Tesla Will Not Have True Robotaxi Release This Year

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Spoiler alert: My Tesla Model 3 with “Full Self Driving” (FSD) will not be able to operate and collect revenue as a robotaxi this year. No Tesla will be able to do so, unless quite narrowly geofenced in order to launch something.

Additionally, there will be no new robotaxi vehicle for sale and no Tesla robotaxi operations with that vehicle. I know — Elon Musk said a robotaxi would be unveiled on August 8th (or 8/8, which has its own issues). When was the Tesla Roadster 2.0 unveiled? When was the Tesla Semi unveiled, and how many are on the road today? A Tesla model reveal party, historically, means that model is several years away from retail sales.

Without a doubt, Tesla Full Self Driving (Supervised) version 12.3 is much better than versions that came before it. But it still has plenty of glaring problems with edge cases. Whether that’s turning right from a left turn lane in the middle of an intersection, straddling a lane marking on the interstate and driving 50-50 in two lanes, entering a parking lot via a clear “do not enter” exit, or driving well over the speed limit in a school zone, it isn’t hard to find examples of why Tesla FSD 12.3 can’t be let loose to operate as a robotaxi.

I get it — after years of little to no progress, it feels like Tesla FSD has improved by leaps and bounds. That is indeed great and inspiring. I also understand the argument that Tesla will be processing exponentially more data in the months to come and should learn and improve. However, with it being so easy right now to find ways FSD fails, I don’t see it magically becoming completely safe driverless tech anytime soon.

Furthermore, once it is truly good enough to submit to regulators for testing or approval, that process could takes months or years and is at the discretion of regulators. And there are a couple of things to consider with that:

  1. If there’s easily accessible evidence online of FSD making mistakes, regulators will have a strong case for not greenlighting its use for robotaxi services. With so many people using it and uploading videos to social media, it will take a lot of work and improvement before edge-case mistakes don’t pop up.
  2. If a true full self driving Tesla hurts or kills anyone, or gets into an accident, even if the fleet is 10× safer than an average driver, Tesla robotaxi operations could be significantly delayed and have bigger challenges getting approved again. Look at what’s happening with Cruise at the moment, for example.

All things considered, I can’t see Tesla launching robotaxis or getting close to launching robotaxis in 2024. If FSD is ready, it’s ready; if it’s not, it’s not, and assuming it will be ready in 4 months is just … well, you know the joke about why you should assume nothing. Announcing that a robotaxi reveal event will take place in 4 months makes me less confident rather than more confident that it will be anything more than a vehicle model launch, because Tesla doesn’t know where FSD will be in 4 months (and Elon Musk has been wrong about FSD progress and forecasts enough to not trust him on timelines anyway). Setting a date this early implies that this event is not about the software, but rather about a hardware product. Putting all of the pieces together, it seems quite likely that the August 8th reveal event will just be an event to unveil a robotaxi-specific vehicle model that Tesla plans to mass produce someday.

As a final note, one could hypothesize that the August 8th robotaxi reveal event is largely a response to Q1 sales dropping, Tesla gross margins dropping, Tesla stock declining, and Elon Musk trying to pump up a Tesla stock revival. One could also argue that AI and self driving are Tesla’s last hopes to retain its stock price and market cap, that without some level of hope around those things, Tesla stock will crash back to a much lower level. Automakers typically have much, much lower P/E ratios that Tesla has right now. Without sales growth, or even without significant (+50% year over year) sales growth, Tesla’s extremely high P/E ratio must be connected to something else. So, it’s not outside the realm of reason to assume that this big robotaxi reveal is largely in response to Tesla’s sales and stock problems.

Or it may be that Tesla is simply ready now (in 4 months, that is) to unveil a robotaxi vehicle model concept. It may be that Elon Musk and others at Tesla are now so bullish about the FSD path they’re on that they want to roll out a new model they think will be used for robotaxi operation one day, and they are finally far enough along with that model to plan an unveiling event.

Whatever the case may be, I think anyone getting their hopes up about actual Tesla robotaxis hitting the streets in 2024 is being idealistic. I just don’t see that happening, and I think it would be good for people to not have unrealistic expectations about Tesla robotaxis yet again. But we shall see what August 8th brings, and we shall see how well FSD progresses and solves edge-case failure after edge-case failure after edge-case failure after edge-case failure. Maybe the neural nets can learn better and faster than I and others think, and maybe I will be proven wrong on Tesla robotaxis in the opposite way from how I was proven wrong on them in the past — for being too pessimistic rather than being too optimistic. Without a doubt, I will remember this article if Tesla somehow releases true robotaxis in 2024, or even in 2025, which I also think is very unlikely.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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