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A low-cost Tesla car? Elon Musk talks about tech (without turmoil) on YouTube

Alan Boyle

On the heels of Elon Musk’s angst-filled, market-moving interview with The New York Times, YouTube techie Marques Brownlee offered up lighter, brighter fare from a one-on-one chat with the Tesla CEO at his electric-car factory in Fremont, Calif.

Musk discussed the wonky side of vehicle production and the prospects for building cars in the same price range as, say, a Toyota Prius (which is the top trade-in for the more expensive Model 3).

“Getting to, like, a $25,000 car — that’s something we could do,” Musk told Brownlee. “If we work really hard, I think maybe we could do that in three years, four years.”

That comment was the flip side of Musk’s observation, months ago, that Tesla had to kick off Model 3 production with more expensive models that have a bigger profit margin.

Musk said that other car companies had an advantage in their economies of scale, and that Tesla would have to achieve its own economy of scale to stay competitive. “The car industry … This is, like, super-competitive,” he told Brownlee.

This week, analysts at UBS issued a report estimating that under current conditions, Tesla could lose $6,000 on every Model 3 car that’s sold at the $35,000 base price.

Looking ahead, Musk acknowledged that Tesla had “way more product ideas than we have resources to execute.” He said that bringing out the Model Y crossover SUV, the Semi truck and a smaller all-electric pickup truck, as well as a next-generation Roadster, would challenge the company’s ability to “walk and chew gum” at the same time.

There was nary a word about the personal woes that Musk touched upon in the Times interview. Concerns about Musk’s health and the difficulties surrounding his plan to take Tesla private contributed to a nearly 9 percent drop in the company’s share price on Friday.

Instead, Brownlee stuck to the engineering details during his interview and tour of the Fremont factory, which took place on Wednesday, just before the Times interview was published.

Off the bat, Brownlee confessed that he and his crew were Tesla fans as well as customers with Model 3 pre-orders in the queue. Musk was clearly in his happy place as well, wearing a black Tesla T-shirt and sporting a geekily rumpled hair style.

The interview footage was intercut with scenes of Musk making his rounds at the factory. Musk said about 80 to 90 percent of his time is spent in design and engineering meetings, at Tesla’s battery-building Gigafactory in Nevada, or on the production floor in Fremont.

“Sometimes people think I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I mean, why do they think that? That’s crazy,” Musk said as he jokingly rolled his eyes. “But that’s like, almost nothing.”

The two interviews — in The New York Times and on Brownlee’s MKBHD YouTube channel — was reminiscent of the bad-news, good-news balance that came through during an infamous Tesla conference call in May. Back then, Musk cut financial analysts short, but patiently answered deep technical questions from YouTube host Gali Russell.

This time around, seeing Musk in his element is likely to reassure Tesla’s legions of fans, and perhaps the wider world as well. In any case, there’s more to come: Brownlee promises there’ll be a follow-up video focusing on his factory tour.

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