Tesla May Start Up Autonomous Electric Car Sharing

At a conference, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said it was in the final phases of testing the first release of what it calls its Autopilot for Model S cars.

The quarterly earnings conference calls held by Tesla Motors are always intriguing, and so it was with last week's second-quarter update.

Financial analysts focused on the company's numbers -- it's still losing money as it invests, and a fresh capital raise seems inevitable -- but another topic raised some new business prospects.

That would be Tesla CEO Elon Musk's elliptical suggestion that the company might use its planned autonomous electric vehicles to offer its own ride-sharing service.

As noted by Autoblog, the suggestion was spurred by a query from regular attendee Adam Jonas.

He's a Morgan Stanley analyst who has been an early Tesla supporter within the financial community.

Jonas raised the comment by Tesla board member and venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said his company would buy up to half a million autonomous electric cars in 2020 if Tesla could supply them.

Here's the full exchange, as contained in this transcript of the earnings call:

Jonas: Hey, Elon, Deepak. First question, Steve Jurvetson was recently quoted saying that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told him that if, by 2020, Tesla's cars are autonomous, that he'd want to buy all of them. Is this a real – I mean, forget like the 2020 for a moment, but is this a real business opportunity for Tesla, supplying cars to ride-sharing firms, or does Tesla just cut out the middleman and sell on-demand electric mobility services directly from the company on its own platform?
Musk: That's an insightful question.
Jonas: You don't have to answer it.
Musk: I think – I don't think I should answer it.

Tesla has discussed autonomous driving capabilities for several years now.

On the call, Musk also said it's in the final phases of testing the first release of what it calls its "Autopilot" for Model S cars equipped with the necessary sensors. A small number of Model S beta testers will get that software release this weekend, he said, and a wider release will take place in six to eight weeks.

A bit of perspective is necessary here, however.

Autonomous driving capabilities clearly offer the promise of freeing drivers from the most tedious, infuriating drives -- think 45- to 90-minute stop-and-go rush-hour commutes. But the rollout of those capabilities by carmakers will be piecemeal, fragmentary, and very cautious over the next five to 15 years.

The consensus among carreports.com/news/1099521_could-tesla-add-autonomous-electric-car-sharing-as-new-business/page-2#">automotive technology analysts is that only in 2030 or so will it be possible to tell your car where you want to go, then curl up for some additional sleep while it takes you there.

In the meantime, as Musk has noted, there are numerous "edge cases" that have to be dealt with -- including, for example, faded lane markings on pale grey road surfaces at sunset.

On the call, he cautioned that Tesla drivers should have realistic expectations in the early years:

We don't want to set the expectation ... that you can just basically pay no attention to what the car is doing; we do want to set the expectation that it's much like the Autopilot in a plane where you turn the Autopilot on in a plane but there's still some expectation that the pilot will pay attention to what the plane is doing and won't sort of go to sleep or disappear from the cockpit.
So we do want to set that expectation with consumers. And, Musk noted, that first limited Autopilot release will be continuously evolved.

"It will get better over time as we refine the software," Musk concluded.

"So I would certainly not take the initial version of Autopilot as the final version," he said. "It will just get better and better over time."

So Tesla may well be assessing its ability to offer autonomous electric vehicles for its own ride-sharing service at some point in the future.

But before it does that, it must launch this year's Model X electric crossover utility vehicle; get its first battery Gigafactory in Nevada up and running; grow its home-energy battery storage business; and design, engineer, test, and launch its $35,000 Model 3 car with a 200-mile range.

While it's doing all that, it must also incrementally add features to the Autopilot functions. As that happens, each new function must be so good that no serious safety issues occur over tens of millions of miles of Tesla travel.

We'd say it's entirely possible that Tesla could launch its own ride-sharing service. Before it does that, it's has a few other major tasks to accomplish first.

Get more from Green Car Reports

Self-Driving Cars From Tesla In About 3 Years, Says CEO Elon Musk Uber CEO To Tesla: Sell Me Half A Million Autonomous Electric Cars In 2020 Tesla Model S Gets New 90-kWh Battery, 'Ludicrous' Performance Model This article originally appeared on Green Car Reports, a High Gear Media company. All rights reserved.

