Elon Musk is making a populist appeal for Tesla Motors Inc.’s much-hyped challenger to Uber Technologies Inc. He said the Tesla Network, the billionaire’s concept for an autonomous car-sharing service, is mainly designed to give owners a way to make money from their electric vehicles when they aren’t using them, not to enrich Tesla’s bottom line.
“This would be something that would be a significant offset on the cost of ownership of a car and then a revenue generator for Tesla as well; obviously, the majority of the economics would go to the owner of the car,” Musk said during the automaker’s earnings call. “It’s not Tesla versus Uber. It’s the people versus Uber.”
Tesla said last week that every vehicle it now manufactures has hardware capable of fully autonomous driving, though the feature isn’t yet available to drivers and may face resistance from regulators. The company plans to eventually allow owners to add their car to a “Tesla fleet,” where they can earn money as their car picks up passengers when they’re not using it. The forthcoming Model 3, with deliveries slated to begin late next year, is expected to start at $35,000 before government incentives.
“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,” wrote Musk in July. “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.”
Uber, the world’s most valuable tech startup at about $69 billion, is rolling out its own small fleet of self-driving Volvo cars in the U.S. It’s also working on autonomous trucking technology it hopes to sell to manufacturers. Uber’s new Otto unit teamed up with Anheuser-Busch InBev NV to make what they said is the first commercial delivery using a self-driving truck, transporting Budweiser in Colorado last week without anyone in the driver’s seat. Uber didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Musk’s remarks.