The Driverless Tesla vehicles to hit the American roads this summer, says company’s CEO Elon Musk. He adds the software update is awaited for the sedan for the car to drive itself.
Once updated, the cars will be able to navigate highways and major roads without the driver’s touching the wheel or pedals. Mr. Musk said in a conference call that the self-driving technology was “technically capable of going from parking lot to parking lot,” meaning through cities as well. But, he said, Tesla will disable the autopilot when cars are not on highways or major roads, citing safety concerns.
The cars can also be summoned to the driver via smartphone and can go park themselves in a garage or elsewhere. That feature will be allowed only on private property for now, Mr. Musk said.
He said Tesla had been testing its autopilot on a route from San Francisco to Seattle, with company drivers letting the car navigate the West Coast largely unassisted.
Mr. Musk also announced on Thursday that a software update within the next two weeks would give Tesla owners a new set of active safety features, including automatic emergency braking and blind-spot and side-collision warnings. Also to be added are tools to help drivers monitor the status of charging stations and plot routes to ensure the ability to complete a trip without running out of battery power.
“It’s basically impossible to run out, unless you do so intentionally,” Mr. Musk said.
The move is intended to help reduce “range anxiety,” the fear drivers have that they will run out of juice, prompting them to constantly calculate distances and worry about being stranded.
The Model S sedan already has a range that starts at just over 200 miles for the base model. Other automakers have plans to match those numbers in the coming years. Nissan, whose Leaf currently has a range under 100 miles, has announced intentions for a 250-mile-range electric car, and Volkswagen has said that it will build a car that can go 300 miles on a charge by 2020.
General Motors unveiled its effort at a 200-mile range electric car, the Bolt, this year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and in February said it would begin building the car in late 2016, with a target price of about $30,000, after zero-emissions tax breaks.
Mr. Musk said on Thursday that he believed 200 miles was a “minimum threshold” that consumers would accept, but that pushing beyond 300 miles was unnecessary.
“There’s a sweet spot around the 250 to 350 range,” he said, suggesting that after driving for several hours straight, drivers would most probably be ready to stop for a bathroom or snack break, during which time they could charge up.
But not all are convinced that range anxiety can be so easily eliminated.
Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor for news at Kelley Blue Book, said for long road trips, the problem was complicated by the fact that recharging adds significant time.
“If you take a conventional car, you can drive 10 hours and stop for gas in that time, which takes about five to 10 minutes. In a Tesla, best-case scenario, is enforced stops of at least a half-hour or more,” Mr. DeLorenzo said.
For would-be Tesla drivers, anxiety may still come from just being able to legally buy one. The company won a major victory in New Jersey on Wednesday, when Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill allowing Tesla to sell directly to customers.
Mr. Musk has been outspoken about his desire to sell cars directly, bypassing traditional dealerships. Last year, Mr. Christie banned Tesla from selling its cars directly, but indicated he would reverse the policy if the state Legislature passed a bill to allow such sales. The Legislature recently passed a bill granting automakers with zero-emission vehicles the ability to sell vehicles directly.
Mr. Christie said in a statement on Wednesday that he was “pleased that manufacturers like Tesla will now have the opportunity to establish direct sales operations for consumers in a manner lawfully in New Jersey.”