- Elon Musk claimed on Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call that a robotaxi lacking a steering wheel or pedals will begin volume production by 2024.
- Musk said the goal is for a ride in its robotaxi to cost less than a subsidized public bus or subway fare.
- In 2019, Musk claimed the robotaxi would arrive in 2020, which obviously never happened.
Tesla’s Elon Musk is back with another bold claim. Speaking during Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call Wednesday night, CEO Musk claimed that Tesla will begin volume production of a “robotaxi” by 2024, as reported by Automotive News. This vehicle, he said, will not be fitted with a steering wheel or pedals and will instead drive itself using Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software, which is still undergoing beta testing.
Musk said the aim of the robotaxi is to achieve the lowest cost per mile for a taxi-like vehicle, and claimed that Tesla projects a ride in its robotaxi will cost less than a subsidized public bus or subway fare. Musk would not comment on whether the robotaxi would be on sale to the public or employed by Tesla for a dedicated transportation service. “We don’t want to jump the gun on an exciting product announcement yet,” Musk said, despite the fact that jumping the gun with product announcements is Tesla’s modus operandi. Musk did hint that a product event next year will fill in the many missing details. At a factory opening earlier this month in Austin, Texas, Musk said the robotaxi will “look quite futuristic,” suggesting it won’t be based on any of Tesla’s current offerings.
This is not the first time Musk has proclaimed the arrival of a Tesla robotaxi. Back in 2019, Musk promised a fleet of self-driving taxis would launch in 2020. In April 2020, Musk tweeted that while the robotaxis would be functional that year, “regulatory approval is the big unknown.” Things then went quiet until the factory opening earlier this month, two years on from his tweet, where Musk also said the Cybertruck and Semi would reach production in 2023. The Cybertruck has been delayed from its original planned launch date of late 2021, while the Semi had been originally planned for production in 2019. The Roadster, first revealed in 2017 with an original planned production date of 2020, is also missing in action.
Not only does Tesla’s habit of not launching new models even remotely close to the original dates make Musk’s 2024 claim for robotaxi production dubious, but, as Musk said in 2020, regulatory approval will be another hurdle. Without a steering wheel or pedals, the robotaxi would be considered to have Level 5 autonomy. Tesla’s current Autopilot system is only Level 2, since a human still needs to monitor the car’s behavior and can take over at any time. No Level 5 vehicles are currently on American roads. General Motors’ Cruise is currently testing a fleet of Chevy Bolts in San Francisco, which do not have an operator but are limited to 30-mph roads and clear weather conditions, and which do still feature a steering wheel. General Motors is also petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to launch the Cruise Origin in 2023, which will be capable of Level 5 autonomy. Whether Cruise is able to get permission from the NHTSA will be crucial for Tesla’s own robotaxi plans, but even with regulatory approval, Tesla’s ability to launch another new model while three are still waiting in the wings is another major question mark.