Tesla could launch its own ride-sharing service, but is has a few other major tasks to accomplish first.

Debate still rages on the

best way to sell electric cars

. Should automakers be boasting of their environmental credentials? Or should they talk in a language people understand -- money -- and highlight the economic benefits? Maybe it's all about silence and refinement? Rarely mentioned is just how fun

electric cars

can be to drive. So we've taken a primal, quantitative measure of driving fun -- the 0 to 60 mph acceleration sprint -- to rank each battery-electric vehicle on sale today, or on sale soon. At the very least, this gallery will serve as a handy list of which


not to try and beat from the next green light.

You probably aren't surprised by this one. The Model S is comfortably the most powerful electric


on sale, and while it's also the heaviest, it still offers super-sedan performance. If you like that airliner-on-takeoff feeling on your commute, this is the car to offer it.

Another car with Tesla influence (

though not for much longer

) and apparently Tesla-style performance, the RAV4 is a Toyota product. With a 115 kW (154 hp), 220 lb-ft electric motor and a Sport mode, the RAV4 EV will see off most other crossovers and


at the lights. A 103-mile EPA-rated range isn't bad, either.

BMW's electric city car has attracted attention for its styling more than anything else, but with a 130 kW (170 hp) electric motor driving the rear wheels and a lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic chassis, it's also brisk. It's worth noting that the extra weight of the range-extended model does dull performance a little.

The key figure for the Spark EV isn't the 97 kW (130 hp) power output -- though that's not bad for such a small car. No, it's the incredible 400 pounds-feet of torque, more than a Ferrari 458 Italia. Okay, so the Ferrari is still quicker and perhaps a little more attractive too, but the Spark comfortably sees off its combustion counterparts, which is much more interesting.

Mercedes-Benz is pitching its

upcoming B-Class Electric Drive

as a rival to the BMW i3, and pricing is near-identical. It's got a little more interior space, but isn't quite as innovative in its construction and in terms of both acceleration and cornering, the BMW driver will be having more fun.

The best demonstration of the Fit EV we've yet seen hasn't really called for outright acceleration; there's a limit to how much you can use

sliding around on a frozen lake

. But 8.5 seconds to 60 mph is still better than most compact cars, let alone subcompacts. And you still get all the other Fit benefits -- an agile chassis and spacious interior.


Fiat 500E is a hoot to drive

whether you're going in a straight line or zipping around city streets, and a 0-60 dash of 9.1 seconds is similar to that of its gasoline counterparts. But let's be honest, you'd prefer to have that performance with a quiet, clean electric motor, wouldn't you?

Volkswagen's entrant into the electric


sector isn't yet on sale, but it's not too bad a performer. "Around 10 seconds" is VW's estimate for the e-Golf (to 100 km/h, or 62 mph, it's 10.4). More pertinently, it's good over those first few yards too--proving fun to drive around the streets of Berlin

on the car's recent launch


Like the Golf and Leaf, few will regularly do a full 0-60 mph sprint on their daily commutes, but the Focus is par for the course for acceleration performance. The Focus's main trump card is handling though -- the gasoline Focus is already widely praised, and the Electric model is also a neat handler.

The Leaf lags its compact rivals here but many owners are content to cruise around using as little energy as possible. Like all

electric vehicles

, it's pretty good over those first few feet anyway -- thank the 80 kW (110 hp) and 210 lb-ft electric motor's instant torque characteristics for that.

We've driven the electric Smart Fortwo on several occasions, and

consistently deem it a better vehicle

than its jerky gasoline siblings. It's also quicker, hitting 60 mph in the same time as the Leaf -- quite an experience in the Fortwo's upright body shape.

If you're a speed freak with a penchant for electric


, the i-MiEV probably won't be on your shopping list. The 15-second sprint has been bettered by some drivers, but as the official figure that's the one we have to run with, and it does the i-MiEV no favors. Luckily, low lease rates make it one of the cheapest electric


to get your hands on.