Elon Musk Explains How Tesla Will Power an Autonomous Uber-AirBnB Service

Flickr / Edsel L

Tesla will use its upcoming full self-driving system to power a fleet of autonomous taxis, CEO Elon Musk explained in the company’s third-quarter earnings call on Wednesday. Musk explained that Tesla “will operate its own ride-hailing service” that “will compete directly with Uber and Lyft.” The service will also offer the ability for consumers to send their own cars out into the fleet, “just like how you share your house with Airbnb.”

“There will be a company owned fleet - and the company-owned fleet with just be where there aren’t enough customer cars to be leant out,” Musk said. “So if we find like in a particular metro, there aren’t enough customers who are willing to add their car to the shared fleet, then that’s where we’ll stock them with a Tesla fleet.”

A Tesla Model S with Autopilot driving the car.

Musk has detailed this plan before, as far back as the company’s second master plan in 2016. Details have been slowly trickling out about how this vision would pan out in reality. Musk said earlier this year that the company was looking at a system where owners can recall their cars “at will” and also “limit its use to friends and family.”

Musk responded to a question from Maynard Um, senior equity research analyst for Macquarie Group, agreeing that Tesla could follow an Apple-like revenue model for the service. Apple takes a 30 percent cut of revenue from the App Store, which drops to 15 percent if a subscription-based consumer uses the app’s services for longer than a year.

“We would charge something probably comparable to how, say, the App Store works where we charge 30 percent or something in order for somebody to add their car to the fleet,” Musk said.

This could help buyers pay off the balance of their car. Analyst Gene Munster, working on the assumption of a 10 percent payment to Tesla, predicted one car could earn an owner $6,892 per year. That figure factors in expenses like depreciation, insurance and energy. With an average American car lease payment somewhere between $300 to $500 per month, a Tesla owner could pay off their car with $574 per month and still have money to spare.

“By adding your vehicle to Tesla’s autonomous fleet, you may be able to earn enough money to cover your entire lease payment and earn income,” Munster said.

As for when this will launch? Musk originally predicted coast-to-coast autonomous driving by the end of 2017, but the company now predicts its A.I. chip to power the feature will ship in the first half of next year.

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