Ah, another day, another overly optimistic date promise. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, a veteran of promising dates, has said that fully autonomous Teslas are just around the corner since 2014, but so far he has had to eat his words. Instead of avoiding making those promises, Twitter’s biggest troll decided to double down with a new prediction: Tesla will release a commercial robotaxi by 2024!
Musk made the prediction during Tesla’s first-quarter investor call this week, where he said Tesla is working on a “dedicated robotaxi that is highly optimized for autonomy.” That optimization, according to Musk, means that the supposed vehicle would not need a steering wheel or gas and brake pedals since there is no human driver present. Musk claimed that Tesla is developing the vehicles to “achieve the lowest cost per mile or cost per kilometer considered.” The company aims to reach volume production by 2024.”That’s really going to be a huge growth driver for Tesla,” Musk said.The keyword, of course, is “aspire”. As anyone who has been privy to the autonomous vehicle segment for the past decade knows, getting a vehicle off a test track and onto public roads requires rigorous testing, verification processes, regulatory assurances, a lot of money, and perhaps more importantly, time. Simply working with the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to complete the bureaucratic paperwork necessary to get self-driving taxis on public roads, could take crucial weeks and months off the carrier’s self-imposed deadline. less than 24 months for the arrival of these taxis. Even the United States Department of Defense, has problems rapidly deploying autonomous vehicles. Apparently, those restrictions don’t apply to Tesla.
Either way, Tesla’s 2024 target seems unlikely, though less unlikely than it would have been had Musk announced it several months ago. Last month, the NHTSA updated its safety rules to no longer require manual driving controls for autonomous vehicles to pass crash test standards. That paves the way for autonomous vehicles to work without a driver’s seat and accompanying steering wheel, or other accommodations intended for human drivers.
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However, it’s worth noting that the new NHTSA rules apply to what they call “Automated Driving Systems,” which encompass vehicles with level 3, 4, or 5 driving automation systems. Tesla Commercial Vehicles are currently only capable of level 2 autonomy. Tesla is also trailing the competition when it comes to designing the first autonomous robotaxi. Waymo, Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle division, announced late last year that his own autonomous vehicle in development could come without pedals or a steering wheel. Instead of promising a date, Waymo chose to say that he would arrive “in the next few years.” Even Mercedez-Benz, not exactly known for its commitment to driverless vehicles, has already beaten Tesla to Level 3 hands-free autonomy. In China, meanwhile, Baidu has been charging customers for self-driving rides in parts of Beijing since last summer.
An ambitious or meaningless promised date?
This wouldn’t be the first time Musk has underestimated a deadline or oversold a product. In 2019, Musk told Tesla owners that he was confident his vehicles could be upgraded to be fully autonomous by 2020. Then there’s the oft-mentioned Tesla Cybertruck that was supposed to be ready for delivery months ago. Now Musk, during his first quarter, said the company “remains on track to meet volume production of the Cybertruck next year.”
Other times, as was the case with the recent reveal of the company’s humanoid “Tesla bot” last year, Musk has shied away from firm deadlines and demos and opted instead to simply trust a guy dancing in spandex.
At the same time, at least in terms of stock performance, no one seems to care if these dates are ever met. This week, Tesla reported $18.86 billion in revenue, an 87% increase from last year. Those crazy profits come from a still-prevailing global chip shortage that has forced the world’s biggest automakers to implement deep production cuts.