In early April 2022, Musk hinted at the opening of the Texas factory that Tesla was developing a model specifically for the Robotaxi. Less than two weeks later, during Tesla's first quarter earnings meeting, Musk directly confirmed that the Robotaxi will have no steering wheel or pedals and is expected to be in production by 2024.
This is reminiscent of September 2021, when Sawyer Merritt, a well-known Tesla tipster, tweeted that Tesla was working on a $25,000 model that would be considered without a steering wheel and pedals, relying entirely on a fully automated FSD to drive. The announcement of this model dates back to Tesla's Battery Day in 2020, when it hopes to launch a cheaper $25,000 model after battery costs have dropped significantly.
It's worth tweaking that Musk himself confirmed during Tesla's full-year 2021 earnings call that Tesla is in no rush to move forward with this $25,000 model. This means, first, that the $25,000 model and the Robotaxi may be two completely separate models, and second, that Tesla has actually been working on a dedicated Robotaxi model for a much earlier time.
01Why did Tesla enter the Robotaxi business?
According to McKinsey & Company and CICC research data, the global market for driverless cab Robotaxi business is expected to exceed $2 trillion by 2030.
Google's Waymo One, which opened its own driverless cab Robotaxi business in Phoenix in 2018; Cruise, which is invested by General Motors, Honda and Microsoft, will also start its own Robotaxi business in 2020. Domestic self-driving companies such as Baidu, Pony Smart, Wenyuan Zhixing and Drip have also laid out their own Robotaxi test business in several cities; last year Xiaopeng Auto also announced that it would launch its own Robotaxi business in the second half of 2022. It also has a cost advantage that no other company can match.
All along, Tesla has been insisting on its own pure vision autonomous driving program, compared with other Robotaxi company's autonomous driving program, Tesla's pure vision system has an unparalleled cost advantage, after all, the cost of even lower LIDAR is still much higher than the cost of a few million pixels camera, after the retrofit of Robotaxi whether it is the cost of equipment or transformation costs In the end, the difference between Tesla's "Robotaxi" and Tesla's "Robotaxi", which is based on the adjustment of production cars, may end up being several times higher.
In addition, Tesla's autonomous driving system also has a very strong generalization ability, FSD mass production fleet data can be shared with Robotaxi, Tesla has been on the road with HW3.0 models more than a million, wait until the FSD Beta formally online everywhere, in the accumulation of real driving data, special Corner Case collection efficiency of no company in the world can This means that Tesla will be ahead of the other players in Robotaxi's ability to iterate, and the result will be a safer, broader and more comfortable self-driving experience for users.
What's more, the Robotaxi business includes not only vehicles for pure mobility operations, but also the ability to include users' own vehicles. Putting Robotaxi-capable private cars on the platform as shared cars for rent during idle times such as during work is another business consideration for Tesla. Such a model can significantly improve the efficiency of users' vehicle use and make the vehicle a profitable value-added item during idle time; at the same time, according to Tesla's plan, their Robotaxi will have higher energy utilization efficiency, so that every dollar of electricity can generate more value, practicing its corporate mission of accelerating the world's conversion to sustainable energy.
02 Why is Tesla developing a Robotaxi model?
Tesla made it clear at the 2019 Autopilot Day event that in order to extend the life of the vehicle they will optimize the battery system, electric drive system, and even tires so that the life of the model used as Robotaxi can reach 1 million miles. At the energy consumption level, the Model 3 already has an energy efficiency of 4.5 miles/kWh, and Musk hopes to achieve at least 5 miles/kWh on the Robotaxi model.
As a purely operational model, Robotaxi will have to maximize the benefits of the vehicle's lifecycle, and these changes will have a different value proposition than for the C-suite, which is why Tesla decided to develop a model specifically for Robotaxi.
It is clear that the current model is still a little short of the target in terms of cost and energy efficiency, and space utilization is even more so because the existing model is designed with handling at its core, allowing for not only a steering wheel and pedals, but also a dashboard, center armrest and up to at least four doors and other non-essential components.
Compared to Tesla's current model, Robotaxi, which has already been confirmed to eliminate the steering wheel or pedals, will naturally change from a driver-centered design to a ride-centered one. As described in Tesla's recently released 2021 Impact Report, the Robotaxi will be designed to maximize energy efficiency, with door handles, acceleration and top speed becoming less important.
Based on this, I have some predictions for Tesla's Robotaxi, which is not yet available.
Question 1: Is Lidar coming?
