Bad news for any budding entrepreneurs hoping to use a fleet of self-driving Teslas to start a real life Johnny Cab outfit: Tesla CEO Elon Musk's got dibs.
After the announcement last night that all Teslas produced from here on out will have the hardware (thought not the software, yet) to be fully autonomous, the option to order a car with said hardware quickly appeared on the company's site:
Check out the fine print there: "using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year."
As you may recall, Musk announced the company's intention to get into the ride-sharing business, among other things, in an updated "master plan" for the company released in July.
Here's how he described it at the time:
You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.
In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are.
But aside from that evocative bit of secondary-income dreaming, and this new notice, there's still no new information about the Tesla Network. (Presumably owners will be welcome to use non-Tesla ride-sharing services as long as they're driving the car manually.)
As Jonathan Gitlin at Ars Technica points out, Tesla wouldn't be alone among higher-end car companies in imposing post-sale requirements, like Ferrari's requirement that owners of some of its cars wait a particular amount of time before reselling. And since Musk has said that a lower cost Tesla model "is unlikely to be necessary," his grand plan for car transportation calls for ride-sharing to pick up the slack. Maybe that's all it'd be, except it's being imposed pre-sale.
These pre-sale requirements remain largely unclear. It's not apparent that there's a plan for enforcing the rule, or if there is, what that plan will be. Tesla also hasn't said whether this'll be a permanent rule or one that's temporary, perhaps to avoid getting into trouble over still-budding regulations on self-driving vehicles. I've reached out to the company for answers to these questions, and I'll update this post if I hear back.
The rule does read a bit like a way for latecomer Tesla to try and enter the ride-sharing market, joining large rivals like Uber, Didi, and Lyft, with a set of automated drivers locked into their network.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org