Always fancied a Tesla but can't quite get the money together to buy one? Then good news: Elon Musk is looking to implement a Tesla taxi service by 2020, meaning that you'll be able to ride in one for the price of cab fare.
Even more impressive, the fleet will be totally autonomous, and handled with an Uber-style app that will allow passengers to summon driverless cars to them at whim.
Musk announced his plan at a recent event where the company unveiled its own AI chip, designed to help automate the Tesla range.
What are Musk's Plans?
At its ‘Autonomous Day' this week, which falls just a few days before its first quarter earnings disclosure, Musk revealed his plans for revolutionising the ride-hailing industry, just a few short years after the likes of Uber and Lyft arguably disrupted it within an inch of its life.
Musk's dream takes the shape of an army of autonomous Tesla vehicles that are at the beck and call of anyone who plugs their details into a dedicated app, in much the way that Uber or Lyft work now. The major difference of course is that the car will drive itself to you, rather than having to rely on an actual human. People who despise small talk rejoice, your awkward driver interactions could soon be a thing of the past. However, it's yet another warning shot for those working in the already challenging gig economy, with the push to automate roles growing fast.
If you think that Musk plans to start small and build from there, you don't know Elon. At the event, Musk said “next year, we will have 1 million robo-taxis on the road.”
Own a Tesla? Give it a Part Time Job
If you're wondering just where this fleet of a million Tesla cars will be coming from, then you might not need look any further than your own driveway. While Musk has stated that rural locations will need cars to be provided by Tesla, his vision is that in more populated areas, the pool of cars will be bolstered by the hundreds of thousands of Teslas already on the road.
In practice this means that anyone who owns one can make some cash on the side by signing up for the service and allowing their car to become available.
This could mean your car picks up fares while you sleep at night, then returns home in time for your work commute. We'd want to see some real progress in automated vomit cleaning tech before we felt 100% comfortable about the idea. However, with Musk claiming that the average Tesla Taxi could rake in $30,000 a year on average, you'd have ready funds for carpet shampoo.
Crucially, your car will only be available to people you know, or connected with on social media. So, hopefully, that should mitigate the risk of anything unfortunate happening to your beloved Tesla. Although, if Musk really wants to take on the established companies, cars will need to be made more widely available.
Will this Put Uber and Lyft Drivers Out of Business?
Potentially, Musk's vision could be devastating for Uber and Lyft, and the drivers making a living through them. Both of these companies are also investing in automated tech. Chances are that being an Uber or Lyft driver is not a lifelong career, and that, like most driving jobs, these roles could soon be replaced by AI.
The biggest issue, as far as the other companies are concerned, is that it looks like Tesla will get there first, with a readymade army of vehicles at its disposal.
Then there's the matter of price. Just as Uber and Lyft took on traditional cab companies by offering lower fares, Tesla looks to be doing exactly the same. According to Musk, the average fare today is around $2 – $3 dollars per mile. He claims that with Tesla, it will be just 18 cents. This would put it cheaper than not just the other ride-hailing services, but also many public transport systems.
Of course, skeptics are noting that Musk's visions don't always line up with reality, and automated cars still have some way to go. However, while his 2020 target may seem somewhat optimistic, it's a worrying shot across the bow for competition.