Tesla’s inclusion of Autopilot on every car unravels a long-term Full Self-Driving strategy

(Photo: becoolbasf/Reddit)

Starting today, every Tesla that is sold will be delivered with Autopilot as a standard feature. This adjusts the prices of vehicles save for the off-menu Standard Model 3, but it gives all of Tesla’s electric cars moving forward a ready-to-deploy driver-assist system that is among the best available in the market today.

Tesla announced the updates to its vehicle lineup on Thursday, immediately following the successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, an event that was tied with the electric car maker’s previous referral program. In a blog post, Tesla explained that its decision to make Autopilot a standard feature for its vehicles is driven by the company’s data, which indicated that using the driver-assist system responsibly reduces the chances of accidents on the road.

“We think including Autopilot is very important because our data strongly indicates that the chance of an accident is much lower when Autopilot is enabled. Autopilot also dramatically improves the quality of the driving experience, especially in heavy traffic, as thousands of our customers frequently describe online,” Tesla wrote.

A long-term Full Self-Driving play

This recent strategy all but highlights a point that Elon Musk appears to be hinting at over the past few months: 2019 is a year where Tesla is pushing its efforts to bring full self-driving features to market. Together with the release of advanced capabilities like Enhanced Summon and Navigate on Autopilot with unconfirmed lane changes, Tesla is all but positioning itself as a provider of autonomous driving features for the mass market. This also ensures that it can gather more real-world driving data than ever before.

Autopilot’s inclusion as a standard feature has been a long time coming. Over the years, Tesla has focused on refining its driver-assist system to ensure that it operates safely and in a manner that is convenient for electric car owners, as seen in the constant and deliberate improvements to Autopilot that have been released so far. The company even developed its own custom chip, Hardware 3, to ensure that its vehicles will have enough processing power to operate completely on their own without slowing down their systems.

The ride-sharing endgame

A big endgame for Tesla is the deployment of the Tesla Network, which relies on the company’s vehicles attaining full self-driving capabilities. Under the Tesla Network, the company’s electric cars will operate as ride-sharing vehicles that can earn on their own without their owners doing anything. The Tesla Network was highlighted by the electric car maker in its recent blog post, with the company stating that vehicles coming off their leases will be used for the fully autonomous ride-sharing service.

Musk previously noted that the Tesla Network will be competing with popular ride-sharing services in the market today, such as Uber and Lyft. The only difference between Tesla and its popular competitors is that the electric car maker’s vehicles are unmanned, allowing owners and the company itself to earn more for the service. This was something that Elon Musk himself highlighted in the past. “We would charge something comparable to how you’d say the App Store works, or I don’t know, we’d charge 30% or something in order for somebody to add the car to the fleet. I think that’s a pretty sensible way to go,” Musk said.

Another disruption in the making

Apart from the advantages of having an unmanned fleet, the Tesla Network is also backed by the company’s capability to ramp the production of its electric cars. Uber currently has approximately 2 million drivers today, while Lyft has around 1.4 million. Tesla is expected to have around 1 million vehicles on the road by the end of 2020 (particularly with the rollout of the Model Y). If the electric car maker can refine its Full Self-Driving features by then, the Tesla Network could enter the ride-sharing market with a fleet of vehicles that already rivals some of the industry’s biggest players.

Tesla’s proficiency as a company that develops self-driving technology is usually overlooked. Tesla is currently valued at around $46 billion, which is not bad for a carmaker, but it is a valuation that seriously undercuts the worth of Autopilot’s real-world driving data. Tesla quite literally has over a billion miles of data from its ever-growing fleet, which helps the company’s vehicles operate their driver-assist features in non-geofenced areas. Waymo, a leader in self-driving technology, is currently still mastering geofenced driving, but Morgan Stanley already estimates the company to be worth $175 billion, over three times the current valuation of Tesla.

Tesla’s inclusion of Autopilot on every car unravels a long-term Full Self-Driving strategy
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