Elon Musk stoked speculation that Tesla might one day enter the rideshare business on Tuesday, prompting raised eyebrows at the prospect of self-driving vehicles being used by companies like Uber.
When asked by an investor during the company’s 2015 third-quarter earnings conference call if autonomous vehicles might make a foray into the booming business of ridsesharing, Musk’s blushing seemed palpable, even over a telephone conference line.
Morgan Stanley stock analyst Adam Michael Jonas asked that big question: “Assuming Tesla establishes itself as a leader in autonomous transport, do you see a business case for selling autonomous cars to ride-sharing firms, or can Tesla cut out the middleman and offer on-demand electric mobility services directly from the company’s own platform?”
After a long-winded pause, Musk responded: “I think we’d have to say, no comment.”
“I mean, Elon, it’s kind of unusual for you to punt on strategic questions of a long-term nature. Is this a dumb question? Or a funny question?” Jonas responded.
“Actually, I think it’s quite a smart question, actually,” Musk said.
“Why – all right,” replied Jonas.
“But still no comment,” Musk said.
Musk later added that any strategy Tesla has to enter the rideshare industry is “not fully baked.” The whole thing had an awkward air to it, as if Musk had been stopped in his tracks by a particularly cutting question.
The issue, as it stands currently, doesn’t really beg if Tesla will dive into the rideshare circus, it only asks when.
In July, a Tesla board member said that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was tinkering with the idea of buying half a million autonomous Teslas by 2020.
The idea of self-driving fleets of Ubers taking to streets across the world will only come to fruition if Tesla is able to actually produce a fully functional self-driving vehicle by 2020, of course. Musk has claimed Tesla will be delivering autonomous technology to highways across the globe in just three years, and has said that all cars may one day go autonomous in the not-too-distant future.
The tenor of the Q3 earnings report meeting remained pretty standard otherwise: Tesla posted non-GAAP revenue of $1.24 billion and reported net losses of $75 million in Q3 but its stock still rose 10 percent, largely in part to Musk’s admonitions that the future is full of wonderful of innovation at the company.
Tesla delivered a record number of 11,603 vehicles and produced another record number of cars, topping off at 13,091, despite a one week-factory shut down in Q3.
The unveiling of the company’s much trumpeted Model 3 sedan — which Musk says will cost just $35,000 — and which won’t completely drive itself, is set for March 2016.