Elon Musk: Tesla will unveil a “robotaxi” on 8/8

Plans for a “Tesla Network” seem to be moving forward.

While denying reports that Tesla is scrapping its plan for a low-cost electric vehicle, CEO Elon Musk announced that the company will unveil a long-promised “robotaxi” on August 8, 2024.

The Tesla Network: Way back in 2016, Musk announced plans to launch a ridesharing service, called the “Tesla Network,” once its vehicles were fully autonomous. 

“This would be something that would be a significant offset on the cost of ownership for a car.”

Elon Musk

The idea was that a Tesla owner could make their car available to the Tesla Network when they weren’t using it. The car could then pick up and drop off people hailing rides via an app, like an autonomous Uber or Lyft, and the owner and Tesla could share in the revenue.

“This would be something that would be a significant offset on the cost of ownership for a car, and a revenue generator for Tesla as well, but the majority of the revenue would go to owners,” said Musk at the time.

In 2019, Musk was predicting there’d be more than a million Tesla “robotaxis” on the road the following year.

The tradeoff: That obviously didn’t happen, and in 2021, Musk started to push his team to focus on developing a dedicated robotaxi, in lieu of a low-cost EV — something that had been a part of Tesla’s Master Plan since 2006 — according to Musk biographer Walter Isaacson.

By 2022, the team had reportedly convinced Musk they could build the robotaxis and the affordable EV using the same assembly line. In 2023, they showed him models of the vehicles, which looked similar to the Tesla Cybertruck, and images of the robotaxi have since been shared online.

“Tesla Robotaxi unveil on 8/8.”

Elon Musk

The latest: On April 5, Reuters reported that Tesla was canceling plans for a low-cost EV, citing three sources familiar with the matter and company messages it had viewed. Again, it seemed the decision was made in order to free up resources for a robotaxi.

“Elon’s directive is to go all in on robotaxi,” one of the sources told Reuters, claiming that they had learned of the decision to switch gears at a meeting attended by many Tesla employees in late-February 2024.

Reuters said Tesla did not respond to its request for comment on the report, but Musk did write “Reuters is lying (again)” under a tweet about plans to scrap a $25,000 car. In a separate tweet published the same day, he wrote, “Tesla Robotaxi unveil on 8/8.”

The big picture: Tesla’s supposed decision to pivot away from a low-cost EV — if that is what’s happening — could be related to competition from China. In late 2023, Chinese automaker BYD passed Tesla as the top selling EV brand in the world, and its cheapest EV sells for $9,600 in China.

“The Chinese car companies are the most competitive car companies in the world,” Musk told investors during a Tesla earnings call in January 2024, adding that “if there are no trade barriers established, they will pretty much demolish most other car companies in the world.”

As for August 8, it’s not clear whether Tesla plans to unveil a parked model of a robotaxi, demonstrate one driving itself, or something in between. Regardless of what it reveals, though, you shouldn’t expect to be able to hail a Tesla taxi any time soon.

“The Chinese car companies are the most competitive car companies in the world.”

Elon Musk

Tesla’s Autopilot is considered a Level 2 automated driving system, and the company likely needs at least a Level 4 system for a robotaxi to operate without a driver behind the wheel. Even then, the vehicle would only be able to drive in certain places and under certain conditions.

If Tesla is able to develop such a system, it would then need to conduct extensive testing to get it approved by regulators, which could take years.

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