Tesla's Elon Musk hints Model 3 will be fully autonomous

Tesla's $40,000 Model 3 could drive itself -- at least that's what Elon Musk is hinting.

CBS Interactive

During the Code conference last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk strongly hinted the entry-level Model 3 will have full autonomous driving, when the $40,000 sedan launches in 2017.

As Electrek points out, when Musk was directly questioned about the Model 3 being fully autonomous at the conference, the executive hesitated to say there will be another big event "maybe toward the end of the year" -- adding Tesla will do the "obvious thing."

The Model 3 is being considered by analysts and industry watchers as Tesla's make-or-break product. It has already been pre-ordered close to 400,000 times, and Musk has previously said he expects the number to increase after the "part 2" unveiling event "closer to production."

Autonomous driving makes sense for the Model 3, as the prototype vehicle doesn't have an instrument cluster. Further, Musk has previously said fully autonomous "level 4 technology" will be ready for production vehicles in Q4 2017 -- around the Model 3 launch date.

"I think we are less than two years away from complete autonomy - safer than humans - regulations should take at least another year," Musk said at the Code conference.

Perhaps after passing regulation, autonomous driving could be flipped on via software update to the Model 3.

The Tesla Model S sedan and Model X SUV offer semi-autonomous driving, but require active participation from the driver.

The Tesla Model 3 does 0 to 60 MPH in less than six seconds and will have a range of at least 215 miles. The company is showing its base Model 3, but says more features could be coming to pricier versions of the Model 3 in the future, adding more technology and bigger battery packs for extended range.

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