Tesla has quietly dropped (if anything about Tesla is quiet for long) the option for buying the “Full Self-Driving Capability” from the online design studios (build-your-car pages) of its website. The option ran $3,000 to $5,000 and was introduced with AutoPilot 2.0 hardware in 2016. Tesla said it would validate the software, obtain regulatory approval, and enable the software via over-the-updates. It never happened.
Also Thursday, Elon Musk also announced the self-described cheapest Tesla yet, a mid-range rear-drive Model 3 for $45,000 with 260 miles claimed range, coincidentally two miles more than the Hyundai Kona EV that debuted in the past week. And yes, $45,000 is still $10,000 more than the announced, promised, but not delivered entry-level Tesla Model 3 with 220 miles.
Promised, Yes. Delivered, Not Quite.
Tesla since 2016 has been describing a full self-driving Tesla that could go coast to coast autonomously, meaning autonomously on limited-access interstates. But it never came to pass for Tesla, as it hasn’t for anyone else except Cadillac.
The full-self-driving option was an IOU from Tesla. Some of the capability was integrated into the car and the rest would come when Tesla had it ready. Tuesday Tesla said a Tesla-designed chip to enable full self-driving would be ready in about six months and would be provided and installed free as part of the option buyers already paid for.
It’s not clear, and Tesla isn’t making predictions yet, if the chip that Tesla built itself, rather than partner with Nvidia or another chipmaker, is the last thing needed. There still would testing and certification.
What’s unusual is if Level 3 or Level 4 self-driving is so close for Tesla, why they’d yank it now from the ordering process. Some buyers liked the idea — the promise, the IOU — that for three grand their Tesla would be self-driving in the future. CEO Musk in a Thursday Tweet said the option caused confusion, which may be true. The confusion was especially so because Tesla sells “full self-driving” (this) and Autopilot, which kind of sounds like self-driving, which it is, but only at a lower level.
All you can order currently from Tesla is the Enhanced Autopilot package, $5,000. Despite its name, Autopilot is more on the order of Level 2 autonomy offered by several other automakers including BMW, Cadillac, Ford, Nissan, and Volvo. You still need to keep your hands lightly on the wheel.
The one standout to date is the Cadillac CT-6 with Super Cruise. It is capable of extended hands-off self-driving a) on interstates but b) even if your hands are off the wheel, one of the car’s 11 cameras watches the driver’s eyes and rats you out if your attention drifts for more than 5-10 seconds.
So far no car is capable of navigating city streets or country roads on its own, except some test vehicles with trained drivers aboard.
The Cheaper Tesla Model 3
Tesla’s announcements this week — via Twitter, as usual — included a cheaper Model 3 that replaces the rear-drive Model 3. The initial rear-drive Model 3 was rated at 310 miles and a price tag in the mid-fifties. Now, by using essentially the same car and the same battery box, but with fewer of the costly lithium-ion cells inside, Tesla is offering for $45,000 a midrange Model 3. It will have fewer options to further simplify ordering. The price does include a premium interior and audio system. The only option is Tesla Autopilot for $5,000.
Separately, Tesla’s ordering site seems to indicate the Oct. 15 cutoff for ordering and taking delivery of a Tesla that still got the $7,000 federal tax credit isn’t absolute. The Tesla site says the midrange Model 3 versions will be ready for delivery in six to 10 weeks, which would be before the Tesla credit drops to $3,750 in January 2019.
Now read: Tesla Model 3 Has Highest Profit Margin of Any Electric Vehicle, Tesla Employees: Paint Shop Has Caught Fire Multiple Times, and Elon Musk: Model 3 Braking Can Be Fixed in Firmware. What?