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Tesla's Elon Musk sets his sights on a pickup truck

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Anheuser-Busch orders 40 Tesla Semis 00:55

Tesla (TSLA) recently unveiled its all-electric semi truck, spurring orders from major companies such as UPS (UPS) and Anheuser-Busch (BUD), but it looks like CEO Elon Musk also has his eye on the consumer pickup truck market.

In a tweet Tuesday, Musk said Tesla would move to manufacturing a pickup truck once the company's Model Y crossover SUV vehicle is complete.  

Asked if the pickup would be a Ford "F150 class or larger," Musk responded: "Similar total size. Maybe slightly bigger to account for a really gamechanging (I think) feature I'd like to add" -- setting off a flurry of requests for clarity, though in typical Musk fashion, potential customers may need to wait for the reveal to find out what "gamechanging" means.

Changes to the plan for the small crossover SUV Model Y were announced earlier this year. In the company's second-quarter earnings call, Musk said: "The Model Y will be using substantial carryover from Model 3, which means it will come to market much faster."  

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He acknowledged the importance of the SUV market, describing it as the "biggest product segment in the world." That statement reflects current sales for cars like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, among other small SUVs, which all occupy spots in the top 10 of U.S. car sales. The Model Y would represent a big growth area for Tesla. Its expected release is sometime in 2020 or "aspirationally" late 2019.

But it's yet to be seen how quickly Model Y production can get underway. Tesla posted a big loss of $671 million in the third quarter as it struggled to ramp up production of its new $35,000 Model 3 small car. Musk had promised that the Model 3, which has more than 500,000 potential buyers on its waiting list, would be simpler to make than Tesla's previous vehicles and wouln't be plagued with the same delays. But Tesla produced just 220 Model 3s in the third quarter, far lower than the 1,500 Musk promised.

And the problems will continue. Because of delays at its battery facility in Nevada, Tesla said it now expects to be making 20,000 Model 3s per month by the end of the first quarter of 2018. Musk had initially set a target of December for that level of production. The CEO has said the company's China factory, expected to come online in 2018, will focus primarily on producing the Model 3 and the Model Y. 

Electric vehicles are predicted to surpass 4 percent of U.S. market share in 2018, the largest amount ever, The Detroit News reported last month, citing Edmunds.

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And as for pickups? American truck buyers spend an average of $46,844 on them, according to Kelley Blue Book. That's more than the starting price of luxury SUVs like the Mercedes GLC or the Lexus RX. In 2016, pickup trucks made up a little more than a third of all vehicles that sold for over $50,000.

But competition in electric vehicles is heating up. Ford announced earlier this year that it would spend $4.5 billion to introduce 13 new electric and hybrid vehicles globally within the next five years -- including a hybrid version of its best-selling F-150 pickup truck by 2020.

"In the long term, the trend will continue to be toward lower emissions and more electrified vehicles," Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president for the Americas, said in April.

--CNET contributed to this report

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