Elon Musk: Teslas Could Reach Autonomy in Late 2019

The technology for a fully autonomous Tesla that owners could share with others, Airbnb-style, will probably be done by the end of 2019, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said during a call with financial analysts on Wednesday.

The main technical hurdle the company will need to surmount for this capability is an upgrade in computing power, which would be relatively easy to carry out, Musk said on a May 2 webcast to discuss Tesla’s first-quarter financial results.

“I think we’re really well positioned and building the right foundation for having millions [or] tens of millions of shared, autonomous, electric vehicles,” Musk said.

The hardest thing to predict will be the timing of regulatory approval, but in some jurisdictions, it may come shortly after the technology is available, he said.

Owners could choose whether to make their vehicles available to any driver, family and friends only, highly rated drivers, or no one. The owner could recall the car at any time. The feature would help to make Teslas even more competitive against other cars, Musk said.

Also on the webcast, Musk vehemently defended the safety of the Autopilot driver assistance system in the wake of a fatal crash in March near Mountain View, Calif., and said Tesla would release quarterly statistics to prove Autopilot makes driving safer.

Current autonomous driving technology reduces the traffic fatality rate by half, and it’s irresponsible for the media to draw attention to the fatal crashes that do involve autonomy, he said.

“They should be writing a story about how autonomous cars are really safe. But that’s not the story people want to click on,” Musk said in a long tirade that echoed previous Tesla statements on the Mountain View crash.

Coverage of crashes involving Autopilot has caused dips in use of the feature by Tesla drivers, which puts them in greater danger, according to Musk. But use is growing overall, and currently at about one-third of all highway miles driven, possibly half in some regions, he said.

Accidents don’t tend to happen because drivers don’t understand how Autopilot works or Tesla hasn’t adequately informed them, Musk said: Instead, Tesla finds most crashes involve experienced Autopilot drivers who may have grown complacent about it.

Tesla posted an adjusted loss of $3.35 per share on revenue of $3.4 billion in the quarter, which ended March 31. But the company reiterated its forecast of profits by the third quarter.

“It’s high time we became profitable,” Musk said. “You’re not a real company until you are … that’s our focus right now.”

Tesla reported that its production rate for the back-ordered Model 3 midsize sedan, a closely watched measure of the company’s performance, hit 2,270 per week in April. It’s now capable of producing 3,000 per week and can reach 5,000 per week as promised by the end of the second quarter, Musk said.

The call also generated two other glimpses of the future.

Tesla’s semi truck technology has the potential to transform the shipping industry and cut into the use of railroads, Musk said. Railroads compete against trucks by putting many cars together and reducing the number of human operators, so “platoons” of trucks closely following one another, along with autonomous technology, could become more competitive against them, Musk said.

One analyst on the call asked whether the constellation of broadband satellites planned by Musk’s SpaceX might someday give Tesla a secure communications network to handle the data flowing in and out of its cars — an advantage rivals couldn’t match — Musk he hadn’t thought about it, but it might. “There’s lots of interesting things you could do,” he said.

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