Elon Musk admits Tesla's plan for a million-strong robotaxi network may not happen this year after all (TSLA, UBER)


Elon Musk

  • Elon Musk set a lofty goal last year: 1 million Tesla robotaxis by the end of 2020. 
  • But on Wednesday, the billionaire softened his tone. 
  • “Punctuality is not my strong suit, but I always come through in the end,” he said on a conference call. 

It’s been one year since Elon Musk announced his bold plan for a million-strong Tesla robo-taxi network, and things are looking bleak for its rollout.

“Next year, for sure, we’ll have over 1 million robo taxis on the road,” Musk said in April 2019.

But that audacious goal — which drew skepticism from self-driving experts, Wall Street analysts, and even the CEO of Uber — appears to have softened a bit.

On Tesla’s first-quarter earnings conference call Wednesday night, Musk admitted meeting deadlines was not his best skill. Here’s what Musk said when asked by notorious Tesla bull Gene Munster (emphasis ours):

Well, I think it’s quite likely, in my view — again, I could be wrong, I’m — as you see it, we are a little bit — we’re ahead in some areas, and we’re behind in others because — when I give a guess, I give the guess that I think is the likely midpoint, not the point with lots of margin. If it’s a normal distribution, I’d give you the 50th percentile, not the 3 segment — optimistic or pessimistic. So then that necessarily means at least half of my predictions will be wrong and half will be right. I think — or it might be right but offset by a few weeks to a few months; in some cases, a few years. But I believe that everything I’ve ever said would come true — did come true. It may come true late, but it did come true. So punctuality is not my strong suit, but I always come through in the end. So I think we could see robotaxis in operation with the network fleet next year, not in all markets but in some.

It’s not clear, exactly, what a Tesla network would look like. At the autonomy day event where Musk announced the plans, it seemed to be something that could easily compete with Uber or Lyft’s network of digitally dispatched taxi rides (without the need for a human driver of course). It could also be a way for Tesla owners to monetize their idle vehicles when not using them.

“I think like probably yes, like Tesla-owned robotaxis will be in dense urban areas, along with customer vehicles,” he said at the event. “And then as you get to medium- and low-density areas, it would tend to be more that people own the car and occasionally rent it out.”

“It’s financially insane to buy anything other than a Tesla,” he concluded.

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