Is Tesla’s Future as a Car Company, or a Services Company?

By Karan Singh
Robotaxi concept idea
Robotaxi concept idea
SugarDesign

With Tesla’s highly anticipated Robotaxi event just a couple of months away on 8/8, and the Robotaxi itself expected to come to market in 2025 or 2026, the question arises: what is Tesla’s future direction?

Will they continue to produce cutting-edge cars, or will they pivot toward a future where car ownership may no longer make sense?

Advantages of Robotaxi

One of Tesla’s upcoming focuses is bringing the price per mile for its Robotaxi network down to one that rivals bus tickets in major cities. Achieving this is quite an engineering and software feat and something that could still be years away.

But what about the Robotaxi itself? Will the advent of cheap, quickly available robotic taxis in cities and suburbs drive away car ownership in urbanized areas?

Tesla's robotaxi concept
Tesla's robotaxi concept
Not a Tesla App

The potential for Tesla’s Robotaxi service to transform what we currently know as urban mobility is immense. By offering a cost-effective, convenient, and eco-friendly alternative to traditional car ownership, Tesla could change how people navigate cities. The allure of summoning a cheap, quick, and clean Robotaxi could reduce car ownership in cities, alleviate traffic congestion, reduce pollution, and ease parking issues in urban areas.

Moreover, if Tesla succeeds in reducing the price per mile to be competitive with, or even cheaper than mass transit options, the financial incentive to abandon car ownership could become even stronger. For many urbanites, the expenses associated with car ownership – such as insurance, parking, maintenance, charging or fueling costs, and the upfront purchase – can be prohibitive. Robotaxis could tip the balance by providing a seamless, on-demand transportation solution without these additional expenses.

Trust in Robotaxis

Tesla's robotaxi app
Tesla's robotaxi app
Not a Tesla App

However, there are significant obstacles between Tesla and its rosy Robotaxi future. Regulatory and societal hurdles loom ahead on the horizon. From a regulatory perspective, getting Robotaxi services approved will be a major challenge, as Tesla’s autonomous competitors have found themselves operating in regulatory grey zones. Governments will need to develop new frameworks to accommodate and oversee the deployment of autonomous vehicles, ensuring they meet safety and operational standards.

Societally, people will need to adapt to the idea of letting a computer drive them around. This transition can be challenging; even Tesla has found it difficult to convert those offered the FSD V12 trial into paying subscribers. Building trust in autonomous vehicle technology is crucial for the mass adoption of Robotaxi services. Outside of diehard fans and tech enthusiasts, the general public will need to be convinced of the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles.

Ensuring that Tesla’s reputation for safe vehicles transfers to Robotaxi and FSD will be essential. Tesla must demonstrate the consistent safety and reliability of its Robotaxis to gain this trust.

Reducing Parking & Increasing Drop Off Zones

Moreover, the presence and availability of Robotaxis required to displace car ownership in urban centers will necessitate substantial infrastructure investment and acceptance by local governments. Tesla has already deployed an impressive Supercharger network, but the scale required for a fully operational Robotaxi network is much larger. This will mean developing parking garages and charging stations in urban centers, located in centralized areas to ensure ease of access for Robotaxis.

Additionally, integrating Robotaxis into the existing urban fabric will require collaboration with city planners and local authorities. They will need to address concerns about traffic flow, designated pickup and drop-off points, and the overall impact on public transportation systems. The seamless integration of Robotaxis into cityscapes will be critical for their success.

In short, while the promise of Tesla’s Robotaxi network is transformative, achieving this vision will require overcoming significant technical, regulatory, and societal challenges. If Tesla can navigate these obstacles, the benefits of a cost-effective, convenient, and eco-friendly transportation alternative could revolutionize urban mobility, reduce car ownership, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

The interior of Tesla's upcoming robotaxi, named Cybercab
The interior of Tesla's upcoming robotaxi, named Cybercab
Not a Tesla App

Tesla as a Car Company

Today, Tesla is still fundamentally a car company. It produces five different consumer vehicles: the Model S, Model 3, Model X, Model Y, and the Cybertruck. Of these, the Model Y achieved remarkable success in 2023, becoming the best-selling vehicle in the world, a significant milestone for an electric vehicle (EV). This success underscores Tesla’s engineering and design prowess, demonstrating its ability to create vehicles that appeal to everyday consumers.

