2019 Tesla Model 3.
2019 Tesla Model 3.

Is Musk’s latest Tesla boast too good to be true?

AIRBNB and Uber smashed into one all-encompassing profit machine: that's Tesla boss Elon Musk's latest bold prediction for the future of Tesla.

Presenting to journalists and analysts in his customarily casual and occasionally clumsy style at the Tesla Autonomy Day, Musk unleashed dozens of daring forecasts and took aim at rival car makers - the ones that make billions more in profits than Tesla.

One key prediction was that within three years buyers could purchase a Model 3 for US$25,000 (about $35,000, once it doesn't need a steering wheel or pedals) and have it earn its owner about US$30,000 ($42,000) a year through Tesla's driverless ride sharing service called Robotaxi.

Using ride hailing smartphone tech similar to Uber, Musk says owners will be able to put their vehicles to work scouring the suburbs for those wanting a lift - all while they sleep/eat/read/party.

Musk's rationale revolves around cars costing around US62c per mile, about 54c per kilometre. Factor a driver into the equation and ride sharing increases that cost significantly.

"The cost of running a Robotaxi is less than 18c/mile and dropping," said Musk, who plans to take 25 per cent of all revenue from anyone popping their car on the Robotaxi network.

"Gross profit from a single Robotaxi … probably something in the order of US$30,000 a year."

Tesla claims its vehicles will be capable of autonomous driving by the end of the year.
Tesla claims its vehicles will be capable of autonomous driving by the end of the year.

Even better, Tesla is planning to improve the durability and cycle life of its vehicles to one million miles, or 1.6 million kilometres, suggesting something like a US$300,000 profit for outlaying US$25,000.

So, why wouldn't Uber just fill its fleet full of Teslas?

Tesla has that base covered too.

"There's a clause that we've put into our cars … they can only be used on the Tesla network (for autonomous ride sharing)."

All of which sounds too good to be true - and a way for Tesla to finally justify its US$45 billion market capitalisation, one that has seen its share price sliding for months.

Perhaps it is because people are wary of the claims. Tesla often fails to meet predictions, constantly missing deadlines and struggling to deliver on quality and pricing.

Tesla is pouring big money into its driverless car program.
Tesla is pouring big money into its driverless car program.

Musk took numerous swipes at rival car makers, declaring they were heading down the wrong road to autonomous vehicles.

"Lidar is lame," said Musk of the laser radar systems mainstream car makers are employing in developing autonomous vehicles.

"They're all going to dump lidar, that's my prediction. Mark my words. In cars it's friggin' stupid, it's expensive and unnecessary."

Instead, Tesla relies on multiple cameras and a single forward facing radar.

The cameras create a digital virtual image of the environment while the radar can see through dust, fog and snow.

"Once you solve vision it's worthless … vision should be the thing that does everything (in a driverless car)," Musk says, pointing out the road networks have been set up for human vision and any driverless car must be able to work within that.

Tesla won’t allow its vehicles to be used in any other form of autonomous ride sharing.
Tesla won’t allow its vehicles to be used in any other form of autonomous ride sharing.

He also slams high definition mapping and accurate GPS networks in the shift to autonomy, claiming they should not be the primary focus.

"High precision GPS maps … are a really bad idea. The system becomes extremely brittle, any change to the system means it can't adapt."

As for timing, Musk says all Teslas will be "feature complete" for full autonomy - including hardware and software - by the end of 2019.

While he wouldn't go into details he says he is confident of regulatory approval for autonomy in some jurisdictions by the end of 2020.

Curiously, Musk believes a self-driving truck could eclipse cars as the first allowed on the road - albeit with the help of a driver.

He says a manned truck could lead a platooning convoy of four trucks robotic trucks.

All of which resulted in one super bold prediction, Musk claiming anyone looking to buy anything other than a Tesla now is "insane", suggesting their vehicle will become redundant in the fast moving shift to electric and autonomous.

"It is like buying a horse … people should really think about their purchase. It's basically crazy to buy any other car other than a Tesla."


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