Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” software, which currently costs $12k, will get a $3k price hike to $15k on September 5 in North America, coinciding with the wide release of the 10.69.2 Beta update. The early release version has just started rolling out to beta testers, and results are coming in to give us a sense of whether this update is worth the price increase.
The new update started rolling out to about 1,000 testers this weekend, and patch notes have been posted online. The notes look similar to the leaked 10.13 release notes we saw last month, with improvements to left turns, animal and pedestrian detection, and better “creep” behavior.
It has been called a “major code change” and a “big step forward” by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who announced the price increase earlier today.
Tesla FSD price increases
Given this apparent increase in abilities, Tesla has decided it’s time to increase prices again on the software. Prices will go up to $15K on September 5, though the “old” price of $12K will be honored for orders made before but delivered after September 5. This price hike will only happen in North America – other regions are “safe” with the old price for now, because those regions tend to get Autopilot updates later than North America.
We don’t know yet if there will be any change to Tesla’s FSD subscription service. That service currently costs $199/month, and didn’t go up in price the last time Tesla hiked FSD prices. But if you want to subscribe with a car bought between late 2016 and mid 2019, Tesla will charge you $1,000 for hardware you already bought.
Tesla has steadily increased the price of its FSD software since it first debuted. The public rationale is that as the software becomes more capable, it also becomes more valuable, and therefore the price should go up.
But it also works as an incentive to have Tesla owners purchase the software early in order to “lock in” lower prices. An FSD buyer who purchased the software years ago might have paid as low as $5,000 (though the earliest buyers were treated unfairly in that respect) for software that currently costs $12K, but can now derive the same amount of benefit as a current buyer.
Each time Tesla raises the price, some current owners decide to buy the software, not wanting to be “left out” of the eventual upgrades. This sense of urgency is contributed to by Musk’s public statements about Autopilot – who has suggested that Tesla would have self-driving robotaxis on the road by “next year”… for several years running.
Tesla’s Full Self-Driving is unfortunately still anything but self-driving. As is, the system is still “Level 2” in the SAE’s autonomous driving classification, much like other driver assist technologies like GM’s Super Cruise and Mercedes Intelligent Drive (MB has a Level 3 system, Drive Pilot, coming soon™ to the US). A Level 2 system requires that a driver remain present and attentive to the road at all times, though the driver can take their hands off the wheel.
Level 2 really can’t be considered self-driving, as a driver is still always responsible for the car. Not until we reach level 4 can a car really be considered self-driving, able to make all decisions without the necessity of a driver being in the seat.
This disconnect between Tesla’s branding and the system’s actual capabilities has led to consternation from governmental and non-governmental sources alike, including a recent TV smear campaign from a competing self-driving software company.
While its features have improved over time, it still results in some scary situations, as Electrek‘s own Fred Lambert recently found out when it almost threw him off a cliff. For most of the drive it behaved well, but “most of the drive” is not enough when you’re perched along a cliff, or passing by pedestrians and motorcycles, or driving at high speeds, etc.
10.69 update test drives
However, that was pre-update. And post-update test drives have started showing up on YouTube as the software rolls out to beta testers. This one showed improvements and no driver interventions over a 10-minute drive on several unmarked roads:
Here’s a drive that starts on dirt roads, which the software used to be capable of, but would often warn the driver to take over immediately. The drive shows a seemingly unnecessary slowdown on the dirt road while going up a small hill, and had several disengagements and quirks but did not encounter any phantom braking on town roads:
Here’s an examination of unprotected left turns by Chuck Cook, who has become famous for “Chuck’s turn,” a difficult unprotected left that has proven challenging for many autonomous/driver assist systems:
This turn was in fact mentioned specifically in the patch notes for 10.69: “Improved unprotected left turns with more appropriate speed profile when approaching and exiting median crossover regions, in the presence of high speed cross traffic (‘Chuck Cook style’ unprotected left turns).”
