The Autonomous Driving Future and a Generation of No Drivers

Yesterday, Tesla had what they called an Autonomy Day at their headquarters in Silicon Valley. The focus was on autopilot features, and they highlighted their custom silicon development for the first time since announcing they were moving away from NVIDIA’s solution.

One specific quote from Elon struck me and stood out as a statement about how far Tesla is in front of their competition in autonomy. Elon stated that all current Tesla’s being built already contain the technology (hardware) for fully autonomous driving. He said all Tesla has to do is continue to evolve the software. Basically, if you buy a Tesla today, you will have a fully autonomous car in the future via software updates. There is no other car company competing today who can make such a claim. And I’m not sure any car company competing with Tesla will be able to make that claim in the near future.

I have driven several friend’s Teslas and used the auto-steer future. And while we can’t consider that fully autonomous today, it is one of those things that when you try it for the first time, it feels transformative. Like you are living the future. Tesla is the automotive example of the famous William Gibson quote that “the future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” Over the next 20 years, or so, as we work out the technology to provide fully autonomous solutions, I’m confident autonomy will be a staple feature of every automobile.

I have been sitting on some research, working out what exactly to do with it, for a while now. My friend Aaron Suplizio of Experian and I ran a comprehensive research study on Tesla owners. We wanted to know what Tesla owners thought of their Tesla’s and what specific features they loved, didn’t like, and overall how they used all the features on their car. Our study is way too long to share all of it here, but I did pull out some specific data points around the autonomy features Tesla’s have packed into them.

Firstly, we ran a lot of questions about customer satisfaction. We tested satisfaction overall and on nearly every feature of a Tesla. For the chart below, I pulled out the specific autonomy features related to the overall Autopilot feature to show how satisfied consumers were with each one.

Rarely when looking at someones, customer satisfaction number do they break out the percentage for each answer. Almost always when someone mentions customer satisfaction, they give you an overall satisfaction number that includes the Very Satisfied and Satisfied. I always break this out in our data to show how many people say very satisfied vs. just say satisfied. I’m of the opinion that a product has truly nailed a high customer satisfaction number when the majority of answers are in the very satisfied category. Here, that shows that Autosteer is a killer feature and one that is very well liked by Tesla owners.

The second chart I created is the frequency of use of the same specific autonomy features.

I found it particularly interesting that 55% of Tesla owners are using auto-steer at least once per day. Considering auto steer only works in certain conditions, like a freeway, this suggests many of these owners are frequent commuters but that when Tesla’s are truly fully autonomous in all situations, this frequency number will go up. I can imagine a future survey we do when fully autonomous cars are possible, where we find it rare for people to be manually driving their cars at all on a daily basis.

When you look at the frequency of use for summon, for example, that is another feature that is limited to only certain conditions. I think this number would go up quite a bit as well once it works all the time in every situation.

Generation I Don’t Want to Drive
I greatly appreciated this article in the Wall St. Journal called Driving? The Kids are So Over It. I appreciate it because it’s timely and relevant for me. My oldest daughter just turned 16, and we are currently helping her work toward her license. What she fails to understand is that we don’t want to drive her everywhere she wants to go. Yet, she refuses and shows nearly no interest in driving. Which I can relate mostly related to in that I am not a fan of driving either, but at the end of the day, driving is often a means to an end. For kids today there has to be an end, and as this WSJ article points out, they have a harder time seeing that end, and driving as a means, than many generations prior.

I remember when I got my license, and I couldn’t wait because there were so many places and things I wanted to do that my parents did not want to have to drive me around to do. What I did not realize at the time was that getting my license was not just freedom for me but freedom for my parents also. I literally can’t wait until I don’t have to play chauffeur to my daughters and their liberation is mine as well.

But where we struggle is in their desire to drive, but right now we are sort of forcing them to drive. My hope is when my daughter starts working at a local theme park this summer that she will understand the means to the end driving is. I don’t expect her to want to drive there and, like me, I’d take getting driven where I need to go over driving every day of the week.

It isn’t surprising to me we hear of 16 yr olds not wanting to get their license right away because they don’t see the need. But this particular behavior pattern becomes an interesting question when not only self-driving cars become a reality but also in an era where car ownership is being questioned due to the broader ride-sharing economy.

At Tesla’s Autonomy day CEO Elon Musk announced an interesting new robotaxi service that would allow Tesla owners to let their cars become RoboTaxi’s and perform a ride-sharing service while they are at work or at home. This is a fascinating idea, in an era of Uber and Lyft, where you can earn money with a ride-sharing side hustle from the comfort of your office desk or couch.

However, this also leads me to believe Tesla itself will build and offer a ride-sharing fleet as a way to bring in extra revenue for the company. If Elon Musk is right that Tesla is far ahead of the competition, including Waymo, then a Tesla fleet focused on ride-sharing could make quite a disruptive idea and a revenue boom for Tesla.

Autonomy is automotive is going to be one of the most interring storylines to watch. Tesla will pressure nearly all the other car companies and how they respond is crucial. Most importantly, car companies will need to get out of their own way and let the technology companies like NVIDIA, Waymo, etc., provide them with complete solutions if they have any chance of competing with Tesla. I’m not sure many current automotive brands will survive the next 20 years without serious adaptations to their way of thinking about the future of automotive.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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