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Tesla confirms electric pickup, heavy trucks and buses in the works

Tesla

 (Tesla)

Tesla is getting into the truck business.

In a post to the Tesla Blog, CEO Elon Musk has revealed what he calls his “Master Plan” for the company, which includes adding a compact SUV and “a new kind of pickup truck” to the automaker’s lineup.

Musk didn’t offer details on the new models, but he added that Tesla has also begun work on developing an electric semi-truck and an autonomous bus, the designs of which will be unveiled next year.

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He said the bus will feature a passenger layout that removes the traditional center isle and adds seats where the entryways currently are found, and that it will be designed to deliver on-demand service, rather than operate on a set route.

Musk used the post as a forum to defend Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system, and reject calls that the feature be disabled until it is further developed, following the death in May of a driver whose Tesla Model S slammed into a tractor-trailer in Florida while the system was engaged. Musk referred to statistics that suggest that cars using Autopilot are already nearly twice as safe as the U.S. automotive fleet, based on fatalities, and that Tesla will consider the system in Beta until it is 10 times safer than the average human driver.

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Musk said full autonomy is some years off — Autopilot currently can only steer a car within its lane, change lanes on command from the driver and brake for some obstacles — but he expects the technology to arrive long before regulations allow its use across the country.

When that day comes, he said, Tesla will offer an app-based service that will let owners share their vehicles when they’re not using them, possibly generating enough money to cover the full cost of ownership and eliminating Tesla’s need to sell a car for less than $35,000, the starting price of the upcoming Model 3 compact sedan.

As for the energy needed to power those cars, Musk made the case for his proposed merger of Tesla, which also builds energy storage systems, and Solar City, the solar panel company he co-founded and chairs. He said the goal is to “create a smoothly integrated and beautiful solar-roof-with-battery product that just works,” and that it can’t be done well if they remain separate companies.