When we see Robotaxi, whether it is Waymo, Cruise and other travel companies rear-mounted models, or front-mounted Zoox, Baidu Apollo Moon, or the car company Xiaopeng planning Robotaxi models, etc. are invariably used Lidar, then Tesla's Robotaxi to carry Lidar, or For the so-called redundancy of perception?
This may find some reference from Musk's explanation of Robotaxi at Tesla's Autopilot Day event in 2019. According to Tesla's plan, all models produced after October 2016 will have hardware for fully autonomous driving, and Musk also made it clear that they will recycle some of the Model 3s and put them into the Robotaxi fleet, but owners can also choose to join the Tesla Network platform and have their vehicles used as Robotaxi in their spare time. Robotaxi use.
That is to say, Tesla is bound to define this Robotaxi product based on the current pure vision autonomous driving scheme, and the still expensive LIDAR will definitely not appear; as for the so-called perception redundancy, Tesla has already shown their attitude by eliminating millimeter wave radar in the North American market.
However, it must be said that Tesla's FSD is still some distance away from the real Robotaxi, although many test users in the U.S. market have shared on social media that some of their trips have achieved "zero takeover", but the reality is that FSD still requires drivers to be ready to take over in terms of regulations, and Robotaxi ultimately requires the ability to be driverless, to reach The ultimate requirement for Robotaxi is to be driverless, a level where you can truly feel comfortable removing the steering wheel or pedals.
Musk has been stating since the early 2022 earnings meeting that the safety of FSD will exceed that of human driving this year. Continued minor iterations have also allowed FSD to handle more extreme scenarios, as evidenced by its coverage in all U.S. states and parts of Canada. Robotaxi is expected to be in mass production in 2024, so that leaves Tesla with two years to go, and starting this year, FSD Beta will use those two years to further rapidly iterate and improve.
Question 2: Will it be sold to consumers?
Ask yourself this question: If Robotaxi does arrive, would you want to own your own driverless car?
During the Q1 earnings call this year, an analyst asked whether Robotaxi would be marketed to consumers or whether Tesla would use it for its own travel services. Musk didn't answer the question directly, but instead used a reprieve to say that more details would be announced at a future product launch.
Robotaxi has always been in the form of travel services in our lives, Tesla's Robotaxi whether for the general consumer or travel services and other commercial companies, this issue really needs to Tesla from the beginning must be very clear, because it will be related to Robotaxi the driverless car design concept.
From a commercial point of view, companies such as travel service giants Uber, Drip and Lyft do not directly own the vehicles, but rather pass on such costs to thousands of drivers, otherwise any travel company would be extremely vulnerable to being weighed down by such a huge fixed asset.
Tesla has mentioned in the 'Sharing' section of its 2016 Ambitious Plan Chapter 2 that while owners add their vehicles to the shared fleet, Tesla will also put in its own fleet to enhance the user experience in areas where demand for travel is high.
In addition, Tesla's 2019 Autopilot Day also mentions that owners can choose to add their cars to Robotaxi, much like the business model of travel company Uber or apartment-sharing company Audemars Piguet, with Tesla taking a roughly 25 to 30 percent cut of each order.
From these perspectives, it is likely that Tesla's Robotaxi will still be sold to the general public, while Tesla will create a shared mobility platform to link all Robotaxi. This will increase revenue from car sales while also earning a very significant service fee like the travel platform.
Whether it is the early horse-drawn carriages, the early steam-powered cars, or the current internal combustion engine and electric cars, they exist to move people or goods around geographically. But when autonomous driving becomes a reality, the need for cars will not be limited to transporting us from point A to point B. People want to be able to watch movies, play games, and work in the car, which can be seen in the current smart cockpit.
Also, if the price is reasonable and I can really feel comfortable leaving it to self-drive, I'd love to have a Robotaxi of my own.
Question 3: What would a car be like without a steering wheel or pedals?
Looking at the global automotive and mobility market, the Zoox has received the most attention of any model that has been unveiled so far that has been designed without a steering wheel or pedals.
With a Mini-bus-like exterior, a de-bossed front and rear end, bus-style doors, a compact 3,630 mm body, an extra tall 1,936 mm body, and four seats sitting opposite each other, this is how Zoox, founded in 2014, understands the design of the Robotaxi.
CEO Aicha Evans even emphasized in the interview that it is not a car, but a means of transportation, and that Zoox is not a car company, but a travel service provider, and that the Robotaxi will not be marketed to consumers.
What kind of design will be used for the Tesla Robotaxi, which is also intended for the general consumer market?
In an interview with Chinese media in late 2020, Franz, Tesla's chief designer, was asked whether SUVs, MPVs and sports cars would die out from a design perspective after FSD is fully autonomous. We want to keep something personal, and that's what we'll always do at Tesla. The last thing we want is for every car to look exactly the same as the bubble car. We want our products to be attractive and give you a really great experience."
