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Elon Musk eyes 2024 for Tesla robotaxi sans steering wheel, pedals

Tesla is aiming to mass produce a robotaxi by 2024, CEO Elon Musk revealed during an earnings call with investors on Wednesday as the company reported better-than-expected quarterly figures.

The dedicated robotaxi will feature a “futuristic” design and come without a steering wheel or pedals, Musk said, adding that the vehicle, which would build on the automaker’s current self-driving technology, could be “a massive driver of Tesla’s growth.”

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Aware that the steep price tag of Tesla cars puts them out of reach of many folks, Musk suggested a robotaxi service could be launched that offered “the lowest cost-per-mile of transport that they’ve ever experienced.”

Warming to his theme, he added that according to the company’s projections, “it would appear that a robotaxi ride will cost less than a bus ticket, a subsidized bus ticket, or a subsidized subway ticket.”

Musk has spoken of his interest in building a robotaxi before, but this was his clearest statement yet on such a project.

However, the CEO’s 2024 target date is characteristically ambitious and, like many of his forecasts, could well slip. After all, it gives Tesla only two years to test and mass produce the autonomous vehicle. Getting the green light from state regulators will also be a big challenge to launching a full-fledged robotaxi service in a timely manner.

Still, Musk’s statement offers an idea of where he is considering taking Tesla in the coming years, and is a shot across the bow of other big players eyeing robotaxi services, among them Alphabet-owned Waymo and GM-owned Cruise.

Waymo, a leader in autonomous driving technology, has been testing robotaxi services in several states since 2018, though its cars come with manual controls and often includes a safety driver. But it recently partnered with Chinese automaker Geely to build an all-electric, self-driving minivan that comes without a steering wheel and pedals. And in early 2020, Cruise unveiled a prototype vehicle called Origin that also ditched manual controls.

Responding to a follow-up question about the plan to build a robotaxi for ridesharing services, Musk offered few details, but did say that Tesla could hold an event some time next year to reveal more about the project.

The news of Tesla’s growing interest in ridesharing services using autonomous cars came on the same day the automaker reported $18.8 billion in revenue for the three-month period ending March 31, marking an increase of 81% over the same period a year earlier. It also reported a record quarterly profit of $3.3 billion, up from $438 million a year ago, and delivered a record 310,048 vehicles during the quarter.

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