My Car Quest

July 16, 2024

The Big Changeover: How Robotaxis Will Change the Car Industry Forever

by Wallace Wyss –

Elon Musk, even as we speak, is fighting for the validity of “full self driving” in court. That’s the name of the option he sells on Teslas, though, to my knowledge, it hasn’t been approved for use in all states and even where it is approved, requires a safety driver ready to take over when the AI fails to perceive a threat.

An article in Forbes magazine painted a picture of Musk’s goal with Robotaxis and at last I see the potential in what he’s trying to sell. See if I explain it so you can understand his goal. What he wants to create is a new market of car owners. People who can’t afford to buy a $60,000 car new and let it sit in the company parking lot while they toil for The Man.

With Musk’s plan a certain model will be sold without a steering wheel or brake pedal. These will be fully autonomous. When the car owner OKs it, their car can be summoned by a Robotaxi customer to do their bidding. Maybe it’s a trip to the market, or to the beach. Later on, when it comes back to the original parking lot, the owner can check on how much in rental fees it collected. Maybe while the car owner sat at his desk, the car racked up 450 miles on the odometer. Say each mile brought them a dollar. Not bad for a day’s pay. If that covers a month’s car payment. Then all the owner has to do is rent it out once or twice a month to cover the payments.

Flaws in Musk’s Plan

Now there’s some potential flaws in this plan that Forbes doesn’t mention. One is damage. What if one of the guys who rents your Tesla spills food on the upholstery? That’s what insurance is for. What if they hit another car or run down a pedestrian? Same answer. What if the old-time insurance companies don’t want the risk of insuring your car for several drivers a day (though technically they are merely passengers)? No problem, Musk is ready to start his own insurance company. The insurance companies will scoff at that but what if two million Tesla owners all at once walk away from the regular insurance companies? They might want to listen up.

Only the Rich Can Let a Car Sit

A second impediment came to mind when a car enthusiast friend of mine–who owns some cars in the collector category, said “I’m not going to let any stranger drive my car.” Fine but his cars are costing him money just sitting–deteriorating as they aren’t driven year after year. Plus he has businesses and houses where he can park them. But his situation is increasingly rare. There are millions of potential ride customers who not only can’t afford a new car but, even if they could afford to buy a used one, can’t afford to let it sit all day when it could be out there earning its keep so to speak.

Concept of self-driven car from the 1950's

Concept of self-driven car from the 1950’s – Source: unknown

Musk’s pitch is–you buy the Tesla used, which saves you about 40% because of depreciation–and then rent it out to Robotaxi customers just enough to pay the payments and keep it insured. Musk says the model Tesla used by individually owned Robotaxi income earners would be designed to have the steering wheel and brake pedals removed for Robotaxi stints. Then when the owner decides to pull the plug he can order the car back home, reinstall the steering wheel and brake pedal, and then have a used car to use/drive/sell.

These owners are not the kind that will detail their car each week to show off their station in life. No, to them, their Robotaxi is merely a workhorse that, each day, will be plowing a different field so to speak, even if it’s for a farmer they never met.

Potential Danger in School Use

Then there’s another whole market–getting kids to and from school. Yes, I can see dads who work and moms who work, seeing the Robotaxi as the ideal solution to getting the kids to and from school. Musk will have statistics to prove a FSD Tesla is far safer than a human taxi driver (he has millions of miles of data already).

Only trouble nobody wants to mention is the specter of hacking. Especially with affluent families (often just with an address, on Google, in 30 seconds, you can check the value of a house and the net worth of the owner.) I can see a spate of kidnappings via hackers diverting the Robotaxi from its assigned route the second it drives off with your kids.

These misgivings are all solvable. There are poorer countries where the percentage of Robotaxi customers will be higher than in the US. And Teslas sell all over the world. In some countries, the percentage of Tesla owners renting out their car as a Robotaxi will far exceed the percentage of US owners. US owners will be among the last to hold onto their cars, reserving them only for their own use.

