Innovation

Tesla ‘touchless delivery’ helps electric car buyers keep social distancing

The electric car firm is taking a hands-off approach.

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Tesla is rolling out "touchless delivery" to hand over cars while reducing contact, the company explained Thursday. The announcement comes as the world works to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, with national governments urging people to practice social distancing and avoid spreading the virus.

The company revealed the changes in an announcement Thursday, where it also explained that it will temporarily suspend production at its Fremont and New York facilities starting March 23. The new "touchless delivery" feature is aimed at ensuring "customers can continue to take delivery of their vehicle in a seamless and safe way." The press release explained:

Due to the unique over-the-air connectivity of our vehicles, customers are able to unlock their new cars at a delivery parking lot via the Tesla App, sign any remaining relevant paperwork that has been placed in their car, and return that paperwork to an on-site drop-off location prior to leaving. This method provides additional convenience and comfort.

It's a move that could encourage buyers to continue with their purchases during the outbreak, but it's not entirely unexpected. CEO Elon Musk has explained before his vision of simplifying the delivery process, explaining in a March 2017 conference call that future deliveries should be “more streamlined, less paperwork, less bureaucracy.”

Tesla's Fremont facility with vehicles lined up.Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In July 2018, as Tesla worked to ramp-up production of its mass-market Model 3, it made a number of changes to streamline the process. One idea from that time was "sign and drive," where instead of an employee explaining the car's features for an hour the user completes the basic paperwork and works through a series of videos. Another idea proposed by Musk at that time would have involved signing and returning using a customer's smartphone.

The delivery system of the future could go even further. Vehicle deliveries currently work on a hub-and-spoke model, where they leave the factory and ship out to distribution centers as a midpoint before moving onto their final destination. Tesla is currently developing a fully-autonomous system for vehicles produced after October 2016, which could enable cars, in theory, to deliver themselves directly to the consumer, driving straight out of the factory.

The coronavirus pandemic could encourage the use of more hands-off delivery methods to avoid passing on the virus.

While many parts of the world are focused on taking action to prevent the spread, Musk has struck a somewhat dismissive tone toward the outbreak. Last week he described the "panic" as "dumb," comments that were criticized by experts. Musk has since suggested Tesla's factories could be used to produce ventilators if needed.

The company struck a positive tone in its statement and suggested it was in a strong enough financial position to face the uncertainty. Prior to its $2.3 billion capital raise, the company had $6.3 billion cash at the end of the fourth quarter of 2019. It also had available credit lines worth up to $3 billion.

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