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Tesla plans to take on Waymo, Cruise in robotaxi market

The news: Tesla released more details on its planned robotaxi, a new vehicle it is building around the needs of ride-sharing customers, per Elektrek.

Why it’s worth watching:  Robotaxis are just the latest in a long list of upcoming Tesla products. These include electric semi-trucks, the oft-delayed Cybertruck, an updated roadster, and a humanoid robot.

  • “We’re working on a new vehicle…a dedicated robotaxi. It is going to be highly optimized for autonomy—meaning it will not have steering wheel or pedals,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said during the company’s earnings call this week. Musk added that the unnamed vehicle will be a major driver of Tesla’s future growth.
  • Musk confirmed Tesla will launch the vehicle in 2023 and will likely enter volume production in 2024.
  • Tesla’s robotaxi aims to lower the cost per mile. That would make it cheaper than a subsidized bus ticket. 

Robotaxi traffic jam: Tesla is coming from behind in the autonomous robotaxi space against companies whose vehicles have logged millions of miles of data.

For context, Waymo’s robotaxis are driving 25,000 miles each day, per TechCrunch. Waymo and its rival Cruise lead the robotaxis segment and together drove 1.39 million miles in 202170% of the total autonomous drives for the year.

Tesla has only discussed plans for its vehicle, but robotaxi services incorporate car technology, software, and services. This means Tesla would need to secure partnerships or develop peripheral businesses to support its plans. Meanwhile, existing autonomous ride services are already in full swing.

  • Alphabet’s Waymo started providing paid rides in select Bay Area locations 24/7 in March.
  • GM’s Cruise has been offering free, operator-less rides in San Francisco since February 2021. And with GM buying out Softbank’s $2.1 billion stake, it could spin it off into its own company.
  • Motional, an autonomous vehicle joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, is going to bring a driverless taxi service to Las Vegas in 2023 in partnership with Lyft.

What’s the catch? Tesla is riding its strong momentum in car sales to expand into other areas. 

While robotaxis seem like a natural next step, the company’s delay of full self-driving, its controversial choice to eschew lidar in favor of computer vision, and safety investigations could all be substantial roadblocks.

  • Tesla’s reputation for missing deliverable deadlines and the perception that its CEO has too much on his plate could also make the robotaxi initiative a moving target. 
  • Musk also runs SpaceX, the Boring company, Neuralink, and is preoccupied with a hostile takeover of Twitter.