Elon Musk revives hopes for a $25,000 Tesla — or is it a robotaxi?

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Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk seemed to kill off plans to build a $25,000 car for the masses earlier this year with comments that such a vehicle was no longer in the works — only to revive speculation this month that it’s still on the way.

The tech billionaire said during the company’s Oct. 19 earnings call that Tesla is actively working on a third vehicle platform that would cost Tesla about half as much to build as the platform underpinning its current volume vehicles, the Model 3 sedan and Model Y crossover. The base Model 3 starts at $48,440 with shipping.

“We don’t know the exact dates, but this is the primary focus of our new vehicle development team,” Musk said. The new vehicle eventually will exceed the volume of all other Tesla vehicles combined, he added.

Some analysts and Tesla observers are interpreting that to mean the company is reviving the $25,000 model that Musk had strongly promoted at an event in September 2020. Musk predicted then that the vehicle would take about three years to build.

But his comments in January of this year suggested the mainstream vehicle, dubbed the Model 2 by Tesla fans on social media, was on a back burner.

“We are not currently working on a $25,000 car,” Musk said in response to a question on the earnings call for fourth-quarter 2021. “At some point we will. But we have enough on our plate right now — too much on our plate, frankly.”

Musk has gone back and forth over the years on prioritizing an inexpensive Tesla.

For most of this year, Musk has promoted robotaxis as a better answer to inexpensive transportation than personal car ownership. In April, he said Tesla would build a dedicated robotaxi model without driver controls for volume production in 2024.

Analysts took Musk’s comments last week as a reference to his robotaxi project. George Gianarikas, Canaccord Genuity managing director, told Yahoo Finance that the robotaxi platform could promote adoption of EVs globally due to its sharply lower production costs.

Still, Tesla followers speculated on social media that there could be a driver-controlled vehicle coming on the new platform, especially if Tesla’s self-driving software is not ready for robotaxi deployment by 2024.

“I’m glad to see Tesla is focused on this new platform for a cheaper vehicle once again after Elon said they weren’t working on it,” said Ryan Shaw, a YouTube content creator with 203,000 subscribers who focuses on Tesla news and analysis. “But I personally don’t think this vehicle might be what people think it is.”

Musk has not provided any additional details on the new platform, and Tesla has disbanded its press office.

The platform is probably intended for the robotaxi, Shaw said, rather than human-operated Teslas. However, one twist could be that Tesla realizes that it should also use the platform to build and sell a Model 2 with human controls while robotaxi issues are being worked out.

“My guess though is that Tesla will end up needing to change this platform a tad and sell a more affordable vehicle that can also be driven,” Shaw said in a video last week.

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