company’s original factory in Fremont, California.

Update October 24th, 8:20AM ET: Added information about Tesla’s deferred revenue for the quarter.

Elon Musk wants his cars to fart and bleat in the name of safety

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that he wants his company’s cars to offer custom horn and movement sounds in the future, and suggested that these could include the sound of goats, farts, and even coconuts. Teslerati notes that this latter suggestion seems to be a reference to King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who has his assistant Patsy use a pair of coconut halves to imitate the sound of his absent steed.

From September next year, electric cars sold in the US will have to emit artificial noise when traveling under 18.6 miles per hour, to make up for the absence of noisy internal combustion engines. Electrek reported that Tesla started adding this sound to the Model 3 last month. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently proposed new rules surrounding the feature that would allow drivers to choose their own vehicle sounds.

Tesla might have a harder time introducing the new sounds in Europe, however. The EU’s rules, which are due to come into effect in 2021, specify that an electric car’s fake noise “should sound similar to the sound of a vehicle of the same category equipped with an internal combustion engine.” Sounds like that rules out coconuts then (sorry Arthur).

After his initial tweet, Twitter users were quick to suggest other sounds that Teslas could come equipped with. One Tesla owners club suggested “jungle and rainforest sounds” (“Sure” was Musk’s response), and another user asked if Tesla cars could one day let users upload their own custom sounds (Musk said he’d consider it).

Regulations around what car horns should sound like, meanwhile, seem a little more flexible, at least in the US. Although they vary from state to state, many say that a horn sound is okay so long as it’s audible from 200 feet away, and can’t be “an unreasonably loud or harsh sound or a whistle.”

The arrival of mass market electric vehicles means that many of our old assumptions about the way our cars look and sound are quickly becoming irrelevant. Goat and coconut sounds might be a lighthearted suggestion for the future of motoring, but this is the future we could soon be faced with.

Tesla is being investigated for a software update meant to limit fire risk

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating a software update Tesla shipped earlier this year that was meant to address a few reports of battery fires. Some owners have said the update, released in May, noticeably decreased the ultimate range of their Teslas. A few have even sued the company for alleged fraud over the issue.

The NHTSA received a “defect petition” in September from a lawyer who represents some of these customers. He requested that the NHTSA investigate the software update in order to figure out if Tesla was hiding a defect in its cars that could have caused the reported fires earlier this year. “Tesla is using over-the-air software updates to mask and cover-up a potentially widespread and dangerous issue with the batteries in their vehicles,” he wrote.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Defect petitions require more information than the typical complaints the NHTSA receives. Crucially, they also force the agency to act more conclusively: following the investigation, the NHTSA has to either issue a recall for cars affected by the alleged defects, or else publish its findings on the federal register explaining the decision not to.

Tesla said in May it decided to issue the over-the-air software update “out of an abundance of caution” following two high-profile fires in Asia. Tesla admitted the update would change some settings in the battery management software that governs the charging and thermal controls of the company’s cars. But Tesla didn’t offer any information beyond that, nor did it address whether some customers would have to live with less overall range going forward.

“For most owners, it was shortly discovered after updating their cars that the cars had suffered from a sudden and significant decrease in the amount of rated miles available,” the lawyer wrote in his petition to the Department of Transportation. “[I]t is clear that there is widespread confusion and uncertainty regarding the true purpose of the software updates in question and the safety of the affected vehicles.”

There have been some reports of range drop-off following the update, but they are not widespread.

Tesla is often lauded for its software updates and the new features they bring. But the company can change so much with those updates, and is often so secretive about the nitty-gritty details (especially with respect to its battery technology), that it often causes confusion. Just take last year, for example, when a number of owners spent weeks trying to figure out if their Model 3s got slower after the company issued an update that fixed a problem with the car’s braking distance.

The NHTSA will now attempt to put a finer point on this issue by trying to figure out precisely what Tesla did with that May software update.

Tesla Cybertruck: all the news about Elon Musk’s futuristic pickup truck

Here’s everything you need to know about Tesla’s first pickup truck, which Elon Musk has called “heart-stopping” and his “personal favorite” of Tesla’s vehicles.

Pickups have become more popular lately — their share of the US light vehicle market increased to 17.5 percent in 2019, from just under 13 percent in 2012. They’re also the fastest-growing auto segment in the US. That makes Tesla’s entry into pickups sensible, analysts say. Another pickup perk: pricing. Pickups tend to be expensive.

Even with direct competition from established players (like Ford’s forthcoming electric F-150) and newcomers (like Rivian), there is a ton of money to be made in pickup trucks.

But Tesla may distinguish itself from the rest of the market with its Blade Runner-inspired design. Musk has said that he wants to combine Porsche-level performance with utility that makes a Ford F-150 look like a Tonka truck.