Tesla has missed another self-imposed deadline, but this one has nothing to do with the Model 3, or product deliveries in general, for that matter. Today, we’ve learned that the coast-to-coast autonomous drive that the company originally promised in 2016 did not happen in 2017 and that it’s still “upcoming.”
Tesla built a new version of its semi-autonomous system, known as Autopilot, in 2016 after a public breakup with the original supplier of the technology. Shortly after unveiling the replacement hardware and software, CEO Elon Musk claimed that the company’s new version — Autopilot 2.0 — would be good enough that a car equipped with it would complete a trip from Los Angeles to New York without a single moment of human interference. Musk also said Tesla would be able to develop the tech fast enough to pull off this demonstration by the end of 2017.
In a letter to shareholders released today by the company, Musk and Tesla CFO Deepak Ahuja write that “the upcoming autonomous coast-to-coast drive will showcase a major leap forward for our self-driving technology.” In other words, it hasn’t happened yet.
“I obviously missed the mark with this one,” Musk said during a call with investors. Tesla has been in Model 3 production “hell” that is “a few levels deeper” than Musk says he expected. And so anything not related to getting the Model 3’s production up to speed has taken a back seat.
Musk said that the company could have made the drive for the sake of meeting the self-imposed 2017 deadline, but only by writing a bunch of “specialized code to effectively game” the drive. That’s “not really a true solution,” he said.
Musk admitted as far back as August 2017, amid a slowdown in updates to Autopilot, that it was possible the drive could be delayed. “It is certainly possible that I will have egg on my face on that front,” he said at the time. The company did promise today that “new Autopilot features” will be rolled out in “2018 and beyond.” On the investor call, he hinted that this self-driving stunt could happen in three to six months, and that similar capabilities would be made available to Tesla owners as well — though he made the same exact promise one year ago.
The news appears to put to rest a rumor that was floated on Reddit back in January that Tesla had pulled off the drive, but with around 30 “disengagements,” or human interventions. In the meantime, Tesla has been working on a “backup” version of Autopilot (referred to internally as HW 2.5) in case the cars it was equipping with Autopilot 2.0 wound up unable to drive themselves in all situations.
“We still expect to achieve full self-driving capability with safety more than twice as good as the average human driver without making any hardware changes to HW 2.0,” a Tesla spokesperson said at the time. “If this does not turn out to be the case, which we think is highly unlikely, we will upgrade customers to the 2.5 computer at no cost.”
Update February 7th, 6:45PM ET: This post has been updated with details from Elon Musk’s quarterly earnings call with investors.