Tesla Robotaxi: Is it the long-rumored Tesla Van?

Update: ‘More efficient than passenger models’ and ‘Design’ sections added.

One of Tesla’s most radical EVs in the future, besides the Tesla Cybertruck and the game-changing Tesla Semi, will be the Tesla Robotaxi. The company has talked about it for three years already, but things could finally be in order to make that a reality, through the launch of a highly autonomous Tesla Van!

Here’s the little that we know about the Tesla Robotaxi:

GM, Hyundai, VW and others have announced competing products

With autonomous driving technology and infrastructure developing rapidly, Hyundai Motor Group, General Motors, 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.

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, Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO, Tesla, 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 on April 20, 2022, 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 Van-like design?

Tesla could design the Robotaxi such that it saves maximum energy per mile, even if it means choosing a body style that is not popular. For example, it could be a Tesla van.

It’s no news that Tesla is interested in launching an electric van. “I think Tesla is definitely going to make an electric van at some point,” Musk 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” very 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 it do so, it can manufacture the van at the Giga Texas plant.

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.

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)

The Tesla Robotaxi could arrive in the second half of 2024, once the already announced models, the Tesla Cybertruck, Tesla Semi, and next-gen Tesla Roadster, have entered production.

Featured Image Source: Tesla