The future of autonomous vehicles is looking bright. Some experts believe that within the next decade, most or all vehicles will be autonomous. This shift to autonomous vehicles will be due in part to the increasing popularity of electric vehicles and the overwhelming growth in artificial intelligence (AI).
While the automotive industry evolves rapidly, the airline industry has been stagnant for years. Ravaged by the COVID 19 pandemic, travel restrictions and difficult economic conditions, you could be forgiven for forgetting the current year when embarking on a plane flight today. The airline industry needs a disruptor.
Once a month, I make the four hour car trip from Sydney to Canberra. I refuse to fly, not just because of the cost and environmental impact, but because the time it takes to travel to the airport, negotiate the almost guaranteed cancellation of my flight, fly there, land late and juggle additional transport to my destination, is actually longer than the four hours it would take to drive door-to-door. It just doesn't make sense to fly.
What if I could spend those four hours sleeping? What if I could pull out my laptop and spend some time focusing on work? What if I could bring my family with me and binge watch Netflix? An autonomous vehicle offers just that – effortless, door-to-door travel.
Most Tesla's today can be upgraded to "Full-self driving" at a click of a button through the Tesla app. All of the cameras and hardware required are installed on the vehicle from day one but using them to actually drive you somewhere comes with a one-off fee of $15,000 USD in the US or $10,100 AUD in Australia (noting that full-self driving is not yet legal in Australia). This is clearly out of reach for many.
Car markers around the world are starting to explore these over-the-air style upgrades. Essentially, they'll charge you a monthly fee for add-ons that would have in the past been part of the "elite" series of your vehicle. For example, in the future you'll subscribe to package that will enable heated seats, or automated parallel parking. The hardware, cameras, heating elements, etc will be installed as a factory standard on every model and the level of customisation will be in the control of the owner. It's a different world for car ownership, whether you like it or not.
For whatever reason, Elon decided to charge a mint for the full-self driving capability as a one-off payment. An alternative though, is pay per use. Imagine a world where you could pay (around the price of a plan ticket) to have your car drive you 9 hours to your destination. I'd happily pay this and avoid taking a plane flight. In fact, I'd classify it as a business expense and the cost will quickly feel negligible. For Elon, I would assume the heavy mass adoption of the service would ultimately result in a higher revenue stream. Not to mention, the environmental impact would be profound through the reduction in airline travel.
It's clear that Tesla has put a lot of thought into the future of transportation. The idea of a full self-driving car is ambitious, but the pricing model is exclusive and is missing out on a much bigger opportunity. If you're listening Elon, tweak the pricing model and put autonomous vehicles in reach of everyone. You'll be doing yourself, the environment and the world a favour.