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Autonomous Vehicles

Elon Musk Dials Up Hyperbole on ‘Autopilot’ Software

As Tesla enters a period of slowing demand for some of its electric vehicles, CEO Elon Musk is making aggressive projections about his cars’ ability to drive themselves. He says software improvements to Tesla’s semi-automated system known as Autopilot will allow the vehicles to drive themselves in most situations by next year. He’s made such pronouncements before, and the timelines often pass without the predictions coming true.

In a video interview posted Friday, Mr. Musk said that Because Teslas will reach “full” self driving capability in the near term, “if you buy a Tesla today, I believe you are buying an appreciating asset, not a depreciating asset.” On April 4, when asked about an internal-facing camera inside of Teslas, he said “it’s there for when we start competing with Uber/Lyft & people allow their car to earn money for them as part of the Tesla shared autonomy fleet. In case someone messes up your car, you can check the video.” And in an update on Tesla’s flagship Model 3, Tesla said on Thursday that customers who lease the vehicles rather than buy them will not be allowed to buy them after the lease expires. By then, “with full autonomy coming in the future via an over-the-air software update, we plan to use those vehicles in the Tesla ride-hailing network,” Tesla said.

Expect more of that leading up to his April 22 presentation to Tesla investors about Autopilot’s “full” self-driving capabilities. As The Information has reported before, Autopilot engineers are as surprised as the rest of us when they hear Mr. Musk’s public pronouncements. The Autopilot automated steering feature currently is supposed to be used only on highways and requires the driver to take over immediately if there is any problem or the system makes a mistake. When drivers don’t immediately take over, the cars may crash. (Many have.) As for Uber and Lyft, they don’t have anything to worry about from Tesla.

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