Now That Automakers Are Offering Hands-Free Highway Driving Features, is Tesla's $12,000 'Full Self-Driving' Package Even Worth the Additional Cost?
Tesla made headlines over the weekend after it announced plans to raise the price of its Full Self Driving (FSD) features by another $2,000. The hands-free driving features now costs an additional $12,000 on top of the price of a Tesla vehicle, making its one of the most expensive vehicle options in the auto industry. What's more, Tesla wants customers to pay for its FSD feature upfront when they order their vehicles.
The new pricing takes effect on Jan 17 and is only for Tesla customers in the U.S.
Tesla's more advanced FSD feature used to cost $8,000 extra. Tesla then raised the price another $2,000, before raising its another 20% to $12,000 on Jan 17.
Chief Executive Elon Musk also tweeted that the monthly subscription cost of FSD will go up when it finally rolls out. Tesla announced in July of last year that a subscription to FSD would cost owners $199 a month.
Tesla began rolling out the beta version of its FSD to employees and select vehicle owners in its Early Access Program in Oct 2020. Despite Musk's claims about its capabilities, FSD is still considered to be SAE Level 2 system, which is the same as those offered by rival automakers.
For comparison, the new Super Cruise L2 autonomous driving feature from General Motors allows drivers to travel hands-free on over 200,000 miles of compatible highways across the U.S. and Canada. However, Super Cruise only costs an additional $2,500, which seems like a bargain compared to Tesla's FSD.
Unlike Tesla's Autopilot and GM's Super Cruise automated driving feature for highways, FSD will work on many secondary roads. It expands upon Autopilot with additional features including Autosteer on secondary roads, Auto Lane Change, Autopark, Summon and Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control. It also adds a Full Self-Driving computer that powers the system.
Tesla plans to add "Autosteer" in the near future, so customers will have to wait until it comes out of beta before gaining access. A select group of drivers, mostly Tesla employees, currently have access to the beta version. Tesla is testing FSD with a small group of beta testers in order to collect data and feedback to ensure that its safe before a wider rollout.
However, Tesla warns that FSD still requires regulatory approval, which its says may take longer in some jurisdictions, so paying $12,000 for its doesn't necessarily mean that drivers will have access to it depending on where they live.
A majority of Tesla owners are perfectly fine using the standard Autopilot feature only on highways and manually driving the rest of the time, so getting customers to pony up $12,000 for an upgrade might be challenging for Tesla, especially since its vehicles are already more expensive than EVs from rivals like Hyundai.
One question that remains is whether or not FSD will actually do what Musk says its will when its more widely launched.
During a Tesla earnings call in January of last year, Musk tweeted that he was "highly confident that FSD-equipped Tesla vehicles will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of a human this year." But at the time, Musk's tweet did not reflect that of Tesla's own Autopilot engineers, documents uncovered last year confirmed.
In a conference call in March 2021 with Tesla representatives and California's Department of Motors Vehicles (DMV), Tesla Autopilot engineer CJ Moore wrote in a memo that Elon's tweet about FSD "does not match engineering reality."
"Tesla indicated that they are still firmly in L2 (SAE Level 2)," the California DMV wrote in a memo after its meeting with Tesla representatives. "As Tesla is aware, the public's misunderstanding about the limits of the technology and its misuse can have tragic consequences."
The memo was released by legal transparency group PlainSite, which obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Will Tesla customers still be willing to pay $12,000 for the FSD options when even Tesla's own engineers doubt the capabilities that Musk has bragged about in the past. It's doubtful given its high cost and limited capabilities right now. However, if FSD eventually works as Musk says its will, then the high cost might be justifiable for the added safety benefits.
To Tesla's credit, the FSD feature is software-based, so improvements can be made via over-the-air software updates so the system will get better over time. It's a technology that Tesla pioneered in the auto industry. However the autonomous driving systems offered by other automakers including GM's Super Cruise and Ford's Blue Cruise can also be updated OTA.
Blue Cruise will be available for the Mustang Mach-E and F-150 pickup this year. It will be standard on CA Route 1, Premium and First Edition Mach-E models with the Select trim package, which costs for $3,200 ($600 for the Blue Cruise software and $2,600 for the package).
In May of last year, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was closely watching Tesla's latest FSD software and was standing by and ready to protect the public against safety risks.
As of July 2020, the NHTSA said its special crash investigation team had "looked into 19 crashes involving Tesla vehicles where it was believed some form of advanced driver assistance system was engaged at the time of the incident."
The reports of accidents with fatalities while using Tesla's existing Autopilot feature proves that it is no substitute for a human driver that's paying attention to the road. Tesla will likely need to prove that FSD is worth it before charging customers $12,000 to add the feature to their already expensive electric vehicles.
In addition, Tesla owners must have Basic or Enhanced Autopilot already installed in their vehicle to be able to upgrade to Full Self-Driving.
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