Tesla Is Building a Robotaxi Without a Steering Wheel or Pedals by 2024, Musk Says
CEO Elon Musk said the robotaxi would be a “very powerful product.”
Tesla is building a "dedicated robotaxi" without a steering wheel or pedals that it plans to launch in 2024, CEO Elon Musk announced during the company's quarterly earnings call on Wednesday.
The vehicle will be "highly optimized for autonomy," according to Musk. He reiterated that it wouldn't have any physical controls for the driver, meaning its launch hinges on the company completing work on its full self-driving stack in the next two years.
Tesla's plan to bring it to market in 2024 feels a bit ambitious considering there's no wide-scale legislation covering vehicles like this being offered to consumers, at least in the United States. That might be why there was no talk of the robotaxi's intended customer. In fact, Musk declined to answer an investor question aimed at understanding if the vehicle will be offered to fleets to operate as a service, or if it would be something that a consumer can purchase directly.
As for its look, last week at the opening of its new Gigafactory in Austin, Texas, Musk said the robotaxi would have a "futuristic-looking design." One can assume that means more Cybertruck than Model S. As for more details, Musk is keeping it tight save for one important metric.
"There are a number of other innovations around it that I think are quite exciting. But it's fundamentally optimized. For instance, trying to achieve the lowest fully considered cost per mile, cost per kilometer," he said on the call.
Musk says realizing that goal will give Tesla's robotaxi a "5 to 10 times lower cost per mile," though he did not note what that was in comparison to. He also claims that Tesla's cost projections have determined that "a robotaxi ride will cost less than a subsidized bus or subway ticket," which may hint at the company's planned business model for its upcoming robotaxi. Previously, Tesla mentioned that it was building a fully-autonomous $25,000 vehicle that may or may not have a steering wheel—it's not clear if this is the same vehicle.
Either way, Tesla's timeline leaves just 32 months to solidify production, legislation, and perfect its full self-driving software to perform at standards acceptable for Level 5 autonomy, and that's a pretty demanding itinerary in such a short period of time.
The idea of a Tesla without a steering wheel hasn't exactly been a secret, let alone Musk's dreams of robotaxis before. Tesla also anticipated integrating existing vehicles on the road into its autonomous ridesharing program, dubbed "Tesla network," by 2020—which did not happen.
Furthermore, Musk has expected Tesla's vehicles to eventually ditch the human controls, though noted that likely wouldn't happen for some time. However, it appears that Tesla is planning to skip that weaning period altogether for its new vehicle.
“I think there will be a transition period where people are able to take over from the robotaxi but once regulators are comfortable with us not having a steering wheel, we will just delete that,” said Musk in 2019.
Tesla plans to host a product announcement event for its driverless vehicle sometime in 2023.
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