TSLA Stock: What Really Matters About the Full Self-Driving Rollout

Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) is reportedly expanding access to its Full Self-Driving Beta 10.2 software. Many TSLA stock investors are hoping autonomy will eventually be a big business for Tesla.

A black Tesla (TSLA) Model S is parked between rows of charging stations.
Source: Grisha Bruev / Shutterstock.com

The controversial FSD software has generated plenty of criticism on social media. After reading some of the comments and watching some videos, the problem is clear. FSD isn’t full self-driving. Fortunately for TSLA stock investors, FSD doesn’t need to be perfect for the stock price to continue to rise. Here’s a look at what about FSD is important for TSLA stock and what is not.

Not Important For TSLA Stock: FSD Doesn’t Work

FSD is a Level 2 autonomous driver assistance system. In 2019, Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a million Tesla robotaxis on the roads by the end of 2020.  Unfortunately, more than two years later, FSD is still just Level 2 (out of five levels) of autonomy.

Here’s how the Society of Automotive Engineers defines Level 2 autonomous vehicles.

Vehicle has combined automated functions, like acceleration and steering, but the driver must remain engaged with the driving task and monitor the environment at all times.

The good news is that FSD doesn’t need to be self-driving. As I have repeatedly said, TSLA stock is a story stock. Numbers, data and facts don’t make much difference to Tesla investors or customers, two groups that have significant overlap.

When Tesla customers pay $10,000 for FSD, they aren’t expecting a driverless vehicle. They are expecting to be able to tell their friends that they have FSD. They are expecting to be able to post videos of them playing around with the car on social media. It’s not about getting what they paid for. It’s about the story, and that story has true value to them.\

Viral FSD Videos

There are plenty of video clips online demonstrating just how bad FSD actually is. Vice recently highlighted one viral video of a FSD Tesla swerving unexpectedly toward pedestrians in a crosswalk. The article also includes an in-depth summary of why most FSD testers protect Tesla by not posting similar videos.

Since the Vice article, a new viral video has surfaced suggesting FSD is still struggling with very basic tasks.

Los Angeles Times journalist Russ Mitchell tweeted in response to the video in question. The video shows a FSD Tesla nearly slamming into a road closed sign at a high speed.

“As Tesla tests driverless cars on public roads, its basic automatic emergency braking system appears to be not working at all,” Mitchell said.

Also Not Important: If Regulators Ban FSD

But remember, it doesn’t matter that FSD doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter that only a handful of Tesla drivers that paid for FSD actually have access to it. It definitely doesn’t matter if regulators ban it, which is a distinct possibility.

In fact, a ban would give Musk a convenient excuse for denying Tesla customers access to features they have been paying for since 2016.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Musk is secretly hoping for a regulatory ban, which would give Tesla much-needed time to improve FSD. After all, Tesla’s driver assistance systems are currently under investigation by both the National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to determine if they played a role in a number of crashes, some of which have been fatal.

Finally, it doesn’t matter if someone is eventually killed by a FSD Tesla if Tesla is able to successfully blame the death on the vehicle’s driver. Tesla has been very careful to warn FSD testers that they are ultimately the ones responsible for their FSD software. Tesla has said FSD “may do the wrong thing at the worst time.”  If an innocent pedestrian is killed in a crosswalk, Tesla has made clear that will be the driver’s fault, not Tesla’s.

What Does Matter For TSLA Stock: Tesla’s Reputation

As far as I can tell, there’s only one thing about FSD that matters for TSLA stock investors. The stock could take a big hit if one or more people are killed by FSD vehicles and the videos go viral enough to tarnish Tesla’s reputation. Tesla’s reputation is why it has a $785 billion market cap. Nothing about Tesla’s actual business justifies that valuation.

Musk is a genius at controlling the online narrative surrounding Tesla. As long as Tesla customers and investors are willing to keep accepting his excuses, the stock will continue to rise. If FSD is finally the straw that breaks the back of Tesla’s reputation, the stock could have tremendous downside.

On the date of publication, Wayne Duggan did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.

Wayne Duggan has been a U.S. News & World Report Investing contributor since 2016 and is a staff writer at Benzinga, where he has written more than 7,000 articles. Mr. Duggan is the author of the book “Beating Wall Street With Common Sense,” which focuses on investing psychology and practical strategies to outperform the stock market.


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