So there it is–my interpretation of the next big sea change to come in the auto industry initiated by Musk. He already changed the way cars are built–went right around the Detroit automakers like they were standing still using the principle of “vertical integration.” Now he’s going to change how cars are owned and used. Forever.

Hold onto your seats, car fans, it’s gonna be one helluva bumpy ride….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

THE AUTHOR Wallace Wyss reports weekly on new automotive developments on Autotalk’s radio show broadcast from KUCR FM Riverside, CA.

 
 
 
 
 
 

February 22, 1959 Edition of Closer Than We Think

February 22, 1959 Edition of Closer Than We Think

Summary
The Big Changeover: How Robotaxis Will Change the Car Industry Forever
Article Name
The Big Changeover: How Robotaxis Will Change the Car Industry Forever
Description
The next big sea change to come in the auto industry initiated by Elon Musk. Now he's going to change how cars are owned and used. Forever.
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Comments

  1. WW, you offer more insight and provocative questions about EVs and Tesla than anyone else in the media.
    Thanks

  2. Wayne Watkins says

    Maybe they could also be used to carry assault rifle owners to high school shootings , which is a regular occurrence in the US , or for getaway driverless cabs in bank robberies . WW .

    • Wes Stewart says

      There are very few assault weapon owners in the US. The permits are expensive and time consuming for a private citizen to get.

      • Wayne Watkins says

        How come you have so many murders in schools there by persons using high powered assault weapons ? Prayers by President Joe Biden or whatever President is in control won’t bring back all those innocent dead children and teachers , but changing the laws on weapons will help .

      • While this is far off topic.

        The Washington Post wrote today about the A-15 (also known as the M16) at the article linked below.

        “Today, the AR-15 is the best-selling rifle in the United States, industry figures indicate. About 1 in 20 U.S. adults — or roughly 16 million people — own at least one AR-15, according to polling data from The Washington Post and Ipsos.

        Then of the 17 deadliest U.S. mass shootings since 2012 have involved AR-15s.

        Today, the industry estimates that at least 20 million AR-15s are stored and stashed across the country.”

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/interactive/2023/ar-15-america-gun-culture-politics/

        • Wayne Watkins says

          Still being off topic , it appears that Wes Stewart has ostrich thoughts if the Washington Post is correct and 16 million American adults own at least one AR-15 assault rifle as the manufacturers made it as cool as a Corvette to boost sales . It is now an American icon , just as a Kangaroo is to Australians or a bulldog to the British or a maple leaf to Canadians. Wake up politicians of either party before it’s too late and one of your children is murdered while at school learning , by an AR-15 toting maniac .

          • Wes Stewart says

            An AR-15 is not an “assault” rifle. It’s a .22 caliber, semi-automatic rifle. Period.

            I received a .22 caliber, semi-automatic rifle for my 9th birthday present. Furthermore, it had a “high-capacity magazine” and I fired hollow point lead bullets. Pretty scary huh? That’s the whole point, an AR-15 looks scary. While you are far more likely to be killed in any leftist run city. Not politically correct I know, but accurate nonetheless.

            And speaking of leftist run cities, the Washington Post is full of it. The AR-15 isn’t known as the M-16 by anyone except idiots. Their own statistics prove they’re idiots, since they claim 16 million AR-15 owners and there have never been that many M-16s manufactured.

            Note: I don’t own, nor have I ever owned an AR-15 and I no longer own the Stevens Model 87A that I was given 72 years ago.

  3. Wes,

    The AR-15 is not just “known as the M16” – the AR-15 design is based on the US military M16 rifle extensively used by US and other military forces made and promoted by Colt who licensed the design from ArmaLite.

  4. ” While you are far more likely to be killed in any leftist run city. Not politically correct I know, but accurate nonetheless”.
    Accurate? Is that a quote from the NRA? Seriously, please show us the evidence of this comment, in regards to school shootings. Oh, btw, what qualifies as a “leftist run city”, besides your subjective notion?
    Is there an official Republican list that you can point to?
    Look at this list of cities and tell us how many are NOT “leftist cities” (I’m guessing more than half)?

    https://www.security.org/blog/a-timeline-of-school-shootings-since-columbine/

    • Wes Stewart says

      First the statement in quotes attributed to me is not what I originally wrote.

