Your Uber or Lyft rides could soon be replaced by robot taxis, if Elon Musk gets his way. The Tesla C.E.O. announced his newest plans for disrupting the ride-sharing industry Monday, telling an audience of investors and analysts about his plans for a fleet of self-driving Teslas that could come as soon as next year.
According to Musk, Tesla owners whose cars have self-driving capabilities will soon be able to put their vehicles into commercial service through a smartphone app, which would then allow the car to pick up riders and drive them to their destination, as an Uber or Lyft driver currently does. Tesla would pocket 25 to 30 percent of the profits, with Tesla owners picking up the rest; Musk suggested that a Tesla owner could earn $30,000 per year by making their car a “robotaxi.” “The fundamental message that consumers should be taking today is that it is financially insane to buy anything other than a Tesla,” Musk said. “It will be like owning a horse in three years. I mean, fine if you want to own a horse. But you should go into it with that expectation.”
Tesla’s Uber alternative has been in the works for a few years now, after Musk announced the project as part of a broader “master plan” for the company in 2016. If the billionaire mogul is to be believed, it could soon come to fruition; Musk said Monday that “next year for sure, we will have over 1 million robotaxis on the road.” That timeline, though, seems ambitious given the current state of the autonomous-car industry; though some of the 60 companies currently developing self-driving cars in the U.S. expect to start carrying passengers potentially by this year, experts cited by CBS News suggested the practice won’t be widespread for at least a decade. “The technology does not exist to do what [Musk] is claiming,” Steven E. Shladover, a retired research engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, told CBS. “He doesn’t have it and neither does anybody else.” Musk also has to combat the negative public perception of self-driving cars. An autonomous Uber car stoked fears when it fatally struck a pedestrian in 2018, and when Alphabet began testing its Waymo self-driving vehicles in Chandler, Arizona, residents responded by throwing rocks at the vehicles and attempting to drive them off the road.
Monday’s autonomous-car announcement comes at a fraught time for Musk and Tesla, as critics suggested the presentation was meant to distract from the company’s disappointing first-quarter earnings. Musk has also been embroiled in a series of P.R. disasters as of late, from his personal battles with the Securities and Exchange Commission and Pentagon to a recent viral social-media video that showed a Tesla in China bursting into flames. While Tesla’s plan to crack the ride-sharing industry would be a game changer, it’s also one of many pie-in-the-sky plans put forth by Musk, who has a history of making bold promises and then under-delivering, particularly on a deadline. Whether his latest attempt at shaking up the transportation industry will buck the trend remains to be seen—but so far, critics remain skeptical. “It sounds like a pipe dream that he’s selling people,” Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told ABC News. “I think it’s basically overpromising, which is typical of Elon Musk.”