Tesla Robotaxi & Tesla Robovan/Minivan: What we know

  • Robotaxis more lucrative product from the business perspective than PVs, says Elon Musk
  • To be a purpose-built vehicle (PBV), not a variant of an existing or future Tesla
  • Won't have a steering wheel or pedals; Likely to hit the roads after the next-gen Roadster
  • Tesla Robovan/Minivan product with flexible seating options likely to follow after a few years

When Tesla completes the launches of the 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 about four years now, but things could finally be in order to make that a reality, Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla, has suggested.

Here’s the little that we know about the potential highly autonomous Robotaxi that Tesla could launch in two years, as well as the Tesla Robovan/Tesla Minivan.

Dedicated Tesla model

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. 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.”

Tesla Robovan teaser
The Tesla van (the teaser of the long-roof model) would also play in an important part in the company’s global electric fleet. Image: Tesla

On March 1, 2023, Tesla formally hinted that its electric van will be a separate product. The company showed a picture of a covered large boxy model that looked like a van alongside the picture of its upcoming USD 25,000 small car, which was also covered. We think both pictures were just illustrative designs, but they make it clear that the Tesla Robovan/Tesla Robotaxi will be a different model, not some sort of modified USD 25,000 Tesla.

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.

Tesla RoboTaxi & USD 25000 Tesla car
Elon Musk had revealed plans for a Robotaxi at the Tesla Battery Day on September 22, 2020. Image: Tesla

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.

Production

Tesla could ship the Robotaxi to the U.S., but not from its existing plants in Germany or China. The company plans to construct a new facility in Monterrey (Nuevo León), Mexico. Moreover, according to a report Electrek published on June 13, 2022, it is considering manufacturing EVs in Canada.

A possibility is that Tesla’s factories in the U.S. will focus on EVs intended for the traditional business model (sales) and one of its North American plants will build the Robotaxi and other EVs developed for alternative business models. The company has confirmed it will produce the USD 25,000 EV (“Next Gen Vehicle”) at the Mexican plant.

Release Date

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)

If you ask us, we don’t see Tesla unveiling any all-new products this year. The Tesla Robotaxi should arrive once both the Tesla Cybertruck and next-gen Tesla Roadster, have entered production. The company expects this people mover to record sales of 300 million units over its life, a figure that might seem quite mind-boggling, in our opinion!

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 in the pipeline

Tesla Robotaxi render imaginary
TopElectricSUV imagines a 3-4 row passenger application vehicle on the Tesla Cybertruck platform.

A Tesla minivan 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.

Tesla Van rendering (Tesla Robovan rendering)
Our render shows the Tesla Model 3’s design adapted as a compact minivan to compete with the likes of the VW ID. Buzz.

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 the second half of the decade.

TopElectricSUV says

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: TopElectricSUV’s rendering of the Tesla Minivan.