      I don’t think anyone could argue against calling Chicago a leftist-run city. In 2021 there were 797 homicides in Chicago, I would guess that very few of them were committed using AR-15s, which was what my original comments were about, and most were committed with handguns. Of course, the knee-jerk reaction from the left, as exemplified by the brain-dead president, is to want to ban “assault weapons” when responding to handgun deaths,

      Your reference says that since 1999, 392 people were killed in school shootings. I would never minimize these awful statistics but you brought them up and they deserve a strong rebuttal. In 23 years there were 393 deaths, certainly not all from AR-15s, and in just one year 797 homicides, mostly from handguns, which are banned in Chicago.

  5. Wayne Watkins says

    Wes , I received a water pistol and a Hopalong Cassidy outfit for my 9th birthday . How could any sane minded parents give a 9 year old a 22 semi automatic rifle for his 9th birthday present ? I killed many Indians with a few blasts of water !! In 1996 a gunman killed 35 innocent people in Tasmania . Twelve days later Australia’s right wing Prime Minister , John Howard announced a scheme for uniform gun laws in Australia . A gun buyback scheme was announced and carried out and 27 years later we have never had any mass murders . Sure a few Middle Eastern & Asian drug dealers do have illegal weapons , but they only kill each other for territory . Isn’t it time for an American leader , whether left or right wing to announce and organise a similar scheme ? Strange how Wallace’s article on Robotaxis started this debate on the deaths of 393 innocent people in school shootings in 24 years .

    • Wes Stewart says

      Wayne,

      See when you had that “safe” water pistol you learned that shooting Indians was harmless, just as today’s kids play “harmless” video games where no one actually dies. I on the other hand, learned that when you shot a rabbit it actually died. Shooting something wasn’t harmless. Seventy plus years ago things were different. Trust me, my parents weren’t insane.

      To Mike’s relief, this will be my last on this topic.

  6. Wes, you just wrote this: “First the statement in quotes attributed to me is not what I originally wrote.”

    OK, then who wrote this statement in your post: “While you are far more likely to be killed in any leftist run city. Not politically correct I know, but accurate nonetheless”.

    Talk about inaccurate, brain dead, knee jerk comments…here’s some sobering statistics:

    The murder rate in the 25 states that voted for Donald Trump has exceeded the murder rate in the 25 states that voted for Joe Biden in every year from 2000 to 2020.
    Over this 21-year span, this Red State murder gap has steadily widened from a low of 9% more per capita red state murders in 2003 and 2004 to 44% more per capita red state murders in 2019, before settling back to 43% in 2020.
    Altogether, the per capita Red State murder rate was 23% higher than the Blue State murder rate when all 21 years were combined.

    • Wes Stewart says

      Philip,

      Someone edited my original comments. That’s why they aren’t what I wrote. If AR-15s scare you move to Chicago where guns are banned and you’ll be safe,

      When you can’t respond to the facts, change the subject and deflect. I’m not playing along..

      • Wes,

        I deleted a few words from your comment because they would be offensive to some people and I added no additional words.

      • Facts? you offer none, only opinions. I present facts and you refuse to reply to them, you use Chicago as the poster child for gun deaths when it’s actually ranked 9th, behind, way behind some conservative cities.
        No thanks, I’m not moving from San Francisco to Chicago, and it’s safer here than many non “leftist cities”, according to the FBI. And the weather here is better for driving cars year round, which is what we all prefer to do, drive cars, right Wes? Especially, non electric, A.I. devoid vehicles.

  7. wallace wyss says

    This was about AI so I hink the comments subject better -wise are off the rails. Maybe better for some gun magazine?