Tesla’s focus on innovation and pushing the boundaries has set it apart in the automotive industry. The company revolutionized car manufacturing with its Gigacasting process, which allows large sections of the vehicle to be made from single pieces of cast aluminum. This innovation reduces complexity, increases production efficiency, and lowers costs. Tesla continues to innovate with its Unboxed vehicle assembly process, further streamlining production. Tesla’s vertically integrated approach is unique in the industry, minimizing reliance on third-party suppliers for vehicle subcomponents. This strategy enhances quality control and allows for faster implementation of new technologies. The Gigafactory model, established by Tesla, plays a crucial role in this approach. Located in the United States, China, Germany, and soon in Mexico, these Gigafactories are not just manufacturing hubs; they are centers of innovation. They serve as test beds for updated production processes and vehicle designs and are sites for subcomponent and battery assembly.

Beyond their manufacturing capabilities, each Tesla vehicle is an engineering marvel. Tesla’s cars consistently score some of the highest ratings in safety tests, reflecting the company’s commitment to building safe vehicles. Their performance is equally impressive; for example, the updated Model 3 Performance boasts an impressive 0-60 mph acceleration time. Tesla also continues to push the envelope with forthcoming models, such as the eagerly anticipated updated Roadster, which promises to deliver unparalleled performance.

Tesla has set industry standards in several key areas, including over-the-air updates, battery performance, acceleration, range, and user experience. The ability to receive software updates remotely keeps Tesla vehicles current and continuously enhances the user experience. The company leads in battery technology, offering some of the best range and performance metrics in the industry. Tesla’s vehicles are known for their impressive acceleration and long driving ranges, making them not only environmentally friendly but also highly practical and enjoyable to drive. Furthermore, Tesla excels in providing a superior user experience, both in the vehicle and during the shopping process, with minimalist, high-tech interiors and intuitive user interfaces.

Tesla Challenges

However, Tesla faces significant challenges as it continues to grow. The automotive industry is fiercely competitive, with both established automakers and new entrants ramping up their EV offerings. Companies like Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, and Rivian are investing heavily in electric vehicle technology and infrastructure, intensifying the competition. There are also upcoming Chinese EV companies making strides in both battery tech and additionally, the global transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles is still in its early stages. Broader adoption of EVs depends on various factors, including government policies, the development of charging infrastructure, and changing consumer preferences. Tesla’s ability to influence and adapt to these factors will be crucial for its sustained growth as a car manufacturer. 

Wrapping it all together, while Tesla is exploring new avenues as a services company, its core identity as a car manufacturer remains robust. The company’s success with the Model Y and its innovative manufacturing practices highlight its strength in the automotive sector. As Tesla continues to push the boundaries of electric vehicle technology and manufacturing, it solidifies its position as a leader in the industry and sets the stage for future growth.

Optimus - What We Learned About Tesla's Robotic Future

By Karan Singh
Optimus Gen 2
Optimus Gen 2
Tesla

Optimus was a major point of coverage at the 2024 Tesla Shareholder meeting, and we’ll help break down some of the key points for those interested in Tesla’s future humanoid robots.

What Is It?

Optimus is Tesla’s humanoid robot, built entirely in-house, from the batteries to the motors and actuators in the arms, legs, and hands. Tesla has taken a unique design approach to Optimus and intends to have it replace humans in mundane or risky tasks.

It is a bipedal robot, built around the same aspect as the human body. Optimus was originally unveiled in August 2021 and has since seen several major design iterations. And those aren’t the only ones, Optimus is scheduled to undergo at least one more major design revision this year, as well as one more major design revision for its hands – which will feature 22 degrees of freedom.

In comparison, the human hand has 27 degrees of freedom – Tesla is quite close to replicating the complexity of a hand in its custom-designed hands. Musk mentioned that with the 22 degrees of freedom, Optimus is capable of learning and playing music on a piano – an intricate task that many humans find difficult today.

Best of all, they’ve placed the immense learning prowess of FSD behind its brains – each Optimus unit runs similar hardware and software as Tesla cars . It can also navigate autonomously, using the same object recognition and learning that Tesla’s cars use every day. Optimus learns from watching humans do things or can be taught how to do something by a remote operator. Elon Musk also mentioned that it will eventually be able to watch a video and learn how to do a task.

What Can It Do?

