Fleet operators want Tesla. But not “completely autonomous”.


Local governments like Westport and businesses large and small are singing the praises of electric vehicles like Teslas. Westport has saved thousands of dollars on fuel and maintenance since purchasing a Model 3 in 2019.

Police departments are among the fleet operators increasingly turning to electric vehicles for economic and environmental benefits. Koskinas said it has received more than 500 inquiries from departments around the world regarding Westport’s use of electric vehicles.

Westport saved nearly $ 7,000 a year on fuel and maintenance costs, he said. There could be more savings to come. Westport expects to save $ 5,000 per vehicle if it can use Tesla‘s on-board computer, rather than installing its own for critical features like license plate scanning, light control and sirens and radio communication with colleagues. Discussions are ongoing between Westport and Tesla, Koskinas said.

But for all of their Tesla enthusiasm, there is one feature that the vast majority of them don’t touch – “fully autonomous driving.” Some say the technology is not ready yet.

The optional $ 10,000 software feature includes driver assistance features that Tesla hopes will one day allow cars to drive themselves. (The price is likely to rise, as in the past, so the best time to buy is probably now, for those who believe in the future of technology.) Not all Tesla are “fully autonomous driving.” . Currently, “Fully Autonomous Driving” is available in beta form and has only been released for a limited group of people. It can change lanes in some cases, respond to most traffic lights, and steer the car.

The technology is far from perfect and requires an attentive driver behind the wheel to take control at all times. It “can do the wrong thing at the worst time,” Tesla warns.

Koskinas can see the benefits if the cars in his department could be trusted to drive responsibly, always doing the right thing. He said officers responding to an incident sometimes end up going in an ambulance to the hospital to offer support. But they must leave their patrol car behind them.

“How nice if this vehicle goes to the hospital and meets the officer there?” ” he said.

If Teslas could do that, he could buy “fully autonomous driving,” he said.

“We’re just not there,” Koskinas said of the technology today. The ‘fully autonomous drive’ option may be added to Teslas in the future even if it is not purchased at the time of sale.

Westport, Conn., Is one of six police departments that told CNN Business they bought at least one Tesla, but not the “fully autonomous driving” feature.

The police are not the only ones to accept a pass.

Hertz announced in October that it would buy 100,000 Tesla, but not “fully autonomous driving.” Brightline, Florida’s private rail operator, has a Tesla fleet of nearly 50 vehicles to transport passengers to its stations, which reopened this month. Revel, a mobility startup, began using Tesla Model Ys to provide rides in Manhattan this year.
The Tesla Model 3 are parked on a Hertz site.

Most Tesla buyers refuse to say why they don’t buy “fully autonomous driving”. But the limits of the technology seem clear and are probably a factor.

Thilo Koslowski, a consultant at AutoDGTL specializing in automotive technology, told CNN Business that “fully autonomous driving” is not currently good value for fleet operators, given the limitations of the technology and its cost.

“They’re not getting the benefits they’re looking for,” Koslowski said. “It’s not fully autonomous driving. It becomes a question of whether it’s worth the money.”

Fleet operators want safer and more productive vehicles, according to Koslowski. He said there was no objective data to prove that “fully autonomous driving” is safer than a human driver. “Fully autonomous driving” has not been shown to make Teslas more productive today, he said.

Tesla owners say they are impressed - and alarmed - by 'fully autonomous driving'

According to Koslowski, fleet operators could theoretically face liability risks if “fully autonomous driving” was active during an accident.

“This risk overshadows any potential benefits you might derive from it,” Koslowski said. “It’s such a murky gray area that I think the risk is far too high for the rental companies to do.”

The limitations of the technology have been documented. Tesla drivers testing “fully autonomous driving” described it as inconsistent, sometimes impressing them, sometimes alarming them. Videos shot by drivers using a Tesla with “fully autonomous driving” show that it can brake and turn unexpectedly, and sometimes drive in the middle of the road rather than leave room for other drivers.

Several Tesla using “fully autonomous driving” crashed into sidewalks, damaging the wheels of the cars. A person who identified himself as the owner of a Tesla reported to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration this month that his Tesla was badly damaged after crashing into a vehicle while using “fully autonomous driving.” . The agency is seeking more information about the crash, according to spokeswoman Lucia Sanchez.

Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk has hinted at the limits of “fully autonomous driving.”

“We need to make autonomous driving fully autonomous for it to be a compelling value proposition,” he said on a Tesla earnings conference call this summer.

At the time, he also questioned the merits of paying for a subscription version of “fully autonomous driving”. Second, drivers with “fully autonomous driving” were given a limited set of features, such as automated lane changes.

“Like right now, does it make sense for someone to do [full self-driving] subscription? I think it is debatable. But once we roll out autonomous driving widely, the value proposition will be clear, ”said Musk.

Tesla has repeatedly missed the deadlines by which it expects its autonomous system to be widely deployed and has not released a recent estimate for a large deployment of “fully autonomous driving”.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment and does not generally engage with professional news media.


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