The language used by Elon Musk about Tesla’s self-driving effort is changing, and it is muddying the timeline for the automaker to deliver on its promise.
Musk use to make statements that made him sound supremely confident that Tesla could soon deliver a self-driving system and virtually all vehicles the automaker produced since 2016 through a software update.
During Tesla’s Autonomy Day in 2019, he made so many comments that promised that Tesla would achieve full self-driving capabilities that we were able to produce a video of three straight minutes of Musk promising Tesla delivering a self-driving system:
As you can see in this video, Musk was talking about “robotaxis” and “not having to touch the steering wheel” or even not needing to “look out the window” at the time.
He was also talking about Tesla delivering those capabilities in 2020.
Two years later, Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Capability, or FSD, is still in beta – it requires the driver to be attentive at all times, and system disengagements are quite frequent.
Tesla is not only behind Musk’s schedule to deliver on the system, but now Musk has been changing the goalpost lately.
The CEO has already stopped talking about the biggest promises, like “1 million robotaxis by the end of the year.” Instead, he has been talking about a wider release of Tesla’s FSD Beta, which again is extremely far from a robot taxi service.
Now during a conference call following the release of Tesla’s Q3 2022 financial results, Musk is again being much more careful about the language he uses around Tesla’s self-driving effort.
He again talked about a wider release of FSD Beta:
This quarter, we expect to go to wide release of Full Self-Driving Beta in North America. So, anyone who has ordered a Full Self-Driving package will have access to the FSD beta program this year, probably about a month from now.
But where things got dicey was when Musk was directly asked by an analyst when will Tesla deliver a level 4 or level 5 self-driving system. Those are the levels where drivers don’t have to pay attention.
Musk’s answer was vague, to say the least, and the comment was much weaker than his previous promises:
Well, there’s this debate of what’s the interventions per mile and maybe safety interventions per mile. Like we’re not saying that that’s quite ready to have no one behind the wheel. It’s just that you will almost never have to touch the control, vehicle controllers. So, like when I came to Giga Texas from a friend’s house today, I never touched any of the controls already here.
And then there is a longer process called the march of 9s, which is how many 9s reliability do you need before you could really be comfortable saying that the car could drive with no one in it? And there’s some subjectivity as to how many 9s you need. But I think we’ll be pretty close to having enough 9s that you’re going to have no one in the car by the end of this year. And certainly, without a question, that’s in my mind next year.
The CEO then added that Tesla plans to have an FSD update next year that will be used to “show to regulators that the car is safer than the average human.”
Musk is obviously being more careful in his choice of words, but he is still talking about Tesla achieving level 4 or 5 next year.
The most frustrating part is that he obviously doesn’t have much credibility when it comes to this timeline anymore, but he keeps justifying this prediction by saying “you just have to look at the performance of Tesla FSD beta.”
My experience with FSD Beta certainly doesn’t suggest that, but some have had better experiences, especially in California, where there are more owners to train the system.
However, talking to the more unbiased FSD Beta testers, I found it hard to see a clear path to Tesla achieving level 4 or 5 autonomy within the next year.
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