Electric-car maker Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) plans to host a "product unveiling" on Oct. 17, CEO Elon Musk announced on Twitter over the weekend. Exactly what the new product will be is unknown, but previous comments from management offer some suggestions.
Here's what there is to know ahead of Tesla's event on Monday.
What it won't be
"Tesla product unveiling on the 17th (unexpected by most)," Musk tweeted on Sunday. The cryptic language was enough to prompt speculation while simultaneously leaving investors pretty much clueless. (Thanks a lot, Elon.)
Fortunately, Musk did rule out one announcement when he tweeted that the event would be "followed by Tesla/SolarCity on the 28th." This statement referenced a previous tweet in September noting the company was "aiming" to reveal its new solar roof, with an integrated second-generation energy storage product and a "Tesla charger," on Oct. 28. It's not clear whether this Oct. 28 product announcement is contingent on the closing of its acquisition attempt of solar panel company SolarCity -- a deal Tesla hopes to close in the fourth quarter of 2016. But it looks like Tesla is continuing to plan on the event even as the two companies remain separate.
So Tesla's Oct. 17 announcement likely won't be related to energy storage or SolarCity's upcoming solar-roof product.
What it might be
Besides Tesla's promised next-generation energy storage products, there are two pending events management has previously said it would hold in the near future: a "part 2" demonstration of its Model 3, and a more advanced version of Autopilot. Could the unveiling have to do with either of these upcoming announcements?
Just before Tesla first unveiled its Model 3 design on March 31, Musk said the event was just "Part 1 of the Model 3 unveil. Part 2, which takes things to another level, will be close to production."
Since Model 3 deliveries aren't expected to begin until late 2017, a "Part 2" Model 3 unveiling next week is unlikely.
A more likely announcement for October is a next-generation Autopilot system. When Musk was asked at Recode's Code Conference 2016 about whether Model 3 would have autonomous driving capabilities, the CEO said Tesla would host an event later in 2016 to "talk more about that."
Here's an excerpt from Musk's conversation with Recode's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher:
Mossberg: [The Model 3] will have autonomous for $35,000?
Musk: I have a -- I'm going to do another Tesla event, maybe by the end of the year, to talk more about that.
Mossberg: Well, so, you can start here.
Musk: It will be real big news if I start here.
Mossberg: We don't mind that.
Musk: Let me just say that we're going to do the obvious thing.
Mossberg and Swisher: Ok...
Musk: It's really obvious.
Currently, Tesla's Autopilot system puts all the responsibility on the driver, serving as a driver-assist technology. Autopilot automatically steers, brakes, and changes lanes on the highway, but it requires that drivers remain alert, keeping their hands on the wheel and ready to take control if the Autopilot fails to drive correctly.
A more advanced Autopilot system might bring Tesla vehicles closer to full autonomy. As Musk as warned repeatedly, though, regulation will likely lag advancements toward autonomy, so it's unlikely even a more advanced system would readily relieve drivers of their driving responsibilities.
Of course, Tesla could very well announce something totally different from these two products Musk has hinted at.
While next week's announcement, in and of itself, could be enough to impact an investing thesis in the stock, investors should file this as a big "unknown" until it's clear exactly what Tesla is unveiling.