Elon Musk says Tesla is following his master plan

Where does electric-car maker Tesla Motors (TSLA) go from here? Investors and car enthusiasts are very interested.

After all, the company has stunned Wall Street with a 365 percent spike in its share price over the last year. And it has set the auto industry reeling by winning raves from owners and from Consumer Reports, which gave it a nearly unprecedented 99 points out of 100 in its annual customer satisfaction survey.

CEO Elon Musk sat down with CBS This Morning to talk about the future of the company, and said new models in development should be more affordable.

Tesla's strategy has been the same from the beginning, Musk said, which is to start out with an expensive, relatively rare debut. That was the Roadster sports car, which began selling in 2009 with a base price that topped $100,000.

The next step, which the company is currently executing, is to make mid-priced cars that wouldn't be in such short supply. That's the Model S sport sedan, which starts at around $70,000, and the Model X, the sport-utility vehicle expected to go on sale late this year for around the same price.

Those steps have built enormous buzz around Tesla and given the company enough experience to get funding for the all-important next step: A lower-priced, high-volume car.

That as-yet-unnamed model could begin selling in 2016 or 2017, according to reports. "This is hugely important for Tesla," Thilo Koslowski, an auto industry analyst at Gartner, told The Los Angeles Times last December. “This is ultimately the car that will make Tesla a household brand rather than just something in the premium segments."

Koslowski added that no car company can survive with just 20,000 to 30,000 in sales a year. Musk says Tesla could not have gone from zero to mainstream because making the kind of car he envisions is a long process.

"In order to make any technology mass market, it takes time," Musk told CBS This Morning. "You've got to go through major design iterations."

As an example, he mentioned how early cell phones looked like beige bricks that people would haul around for mobile connectivity. But now, he said, many people can afford phones that have incredible computing power.

Tesla also needs to get bigger factories for its next step, he said. "In order to afford those factories, you've got to raise a ton of money. And people will only give you money if you've shown some prior success."

Musk wants Tesla's legacy to be linked to what he calls the "advent of sustainable transport." In other words, he hopes Tesla will help electric cars go mainstream sooner than they would have otherwise.

"I think the fundamental good of Tesla will be measured by to what degree did we facilitate the advent of electric vehicles," he said.

That certainly seems to be taking place. General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and other automakers have been scrambling to debut electric vehicles at somewhat affordable prices. Would those rivals have been working with such intensity without Tesla nipping at their heels?
  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.