Tesla is renowned for having perhaps the most devoted fan following of any carmaker around, yet even these hardy souls are starting to question their faith in CEO Elon Musk.
The momentary change of heart came after the mercurial visionary told Tesla’s U.S. owners via Twitter on Saturday they had until Jan. 17 to purchase his controversial Full Self-Driving (FSD) feature before the price would be hiked by a fifth to $12,000. Monthly subscriptions are also set to rise, although Musk didn’t specify by when or how much.
Instead of the usual excitement from supporters that it signals a leap forward in development of “Level 4” autonomy—the stage at which a car effectively becomes a robotaxi—the reaction among even his staunchest supporters ranged from shock to disappointment.
“With FSD take rates in the low teens, why not wait until FSD gets to L4?” asked Tesla bull Gary Black, while Rob Maurer, host of the popular Tesla Daily podcast, simply tweeted an astonished face emoji in response to the news.
Meanwhile, blogger Omar Qazi’s Whole Mars account pleaded with Musk to bring back the lower priced Enhanced Autopilot (EAP), arguing it can eventually lead to upselling among satisfied customers: “Some people just want auto lane change and don’t care to test beta yet! But EAP can be a gateway drug to FSD.”
Way behind schedule
Investors have touted the potential of FSD software to generate more incremental profit than the sale of a Tesla car itself, underpinning the current $1 trillion–plus valuation of the company—more than the next nine largest carmakers combined.
The reason why FSD is so controversial, however, is that Musk employed a fear-of-missing-out tactic. He urged customers repeatedly to buy in early, since the price of the feature would only increase over time as improvements to the software were made.
Yet no new features have been added for the U.S. market since he last jacked up the price by $2,000 to $10,000 back in October 2020. That hike was justified by the addition of Autosteer on City Streets, a feature currently undergoing beta testing by a select group of Tesla owners, with most FSD customers still waiting to be added.
Musk famously predicted 1 million Tesla robotaxis would be on the road, earning money for their owners by the end of 2020. Yet he is now more than a year late in delivering on his promise to U.S. Tesla owners (customers outside the country are still awaiting even a promised date).
For now, FSD is officially only “Level 2,” meaning it is not fundamentally different from any other driver-assist feature found in competitor models, in that they all require constant supervision and monitoring when in use. During a podcast with Lex Fridman at the end of December, Musk conceded that development of full autonomy is proving to be much harder than he anticipated.
Many customers would now like to trade in their aging Teslas for a new model, but worry they will not get the full cost they paid for FSD reimbursed on the secondhand market, and the feature is not transferable to their next purchase.
‘Frustrated’ and ‘disappointing’
Much will now depend on just how good FSD’s Version 11 will be. This update, slated for next month, will combine all the various features for highway and city driving into one so-called single-stack software code that should reduce the underlying programming complexity and eventually hasten the pace at which advances are made.
While Galileo Russell, founder of HyperChange, a sustainable tech–focused TV network, did not discourage interested buyers from paying the higher price if they wanted to book a front-row seat to technological development, he voiced his own personal disappointment after a year of using FSD beta.
Admitting he’d lost confidence that Musk would soon solve autonomous driving, Russell said FSD did not make his daily drive more comfortable and found it offered little to no value beyond the novelty of showing off the feature to others.
“I don’t use it when I’m driving, just because I’ve gotten so frustrated with the amount of disengagements—it’s kind of like you’re watching a teen driver,” he told his YouTube viewers. “It’s cool to try as an experiment, but when I’m getting somewhere and I’m late and it’s pouring rain, I don’t want to deal with it doing something dumb and then me having to correct it.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the self-described “world’s biggest Tesla fanboy” at a time when customers are being asked to dig even deeper into their pockets for Musk’s signature feature.
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