Elon Musk has mentioned that Optimus’ primary goal is to replace humans in certain tasks, especially those that could put a human at risk. This could be anything from being a humanoid companion or caretaker, a construction worker, or even working in factories. Of course, it has a focus on high-precision tasks, owing to its intricately designed hands, and is intended to replace human workers doing everyday precision work that robots today cannot do.

The primary goal is to have Optimus robots begin working in factories, and to this end, two have been deployed to one of Tesla’s factories, and are working on the battery cell assembly lines in a prototype and testing deployment. Today, these two units are moving battery cells off the production line and into shipping containers.

2:1 Robot to Human Ratio

There are some ambitious plans for Optimus – Elon Musk envisions that there will be 2 humanoid robots for every human on the planet in the future. This is alongside an eye-watering build rate of 1 billion humanoid robots a year – of which Tesla intends to build at least 100 million per year or more.

With these numbers, Tesla sees the market cap for Optimus as double that of FSD – approximately $20 trillion, with an expected profit of $1 trillion per year at scale. That’s an expected profit of $10,000 per unit, which will be quite the achievement.

When’s It Coming?

Given the fact that Tesla still has design revisions planned, scale production isn’t starting anytime soon. However, Elon Musk did mention that Tesla currently plans to have approximately 1000 to 2000 Optimus units deployed for internal use in Tesla factories by the end of next year. This limited production run will be the start of Tesla’s larger Optimus deployments and will serve to help them refine the FSD stack that runs Optimus, helping teach it the many tasks it could do in a factory.

Costs

The next big question is what it will cost. Musk has mentioned that it will cost less than a car – with an expected cost of $20,000 USD, once large-scale production kicks off. Just like the Cybertruck, that means initial adopters will be faced with fairly high adoption costs for the initial production runs. Economies of scale will eventually lower the cost as more units are produced.

One of Tesla’s significant challenges will be scaling to reduce these costs. Currently, each unit is hand-built in Tesla’s Optimus labs. Eventually, this will have to scaled up to a proper production line, which will require a factory. Optimus also uses 4680 cells, which means some production of the newer 4680 batteries will be required to produce Optimus.

So perhaps, someday soon, there will be an Optimus knocking on your door, delivering itself to help you take care of your home. Definitely a bright future to look forward to.

A Better Routeplanner 5.0 Launches; Adds EV Charger Ratings Using Rivian Data

By Karan Singh
Not a Tesla App

A Better Routeplanner 5.0 launched yesterday, and there are some pretty awesome features coming to all EV owners courtesy of Rivian. Rivian purchased ABRP last year and has made good on its promises to continue its improvement and ensure it remains open to all EV owners.

Charger Scoring

Rivian recently added a feature that would rate any chargers compatible with Rivian vehicles. The list of chargers includes Rivian Adventure Network (RAN) chargers, Tesla Superchargers and any other compatible third-party chargers. The charger score is automatically calculated based on the station's average top speed and reliability.

With the launch of ABRP 5.0, Rivian is integrating its charger scores directly into the free tier of ABRP so that all EV owners can benefit. ABRP users will now be able to see charger scores, and ABRP will automatically route users to chargers with higher scores if they are available on your route.

Google Automotive

Another cool feature for ABRP is that it will now be available as an app to install and use directly in vehicles that support Google Automotive. Any EV that uses Google Automotive, including Volvo,  Polestar, Ford, and GM will support the in-system experience, which will also provide data for charger scoring and routing.

This will be an excellent way to hold third-party networks accountable, which have commonly suffered from uptime or speed issues.

Tesla’s Implementation

Tesla previously implemented a “Qualified Third-Party Charger” program, that would allow highly-rated third-party chargers that meet a strict set of requirements to be displayed directly in the vehicle. However, this is currently limited to Europe and parts of the Middle East. Within North America, Tesla only displays third-party Tesla destination chargers in addition to Superchargers.

While Tesla doesn’t directly show charger scores, they clearly are tracking charge data, and are providing the cream of the crop of third-party chargers for navigation where the program is available. We’d hope that this implementation of qualified third-party chargers also comes to North America, as NACS is becoming the de facto standard for charging.

If Tesla does expand the display of third-party chargers to other regions, it’ll likely be similar to what we see in Europe today, and won’t be as open as Rivian’s implementation in ABRP.

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