PALO ALTO, California — Deliveries of the 2016 Tesla Model X crossover will begin in three to four months, and an early version of the company's Autopilot self-driving feature for the Tesla Model S sedan is due at the end of the month, according to an update from Tesla CEO Elon Musk during the Tesla annual meeting on Tuesday.
In response to pleas from two Tesla stockholders and a representative from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Musk also said he may consider a "vegan" Tesla with a faux-leather interior. A vegan is someone who does not eat or use animal products.
Musk said the highly anticipated Model X is "turning out to be a really great car."
"It arguably may be a better SUV than the Model S is a sedan," he said.
Musk said company engineers are in the process of getting the "final nuances right" on the Model X.
"We're on the short strokes with getting this to market," he said.
In February 2014, Edmunds put down a $40,000 deposit to purchase a Model X Signature Edition for its long-term test fleet.
Tesla has completed its internal crash tests on the Model X, with Musk saying it is "shaping up to be five stars in every category" in terms of safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not rated the Model X.
Musk said he has been testing the latest version of Autopilot every week. The system bundles an auto-steering feature, which works in conjunction with radar, camera, ultrasonic sensors and special software. The Autopilot hardware package is standard on new versions of the Model S.
The Model S will be able to steer to stay within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by reading road signs and using active, traffic-aware cruise control.
"If we keep making progress, we may get it out to early-access customers around the end of this month," he said.
The Autopilot system is similar to the autopilot feature in aircraft, Musk said.
"The pilot is still expected to pay attention," he said. "That's true of the Autopilot we'll have. Several years from now, there will be Autopilot with redundant sensors so someone could go to sleep and wake up at their destination."
He added: "Autopilot Version One is intended as a load alleviation for the driver — something that makes it easier to drive."
Further upgrades to Tesla's Supercharger long-distance charging network are also in the works.
A liquid-cooled cable is being tested at the Mountain View, California Supercharger location. The thin, supple cable makes it easier for owners to recharge the vehicle and also has the potential for increased power, Musk said.
The company's long-term goal is for the Supercharger network to be powered by sunlight.
Musk also gave a brief update on Tesla's Gigafactory in Nevada, saying it is expected to be producing battery packs with Panasonic by mid-2016.
He noted that the curious have been taking "drone videos" of the Gigafactory's construction and said: "It's easy to monitor the progress on the Internet."
When asked by one shareholder to describe the future of Tesla, Musk said: "Our goal is to accelerate the advent of sustainable transportation."
Edmunds says: Tesla is on the cusp of a new chapter with the rollout of the Model X and Autopilot.