It’s been a big week for self-driving cars – with major news headlines from both Tesla (TSLA) and Uber.
Let’s Start with Tesla
If you’ve been watching Elon Musk for the drama alone, I can’t blame you. And he’s certainly delivered.
A couple weeks ago, he assured us that if we buy any car other than a Tesla, it’s “like buying a horse instead of a car in 1919.”
And perhaps he’s right. During Monday’s “Autonomy Investor Day,” Tesla unveiled new artificial intelligence (AI) chips that will be built into its cars going forward. Soon, Tesla says, this hardware “will enable Full Self-Driving via future over-the-air software updates.”
To put this announcement in context – let’s look at the five levels of automation that all cars are currently measured against.
- Many late-model cars are already at Level 1. Here, humans are almost fully responsible for the control of the car, but there are some autonomous features, like cruise control and park assist.
- At Level 2, the main difference is that more than one automated function can be performed simultaneously. For example, the car can control speed and steering via cruise control with lane centering. The driver must still be on alert to take back control.
- At Level 3, human drivers are still necessary but they are able to let the vehicle control most driving functions – speed, steering, and road monitoring – without assistance. The driver will only be needed in certain situations.This is about where Tesla is now. Investors experienced mid-level automation on Monday, during test-drives of Tesla’s latest “Navigate on Autopilot” system.
- Level 4 is often referred to as high automation. The vehicle is able to start and stop, drive itself, park, and complete a trip. This is the level at which the vehicle will be able to drive you to work and back. However, it will not be equipped to cover every possible situation, and the driver may have to assist in some instances such as an unmapped location or severe weather.Tesla is still working on all-weather automation. Currently, water affects the cameras, and Autopilot will not run during rain.
- Level 5 is full automation – no human needed. The vehicle will pick you up, take you where you need to go, and then find a parking spot (or go pick up someone else). This is the race currently under way.I’d expected to see the first of these automated vehicles (AVs) in 2021. Elon Musk is now saying that Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” will be feature-complete this year, with regulatory approval by the end of 2020.
Musk made some other bold claims on Monday that didn’t get as much fanfare. But these are projects that I see as total game-changers.
If you follow Tesla, you’ll notice that Musk tends to set goals in big, round numbers. That’s true of Tesla’s planned fleet of “robo-taxis.”
Specifically, Tesla’s aiming to have 1 million robo-taxis by 2020. They’ll drive around empty at first, learning the roads… then when the U.S. government gives Tesla the greenlight, they can start carrying humans.
The company has a simple plan to help build up this massive fleet. It will reclaim your Model 3, if you’ve leased one, at the end of your contract. That includes the road and driver data inside.
Speaking of big, round numbers…
Musk also says that Tesla’s working on a battery that will last 1 million miles.
That’s inspired by commercial trucks, where 1 million miles (on the original engine) has been the gold standard for nearly 20 years. Musk says the Model 3 was built that way… now they just need the batteries to match. The goal is to have them next year.
“It’s financially insane to buy anything but a Tesla,” Musk concluded. Between the passive income from using your car as a robo-taxi…and the maintenance costs you save with a 1 million mile car – maybe he’s right.
Here Comes the Competition
Tesla’s problem has never been a lack of vision. For all his recklessness – on Twitter and “in real life” – Musk continues to drag the auto industry away from its 100-year-old tech and into the future.
Instead, Tesla’s problem has always been scale.
Major automakers are producing exponentially more cars to feed the hungry global market.
Where Elon Musk sets goals in terms of millions, Toyota Motor (TM) works in terms of billions.
Toyota, Softbank, and Uber: A Match Made in AV Heaven
Last week, we talked about how Germany is investing $1 billion in batteries. Now we’ve got Japan investing $1 billion in “robo-taxis” from Uber.
That $1 billion comes from Toyota, Japanese infrastructure conglomerate SoftBank (SFTBY), and major auto-parts supplier DENSO Corporation (DNZOY).
Uber certainly needs the cash. In the race to full, Level 5 automation, it is spending almost $500 million a year.
Much of that will go into developing the software. For starters, autonomous vehicle engineers don’t come cheap – we’re talking salaries of $100,000–$300,000 a year.
That’s a drop in the bucket for rivals like General Motors (GM) and Ford Motor (F). Now, Uber can play with the big boys, with a little help from SoftBank, DENSO, and Toyota.
Where “Big Auto” is Dropping Major Cash
Toyota has been making some other moves, too. These have gotten less attention in the media – but have even bigger implications.
Like Tesla, the Japanese automakers see the need for a better battery. In fact, for a fully electric AND fully autonomous car, it’s crucial. With everything we’ll be asking the battery to do, the current lithium-ion batteries just won’t cut it. We need safer, longer-lasting technology.
That’s why in Japan, a “battery cartel” of sorts has sprung up.
The Japanese government is working with researchers, plus major names like Toyota and Panasonic (PCRFY), to get a particular new technology to market.
Japan has been obsessed with battery technology for decades. It’s the current favorite to mass-produce these next-generation batteries.
One tiny company in the United Kingdom holds a few key patents. Toyota is relying on it for its electric cars… yet most folks have never heard of it.
I’ve got a full presentation on the investment opportunity in this new technology — nicknamed the “Jesus Battery.”
P.S. Insiders are already calling this potential new battery a “paradigm shift” in energy technology. Forbes calls it simply: “The battery that could change the world.”
Trust me, it’s amazing.
This breakthrough device could change just about everything in your life – from how you get around to how you communicate with others… even the way you think about the world.
For early investors, this presents the kind of moneymaking opportunity that could turn a tiny initial stake into an absolute fortune.
Folks who get in on this breakthrough now, BEFORE it’s rolled out on a mass scale, will have the chance to be a part of perhaps the single largest legal creation of wealth in the last 25 years.
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