Is Tesla going to start its own Uber competitor with self-driving electric cars?
Or will the two companies do it in partnership?It is well known that both Tesla and Uber are very interested in self-driving car (Tesla calls it 'Autopilot', no doubt to evoke the familiar airplane technology). Elon Musk has publicly stated that he thinks entirely automated self-driving cars will be ready in about 5 years and that they'll eventually be orders of magnitude safer than human-driven cars, which makes sense when you really think about it. Computers can react instantaneously, sensors can be positioned all around the vehicle (like having eyes behind your head) and they never blink or get tired, they can even see through fog (radar, ultrasonics), they don't get drunk, can coordinate wirelessly, etc.
An Uber would clearly love to have a fleet of self-driving vehicles out there that can be hired via its app. While drivers might object to the very idea of driverless cars, the rest of us could see benefits from lower car ownership; rather than almost everyone owning a car and letting it parked 95% of the time, a single shared car could drive around dozens and dozens of people around the clock. And if it's electric, powered by clean energy, the benefit would be compounded further.
The question that arises for the next few years is: Will Tesla and Uber get together in some way or other to push self-driving cars forward? Or will Tesla decide that it has everything it needs to start its own transportations service and launch its own equivalent to Uber, powered by its self-driving cars?
There are early signs pointing in that direction:
At a panel last month, Uber board member Steve Jurvetson made passing reference to a comment from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick who said if Tesla made 500,000 autonomous cars by 2020, he'd buy them all.
During the call, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas asked Musk "is this a real business opportunity for Tesla, supplying cars for ride-sharing firms or does Tesla just cut out the middle man and sell on demand electric mobility services directly on its own platform?"
Musk responded with an excruciating six seconds of silence, before sheepishly saying Jonas' was "an insightful question."
"You don't have to answer it," replied Jonas.
"I don't think I should, uh, answer it."
You can listen to the audio of that part of the Tesla conference call here.
What would you prefer? For Tesla to partner with Uber, or for Tesla to create its own ride-sharing service with autonomous cars?