Cook seems quite excited about 10.69’s behavior on his turn, and it seems to be a significant improvement from previous versions. He still felt the need to take over on some trials, but the car seems to understand the concept of waiting in the median for a space in traffic to slot into – most of the time.
However, Cook found some previously distressing behaviors have been carried over into 10.69, and still need to be worked on:
And some other testers felt like there was too much focus on “Chuck’s Turn,” with several (unnamed) “basic control issues” persisting in the update which should have been worked out by now:
(Inexplicably, Musk dismissed this criticism, suggesting that beta testers – the group invited by Tesla to test this software for bugs – shouldn’t be critical of the software their job it is to be critical of)
So while the software does solve some problems, there’s still work to be done. While many expect/hope for Tesla to reach Level 4 soon, 10.69 is not there yet.
Does FSD change how you drive?
Currently, Tesla Full Self-driving doesn’t signify a big change in how a driver uses their vehicle. You still must be in the seat, and still need to pay attention to the road. You can’t have your car drop you off and go find parking for itself, or come give you a ride home after a night out, or drive itself while you read the paper, work on spreadsheets, or watch a movie.
Autopilot does give certain benefits, like reducing cognitive load over a long drive. Many drivers say they feel more refreshed when they reach their destination when driving with Autopilot engaged. But those benefits are largely included with the basic Autopilot package that all Teslas come with, which includes lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control on highways.
Also, there are the safety benefits – but those are, again, included with all Teslas.
Tesla even splits some of the functions out from FSD into “Enhanced Autopilot,” a package that has been available from time to time and currently costs $6,000. This includes Navigate on Autopilot and Auto Lane Change, which will automatically guide you to freeway exits and interchanges, Autopark to help with parking, and Smart Summon, which can bring your car to you from the other side of a parking lot.
Currently, FSD’s only function is to stop at stop signs and traffic lights, and with FSD Beta, Autosteer on city streets.
While these are neat things to have, it’s hard to suggest that they are worth $15,000. That amount of money gets you a lot of rides from taxis or ride-hailing apps, where you really can offload the driving to someone else. Or if you want more hardware, after the new EV tax credit from the Inflation Reduction Act comes into effect, it might even pay for an entire 2023 Chevy Bolt if you’ve also got access to state or local credits.
Is Tesla Full Self-driving worth it?
So, from what we’ve seen, and after this upcoming price increase, is FSD worth it?
This is unfortunately not a question we can answer for everyone, because everyone’s economic situation and needs are different.
While early testers do seem largely satisfied with improvements in the update, $15,000 is still a steep price. And it’s certainly not “more affordable” than the previous price, as Musk once stated was Tesla’s goal:
For early Tesla owners, who bought FSD as early as 2016, it’s hard to say that the thousands of dollars they spent has produced fruitful results, given that cars are currently still not able to drive themselves. Some of those cars might reach the end of their service life before full self-driving is solved, resulting in that money being spent on software that was never actually delivered.
For those owners, Tesla may eventually offer some sort of “loyalty program” – as it currently does in China, offering FSD for half-price if an owner buys another Tesla and had FSD on their original one. Though it should probably just allow transferability of the license – especially for owners who have owned FSD for years and gotten little to no benefit from it (given that FSD Beta is still locked behind a “safety score,” making owners qualify for software they already purchased).
And if Level 4+ self-driving actually is solved, to the point where vehicles can function as driverless taxis (outside of geofenced areas like GM’s Cruise and Google’s Waymo currently do), the software could be worth more than the car. But that’s a big “if,” particularly considering the software would have to satisfy safety regulators before allowing cars to drive around with nobody in them.
So the question of whether it’s worth it runs down a similar line as it always has: Do you think the value of Full Self-Driving will go up in the future, fast enough that a $12,000 payment now (or $15K after Sept 5) will be “worth” the “investment”?
If you take Elon’s word for it, then you’ll only have to wait until “next year” to find out. Whichever year that may be.
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