Elon Musk envisions the Tesla Network to be comprised of full self-driving vehicles being used as a ride-hailing service. During Tesla’s Autonomy Day presentation last month, Musk mentioned that owners operating their vehicles as part of the Tesla Network’s “Robotaxi” service could earn as much as $30,000 per year. Musk has set his sights on the autonomous mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) market, and during a call following Tesla’s announcement of a capital raise, the CEO noted that Robotaxis could ultimately push the company towards a market cap of $500 billion.
While Musk’s Robotaxi concept has been dismissed (and to a point, even mocked) by Tesla skeptics, the era of autonomous ride-hailing services appears all but certain nonetheless. As early as 2014, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was predicting that the ride-hailing industry will eventually shift to self-driving cars. Speaking at the 2014 Code Conference, the Uber CEO stated that “This (autonomous vehicles) is the way the world is going. If Uber doesn’t go there, it’s not going to exist either way. The world isn’t always great,” he said, admitting that Uber’s own drivers will likely lose their work as a result of the self-driving revolution.
These points were recently echoed by Amnon Shashua, who is currently serving as senior vice president at Intel and CEO of Mobileye, Tesla’s former partner for its Autopilot hardware. At a recent sit-down interview with CNBC‘s Jon Fortt, the Mobileye CEO noted that robotaxis would indeed be a game-changing element in the transportation industry. Shashua also stated that by simply removing human drivers from the equation, ride-hailing companies would immediately see significant savings.
“What is really the game-changing element is going from a human-driven ride-hailing service to a robotaxi service. Where the driver today is 80% of the economics. Once you remove the driver and you replace it with CapEx — the cost of the car, the cost of the technology, and you can, you can have the cost of technology for a few tens of thousands of dollars. It is game-changing in terms of the discount that you can provide on the current ride-hailing business, 40% to 50% discount on the existing ride-hailing service, and still make a viable business; viable in terms of high profitability,” Shashua said.
Based on Tesla’s plan for its Full Self-Driving suite, the electric car maker is already pursuing these cost savings well before launching its Robotaxi service. Musk estimates that Tesla can run a Robotaxi service for around $0.18 per mile, thanks in part to the advantages that come with all-electric vehicles, such as little maintenance and no fuel costs. Tesla’s Full Self-Driving computer, which was developed in-house and tuned specifically for the company’s vehicles, is also expected to be cheaper than comparable components from chipmakers such as Nvidia. ARK Invest analyst James Wang, who used to work for Nvidia, noted that Tesla’s FSD computer effectively puts the electric car maker around four years ahead of rival automakers in the self-driving race.
Based on the comments from the Mobileye CEO, the previous predictions of the former Uber CEO, and the recent statements from Elon Musk, it appears that the transportation sector is indeed heading towards the autonomous driving era. Whether Tesla can indeed leapfrog the competition and the industry’s biggest players like Waymo and GM Cruise is still up for question, but the arrival of full self-driving vehicles, as well as their use for ride-hailing, seems to be all but inevitable. Thus, however implausible it might seem today, Elon Musk’s vision for the Tesla Network’s Robotaxis will most definitely come true. The network might be deployed later than expected considering Musk’s tendency to be optimistic with his timeframes, but the service will likely be rolled out sooner rather than later.