  8. Wes, what was off the rails? He refuted you with facts that you then ignored.

  9. It’s baffling to watch what’s happening. Once upon a time, phones were utilitarian and cars were experiential. Now, cars are becoming utilitarian and phones are fully experiential. I shudder at the thought of kids engaging even less with parents than they do now, by potentially being shuttled off in a driverless vehicle, especially those with single/divorced parents who work full time of which I was one. Time spent with mom when she drove me to school each morning was important to me. I had mom all to myself. I had to stay in after school programs until she got off work and could pick me up late. While she was stressed out from work and not always in the best mood, we still had mother/daughter time and engaged none the less. We often visited a store or two to pick up items, then once home I did homework or got to play outside and she sort of shut down for the night beyond cooking/eating dinner. On the weekends though, she carried on dad’s tradition of making sure we went for drives be it up Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu or beyond, sometimes all the way to Big Sur to camp overnight. Back then, the car meant time together and experiencing wonderful places and scenery, not just a means to get from point A to point B. Now, kids sit on their phone in the car, and at home, and moms and dads do the same. It sounds like kids will be have even more reason to stare at their phone, now that their parents won’t even be in the car to engage with them.

    Here’s a few thoughts: I wonder what kind of rules this will bring about. At what point is it legal for a parent to send a minor off in a driverless car, unsupervised? What happens if the car malfunctions and an adult isn’t around? What if the child is choking on a piece of candy and nobody is there to help. I’m not trying to be negative, but I see driverless/self-driving/autonomous vehicles opening a huge can of physical, moral, and ethical worms.

  10. Good points, Cindy. I wonder if school busses are much quieter now, assuming that the students are focused on their own devices instead of talking, laughing, yelling, fighting, playing practical jokes, etc.?

  11. Another Zombie thread, but it’s always interesting to see how different folks with different backgrounds, experience and viewpoints express their thoughts and use ‘statistics’ that are, well statistics that often require a lot caveats that never make it beyond the original study to give them proper context.

    However, what strikes me as odd is how the same level of outrage over senseless losses of life associated with people who misuse technology in an irresponsible way never seems to extend to things like distracted driving associated with cell and smartphones.

    As an example, as of January this year AI self-driving Teslas have been tied to around 35 accidents with 19 fatalities since it was introduced.

    On the other hand, using the most conservative numbers from the NHTSA, “Fatalities involving texting while driving comprised 9% of all fatal crashes nationwide. 7% of drivers are using cell phones (including making a phone call) at any given time. Texting while driving increases by 400% a driver’s time spent with their eyes off the road.”

    That translates to about 3,000 deaths per year, which include victims of all ages.

    And, while distracted driving using “technology” now encompasses even drivers who were distracted by GPS applications on their phones and cars, “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than intoxicated driving.”

    Where’s the outrage and call for meaningful legislation to control the use of the 270 million people in just the U.S. (81.6%) or to hold phone manufacturers and cell phone service providers accountable and require ‘safety devices’ that preclude the illegal use (in most states now) of hand-held electronic devices by drivers? Crickets….

    Georgia is one of those states with a “hands-free-only” law on the books and I’ve venture a guess that except when there’s a fatal accident, that law goes unenforced 99.9% of the time, other than early, highly publicized very small-scale and somewhat staged enforcement activity done in some upscale communities around Atlanta.

    No, when I’m driving, riding my motorcycle or cycling, I’d venture a guess that nearly one out of every 5 cars is being driven by someone holding a phone in their hand, and the number of drivers I see weaving like a drunk who are most-likely texting is chilling knowing I now have grandkids driving who could either fall into that trap of texting and driving despite great parenting, or merely end up being a victim of some irresponsible driver.

    Do Phones Kill People, or the People Misusing Them?

    It reminds me of the Porsche 930 ‘product liability case from the early 1980’s” where ‘defective brakes’ were cited as the cause of a fatal crash, never mind the woman driving the car after admitting to having 3-wine spritzers was moving at 65mph in an urban-city 25mph zone at the time the now out of control car slid into a BMW, killing her passenger. Did the car kill the passenger, or was it the driver? The Jury — putting themselves in the passenger’s families place — said it was the automaker’s fault and voted to award them $2.5M at Porsche’s expense.

    Food for Thought….

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