When Tesla completes the launches of the Semi, Cybertruck, and next-generation Roadster, the company could begin seriously exploring the emerging field of autonomous taxis. We have heard of a model called Tesla Robotaxi for three years already, but things could finally be in order to make that a reality in 2024, Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla, suggested during the company’s Q1 2022 earnings conference call on April 20, 2022.
Here’s the little that we know about the potential highly autonomous Robotaxi that Tesla could launch in two years:
Dedicated Tesla model
Until now, reports suggested that the Tesla Robotaxi would be a derivative of the USD 25,000 car (fondly referred to as the Tesla Model 2 by the web) announced at the Tesla Battery Day on September 22, 2020. However, at the Tesla Cyber Rodeo event at Giga Texas on April 7, 2022, Musk said that the Tesla Robotaxi will be a dedicated model. However, while the Tesla Robotaxi and USD 25,000 model may not share the same shape/top hat, they may still ride on a common vehicle platform.
There’s gonna be a dedicated robo-taxi that’s going to look pretty futuristic. It’s going to look quite futuristic.Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla (Tesla Cyber Rodeo on April 7, 2022)
During the Tesla Q1 2022 earnings conference call, Musk said that the Tesla Robotaxi will be a model highly optimized for autonomy and thus be devoid of a steering wheel and pedals. It will pack a number of other exciting innovations and potentially offer the lowest cost per mile, “less than a bus ticket, a subsidized bus ticket, or subsidized subway ticket.”
Future cash cow
Tesla expects self-driving/Robotaxi to be a seriously good business avenue. During Tesla’s Q4 2021 earnings conference call, Musk said:
Full self-driving: So, over time, we think full self-driving will become the most important source of profitability for Tesla. It’s, actually, if you run the numbers on robotaxis, it’s kind of nutty — it’s nutty good from a financial standpoint.Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla (Q4 2021 earnings conference call on January 26, 2022)
Musk suggested that its robotaxi business could be far more valuable than personal car sales:
You just go from having an asset that is — has a utility of perhaps 12 hours a week per passenger car to maybe around 50 or 60 hours a week to a five times increase in the utility of the asset.Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla (Q4 2021 earnings conference call on January 26, 2022)
More efficient than passenger models
Tesla says in its 2021 Impact Report that its currently available (passenger) models are some of the most efficient EVs so far. The 2022 Tesla Model 3 RWD consumes 25 kWh per 100 miles as per EPA’s estimation. The company wants the Tesla Robotaxis to be even more energy-efficient. It could continue improving the efficiency of Robotaxis over their life with OTA updates.
Robotaxis will be among Tesla’s high-mileage products designed for maximum energy efficiency. Handling and performance parameters like acceleration and top speed won’t be as important in these models, allowing the company to focus on energy efficiency and production cost. In addition to reducing the carbon footprint/mile, this would minimize the cost for customers.
Manufacturing Robotaxis is a core part of Tesla’s mission. The company has observed that of all the vehicles in the world traveling trillions of miles every year, taxis, delivery vans, trucks, and buses account for a disproportionate amount of vehicle miles. This, in turn, results in a disproportionate amount of emissions. One could utilize a Tesla Robotaxi with a battery pack usable for a million miles, 5X more than an average vehicle in the U.S.
Tesla full self-driving
Perfecting full self-driving would be crucial to the successful release of the Tesla Robotaxi. During Tesla’s Q1 2022 earnings conference call, Musk said that the company is confident of achieving full self-driving this year. Over 100,000 people have already enrolled in the Tesla full self-driving beta program, and the company expects that number to grow significantly this year. It’s rolling out updates almost every two weeks. “Overall, the rate of improvement is incredibly quick,” Musk said.
Alternatively, the company could import the Robotaxi to the U.S., but not from Germany or China. Musk has told Tesla employees that the company is considering building a new North American plant in not only the U.S. but also Canada and Mexico, as per a report from electrek.
A possibility is that the existing factories in the U.S. focus on EVs intended for the traditional business model (sales) and the new plant, be it located in the U.S. or elsewhere in the continent (Canada/Mexico), build the Robotaxi and other EVs developed for alternative business models. Tesla’s immediate priority is getting Giga Texas up to full capacity, not finding a new production site, though.
Musk revealed during the Q1 2022 earnings conference call that the company intends to unveil the Tesla Robotaxi in 2023 and put it into production in 2024.
We’ll aim to, we do a product event for Robotaxi next year and get into more detail, but we are aiming for volume production in 2024.Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla (Q1 2022 earnings conference call on April 20, 2022)
GM, Hyundai, VW, and others have announced competing products
With autonomous driving technology and infrastructure developing rapidly, Hyundai Motor Group, General Motors (with the Cruise Origin), Volkswagen and several other established companies have started lining up their self-driving taxis for commercialization in the middle of the decade. As a relatively new company in the auto industry, Tesla is one of the leading names when it comes to autonomous driving technology, with its Full Self-Driving (FSD) Computer. It will also launch a robotaxi to be present in the upcoming auto sector.
A Tesla van (Tesla Robovan) also appears to be in the pipeline
A Tesla van called ‘Tesla Robovan’ could also be among the products Tesla launches mid-decade. With a tweet on July 7, 2022, Musk sparked speculation about the name of this potential future model. He asked social media followers if Tesla should make a Robovan that is highly configurable for people and cargo.
In another Twitter post a few hours later, Musk suggested an optional feature for the Tesla Robovan. Maybe it could have a solar power canopy extending both sides, tripling roof area, he said. Musk then posted a third time about the alleged Robovan on Twitter, stating that a van would have more roof height (compared to other Tesla models). It would have to be tall enough to allow customers to standard or sit under it for shade, he added, hinting at a camper version with a side awning.
“I think Tesla is definitely going to make an electric van at some point,” Musk had said during the Q4 2020 earnings conference call on January 27, 2021. In 2016, he had shown interest in a Tesla minibus built on the Model X’s platform (via Twitter). Apparently, the company chief finds EVs with high “people density potential” interesting, and a van also checks all the criteria. During the Q1 2017 earnings conference call on May 3, 2017, he suggested a model with 10 or 12 seats sounds interesting.
In February 2021, Musk talked about launching a Tesla van again, this time during The Joe Rogan Experience podcast (via Spotify). He said because a van would have a big, flat area, it could make sense to offer a roof with a solar panel on it that offers a range of around 30 miles per day. Now that Tesla has the Cybertruck, building a van on its platform probably makes more sense than the older Model X.
Should Tesla make a van on the Cybertruck platform, it could manufacture it at the Giga Texas plant. The Robovan could hit the streets after the Robotaxi, probably in 2025 or later.
Tesla is renowned for thinking years ahead and offering highly innovative products. Its Robotaxi could act as a catalyst in the emergence of the self-driving taxi segment. Tesla and its investors may see this model as the first shot at making services a significant chunk of the business. From the customers’ perspective, the Robotaxi could give commuters a cheap, safe and private means of daily transport, plus a chance to experience Tesla and its futuristic technologies without spending a fortune on purchase/lease.
Featured Image Source: Tesla