Elon Musk Promised 1 Million Tesla Robotaxis by the End of 2020. Where Are They?

Regulatory challenges aren't the only obstacle to this very lofty goal.

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Elon Musk is the master of hype, notorious for using phrases like “the prophecy will be fulfilled.” No one should be surprised that he boldly promised a massive fleet of driverless automated taxis only a year ago.

Robotaxis are an appealing idea: Tesla is planning to launch a ride-hailing smartphone app and users can call up a car nearby. The taxi owner can specify time blocks and days for which their car is available planning around their own usage schedule. Theoretically, an owner could stay home and watch Netflix while sending their car to work. And riders would not have to share a ride with a stranger. 

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"Next year for sure, we will have over a million robotaxis on the road," said Musk on October 21, 2019. "The fleet wakes up with an over-the-air update. That's all it takes."

The giant still slumbers, apparently, because not one robotaxi is available, let alone a million. Musk will tell you himself that he may not have the best grasp of timelines (“sometimes I am not on time, but I get it done” he told investors) as evidenced by the two-years-late Model X launch. Or the fact that he announced Tesla would conduct a hands-free trip across the US by late 2017. We’re still waiting for that too.

From a marketing perspective, though, you’ve got to hand it to him. He knows his audience of early adopters and Tesla fans love it. Musk’s failsafe here is “regulatory approval is the big unknown,” knowing that it’s highly unlikely to pass with current guidance. There’s no question that Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance systems are good. That doesn’t matter, however, if the roads aren’t ready, and not even Tesla is prepared for a broad rollout of level 5 vehicles.

Musk is not going to walk back his predictions yet. His Twitter account is a one-man show for Tesla, and the company seems to have decided that traditional media isn't worth much of its time any longer. If you want to know what's going to happen next—at least, what Musk is prognosticating next with a nebulous timeline—find him there. 

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