This is easily seen in the Cybertruck's design philosophy, where Tesla doesn't just honor a certain fixed design language, whether it's the exterior or the interior. For the design of this Robotaxi, Musk's description uses only one word: futuristic, full of futuristic.
So what will the Robotaxi look like without too much focus on door handles, acceleration and top speed, and with more consideration for the comfort of different people? How should the interior be designed without the steering wheel or pedals? Perhaps we can find some answers from the features of Tesla's existing models.
Since the Model 3, Tesla has been experimenting with the design of the car when autonomous driving comes, such as eliminating the instrument panel, because when the vehicle is in assisted driving or autonomous driving, the occupants do not need to pay much attention to the speed and other information; adopting a horizontal center screen, which is more convenient for watching videos and playing car games; eliminating the option of adjustable kinetic energy recovery to reduce the number of drivers and the vehicle's control level. The driver's interaction with the vehicle at the control level is reduced by eliminating the adjustable kinetic energy recovery option; adding millimeter wave radar inside the car to facilitate monitoring of vital signs and passenger activity inside the car; and adding speakers outside the car to allow the car to communicate with the outside world through sound.
In addition, the automatic shift function in the revised Model S is training the vehicle's ability to reverse and move forward on its own; the AMD Ryzen chip is equipped, which makes the car's gaming experience comparable to Sony PS5; moreover, the recently revised Model S has also added the function of tilting the center screen left and right, which further illustrates Tesla's concept of gradually strengthening the entertainment experience in the car.
And all along, Musk has been emphasizing that Cybertruck has adopted a design without door handles, the vehicle will recognize the driver to open the doors automatically, as well as the initial design without exterior mirrors, etc., is not all in preparation for the arrival of autonomous driving?
In summary, we can predict that Tesla's Robotaxi will look like this.
At least there will be a large horizontal screen, Musk has been emphasizing that the in-car entertainment system will become crucial after the arrival of autonomous driving, whether it is in-car games, or streaming video, etc.. It's worth noting that Tesla was rumored earlier this year to be working with gaming platform Steam to introduce richer games.
The body will be shorter, eliminating the steering wheel or pedals will allow the vehicle to be designed with more interior space in mind, as the Robotaxi will more often than not have more than four people riding in it, so compared to existing models, the Robotaxi can become even shorter with the same interior space, which will also help reduce the weight of the body and improve energy efficiency The range is longer.
The range is longer, and Musk has made it clear that he wants the Robotaxi to consume 5 miles/kWh according to EPA standards, but that may not be out of reach for the Robotaxi, which has a shorter body and fewer parts. With a 75 kWh battery, the Robotaxi would have a range of more than 375 miles (600 km). At an average driving speed of 60 km/h, the Robotaxi could operate continuously for up to 10 hours.
With a single motor, Tesla already has the technology in place for automatic gear shifting, so it doesn't need two motors at any cost, as the Zoox does, to drive both front and rear of the vehicle. Tesla Robotaxi, which is extremely cost-sensitive, is not looking for the ultimate in power, so it naturally won't add another motor to the cost, let alone add a motor to the vehicle's load for no reason.
Franz has commented that the interior design after the arrival of autonomous driving can refer to what we usually do in the car when we are not driving, and perhaps rest will be the demand of many people outside of entertainment. Nowadays, cars are not so friendly to people who want to rest, unless they are very spacious MPV models, and when Robotaxi is not fully loaded, it is not a bad idea to let passengers take a nap by changing the combination of seats.
More than one version, after Musk confirmed this information about Robotaxi, some analysts in the United States broke the news that Tesla's Robotaxi will have 6 seats. But as a Robotaxi, do you really need so many seats? This is still doubtful.
03 at the end
After Musk confirmed the Robotaxi's debut in the conference call, I went back and watched Musk's explanation of the Robotaxi at the 2019 Tesla Autopilot Day event, where Musk actually made it clear that they wanted to build a model without a steering wheel and pedals. If they want to achieve this as soon as possible, they can simply eliminate unnecessary parts such as the steering wheel from the existing models. Musk even mentioned that the Robotaxi would sell for no more than $25,000 by 2022, when the parts are eliminated.
Perhaps at that point in 2019, not many people would believe that a Tesla that couldn't even deliver the promised FSD on time would design and develop a model specifically for the Robotaxi. But now it seems that Tesla actually started very early on the Robotaxi road and never stopped.
See you in 2024 for Tesla's Robotaxi!