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Elon Musk hints at next-gen Teslas, touts more efficient factories

CEO 'teases' investors with new small, affordable EV to fend off rivals

Tesla cut prices in recent months to boost sales, which were under pressure from rising competition in the U.S. and China.   © Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -- Tesla will cut vehicle assembly costs by half, engineers told investors on Wednesday, outlining design and factory efficiency gains as Chief Executive Elon Musk hinted a next generation of electric cars was coming.

Musk, who also described how the world could transition to a sustainable energy future of "abundance," is expected to lay out a plan to make a small, affordable electric vehicle that would broaden his brand's appeal and fend off competition, and he presented a slide showing two disguised future models.

Tesla shares drifted down about 2% in after-hours trading as executives gave detailed presentations about the company's engineering and cost-saving prowess, but did not show a much-anticipated future-generation vehicle.

Tesla already has a significant lead over its rivals in manufacturing EVs at a profit. Chief Engineer Lars Moravy said the company expects to build its next-generation vehicles for half the cost of the current Model 3 or Model Y.

Moravy described a production process for future EVs he called an "unboxed" model that would deliver lower costs by snapping together subassemblies and reducing complexity and time in assembly.

Tesla executive Peter Bannon gave an example of how the company uses data to cut costs. Customer data showed Tesla owners did not use the sun roof, he said, "so we removed it."

High-profile Tesla investor Ross Gerber tweeted that the presentation amounted to a "Huge tease" on the next-generation vehicle. "It's coming. They laid it all out. 50% less cost to build. Would get you a $25-$30k EV!"

Musk showed a chart of Tesla's projection of the future electric fleet. The slide depicted the EV maker's existing models, including the Semi truck, as part of a market projected at 440 million vehicles. It showed the Cybertruck and a shrouded future model as part of a 300 million-vehicle market. An additional, smaller shrouded model was shown as part of the largest market in its projection: 700 million vehicles.

Capturing the mass market is critical to Tesla's goal of increasing deliveries fifteenfold -- to 20 million vehicles -- by 2030. To do that, Tesla will have to improve its battery technology, which Musk has called the "fundamental limiting factor" for the transition to sustainable energy, making it a likely topic for Wednesday's address.

Tesla outperformed the industry in recent years, increasing deliveries rapidly despite the pandemic and supply-chain disruptions.

But Tesla cut prices in recent months to boost sales, which were pressured by a weak economy and growing threats from rivals in the United States and China.

The automaker has only four models, all priced toward the higher end of the market. The Cybertruck pickup is coming this year, executives said.

Tesla has promised to talk about expansion and capital expenditure plans, with a wide variety of projects from batteries to self-driving technology to new factories likely to be discussed.

On Tuesday, Mexican officials announced that Tesla would build a factory in the northern state of Nuevo Leon. It would be the company's first factory outside of the United States, Germany and China, and Musk is expected to provide more details on Wednesday.

The plans for a more affordable car could draw the broadest interest. In 2020, Musk unveiled a plan to develop batteries in-house, which he said would make self-driving electric cars priced at $25,000 feasible by 2023, but Tesla has been struggling to scale up the production of the so-called 4680 batteries.

Some investors, including those concerned Musk is spending too much time at his latest major acquisition, Twitter, are also hoping the CEO will address calls to buy back shares, which are at about half of their November 2021 peaks even after a rebound of more than 60% this year.

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