Tesla Should Roll Out Ride-Sharing Service Before Robotaxis

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“I feel very confident predicting that there will be autonomous robotaxis from Tesla next year — not in all jurisdictions because we won’t have regulatory approval everywhere.” That’s a quote from Elon Musk, from April 2019. In fact, that’s almost exactly 5 years ago today, as Autonomy Day was April 22, 2019. Musk added that he was very confident that in 2020 they’d have regulatory approval for robotaxi service somewhere.

One of the things included in Tesla’s latest shareholder letter is a series of screenshots of a Tesla ridesharing app concept. Naturally, it’s just some graphic design, and we saw similar graphics from Tesla several years ago. Here’s a graphic from 5 years ago (April 2019):

Tesla ridesharing app 2019
Tesla ride-sharing app concept from April 2019.

Here’s a discussion about the potential for such a network using robotaxis from 4 years ago.

Now, here are the screenshots Tesla shared this week:

Tesla ride-hailing app concept 2024
Tesla ride-hailing app concept from April 2024.

Naturally, anyone can say that Tesla was much further away from robotaxi-capable autonomy in April 2019 than they thought they were but are actually very close to it now. Yes, anyone is free to believe that, and it’s not a crime. And, believe it or not, I’m not here to ridicule the idea.

However, I do think a couple of things should be done this time around. First of all, no one should assume that this is just around the corner simply because Tesla is implying it is and made some graphics to hype up the idea. Secondly, if Tesla wants to move in this direction, I don’t see why it doesn’t start with a Tesla ride-hailing service that uses human drivers. Countless Tesla owners would be thrilled to sign up for that, and it would immediately be a new business arm that could make the company money and also help prepare the company for the day that robotaxis are actually rolling (if they do get there eventually). When I saw these graphics, I thought perhaps that’s what Tesla was going to do. However, the text of the shareholder letter doesn’t make me confident about that. This is what Tesla writes:

Artificial Intelligence Software and Hardware

We have been investing in the hardware and software ecosystems necessary to achieve vehicle autonomy and a ride-hailing service. We believe a scalable and profitable autonomy business can be realized through a vision-only architecture with end-to-end neural networks, trained on billions of miles of real-world data. Since the launch of FSD (Supervised) V12 earlier this year, it has become clear that this architecture long pursued by Tesla is the right solution for scalable autonomy. To further improve our end-to-end training capability, we will continue to increase our core AI infrastructure capacity in the coming months. In Q1, we completed the transition to Hardware 4.0, our latest in-vehicle computer with increased inference processing power and improved cameras.

Vehicle and Other Software

We rolled out FSD (Supervised) with a 30-day free trial to eligible cars in U.S. and Canada. FSD (Supervised) can change lanes, select forks to follow routes, navigate around vehicles and objects and make turns. We released Autopark to existing eligible FSD (Supervised) and Enhanced Autopilot customers. We are currently working on ride-hailing functionality that will be available in the future. We believe the Tesla software experience is best-in-class across all our products, and plan to seamlessly layer ride-hailing into the Tesla App.

The reference here to a ride-hailing service is centered around Full Self Driving and robotaxis. There’s no sign at this point that Tesla would launch a ride-hailing app with human drivers. I think it should. What do you think?

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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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