Tesla - Master Plan, Part Deux
July 21, 2016 3:33 AM   Subscribe

 
I like the plan, mostly, but I want to say up front, adding "Part Deux" to the name isn't going to improve people's perception of it.
posted by newdaddy at 4:10 AM on July 21, 2016


Well, steps 3 and 4 explain why Tesla have been pushing the subpar Autopilot feature like crazy despite it not being an autopilot feature at all or even out of beta.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:23 AM on July 21, 2016


His vision still seems based on a car-centric view that's incompatible with dense cities most people live in. He seems to care not one jot about severance, danger, space monopolisation, noise etc that go along with filling cities with motor vehicles. It's all rather backward.
posted by grahamparks at 4:46 AM on July 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


This is delightfully far-reaching. I have no interest in cars and the Elon Musk worship gets irritating, but it's neat seeing somebody plan for the future in such broad, grand strokes.
posted by rorgy at 4:48 AM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Prometheus may have been a very ordinary film, but making Weyland Guy-Pearce-as-Elon-Musk was an ingenious piece of long tail head-fuckery. Every time Musk says or does anything – even awesome things like contributing to scaling up sustainable energy production – fills me with dread that this is the beginning of the chain of events that makes my great-grandchildren into xenomorph incubators. Well played Ridley Scott, well played.
posted by threecheesetrees at 4:53 AM on July 21, 2016 [15 favorites]


The eternal grammar snoot in my brain kept snarking at the rest of the article because of that single misused 'albeit.'

This is presumably at least part of the reason I'm not rich.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:53 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


"His vision still seems based on a car-centric view that's incompatible with dense cities most people live in. He seems to care not one jot about severance, danger, space monopolisation, noise etc that go along with filling cities with motor vehicles. It's all rather backward."

Yet the article mentions both Tesla Buses and car sharing...
posted by Auz at 5:04 AM on July 21, 2016 [24 favorites]


... filling cities with motor vehicles
He has mentioned before that roads should really be underground in cities. Electric vehicles makes tunnels easier as there's no exhaust.
posted by bhnyc at 5:10 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is the part that stuck out to me:
You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla.
If almost anyone can own a Tesla, why would anyone want to rent anybody else's Tesla? Something isn't adding up here.

Also I think tapping a button on a phone app is not the hard part of renting out your private car by the hour - you still need a bunch of minor miracles on the legal, insurance and human behavior fronts.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:13 AM on July 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


why would anyone want to rent anybody else's Tesla?

Because it is a taxi. It is an Uber car without the driver.
posted by bhnyc at 5:18 AM on July 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


Enable your car to make money for you when you aren't using it

This part of the master plan (which is otherwise also pie-in-the sky aspirational, but consider the source) seems difficult to me in part because it contradicts a pretty ingrained notion of ownership, and in part because of logistics.

For an area to get anywhere near the saturation point that it would be practical for someone to rely on the "Tesla shared fleet," they're going to somehow catch up with all the ride "sharing" apps already out there. To do that under the terms he's proposing, they have to find a significant chunk of the population who are willing to 'own' a car only in the sense that they can summon it when they need it (which exists, and is already being catered to), but who are also willing to 'own' the car. A not-insignificant part of the appeal of Uber et al is that you (both the consumer and the company) don't have to deal with owning a vehicle; you offload the cost of storage and maintenance.

Am I missing something? Tesla would have to deploy the cars themselves, becoming essentially another livery company in competition with whichever existing livery companies push out the autonomous vehicles first, or they'd have to somehow overcome one of the essential selling points of rideshare apps.

If someone really wants their car to make money for them instead of garaging it all day, is there a way to do that within any of the existing apps? Because it seems like if you're willing for your car to be shared there are probably non car owners who would be happy to use your car as an uber during the day, split the profits, and pay for the insurance/maintenance.

[on preview Dr. Dracator makes the same point without the prolixity]
posted by aspersioncast at 5:20 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


If almost anyone can own a Tesla, why would anyone want to rent anybody else's Tesla? Something isn't adding up here.

I think he's assuming a future where there are no real jobs and everyone gigs for Uber.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:21 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


This smells an awful lot like cover to distract the markets that Tesla probably won't be able to meet their own production targets anytime in the near future.

As my late uncle used to say "Bullshit baffles brains".
posted by PenDevil at 5:26 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


winterhill: the first 100 words or so explain precisely why there's a Tesla store in Knutsford. One of only 3 in England, I think.
posted by memebake at 5:27 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is going to happen.

Ubiquitous self-driving vehicles, mostly powered by solar, will start appearing in cities in the next year or two. They will go from "Hey! Look!" to "Why is that idiot driving by hand?" inside the next five years.

Musk's billions aren't the only billions being dumped into this area. The major engineering challenges have already been solved. It's a matter of iterative, incremental development.

The legal problems will largely be solved by insurance. And the motor insurance industry has been panicking about this for ten years. We're mostly at the "breathing in a paper bag" stage now. We can see ways to make money from this.

It will happen, and it will happen faster than you think.

And over 3 million driving jobs will disappear in the US.
posted by Combat Wombat at 5:28 AM on July 21, 2016 [23 favorites]


that roads should really be underground in cities

Teehee really? I wonder why no one's thought of doing that.

(The snark isn't directed at you bcnyc, just in general. Fun as it is to shit all over Tesla in these threads, I desperately hope there are people working for Musk who are less credulous than a TED talk audience)
posted by aspersioncast at 5:30 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Everything he says about cars and the direction Tesla should follow as a vehicle maker is right on.

But he really doesn't make the case for the integration of Tesla and SolarCity, which is the short-term goal of the piece. Different use case, different buyer base, different sales cycle, different customer financing, different manufacturing and distribution chain, different MRO system.
posted by MattD at 5:32 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is going to happen.

The cost of insurance for human driven cars other than on a restricted track will at some point make it un-affordable for most drivers.

Not there yet but AFIK the google program has logged millions of miles with only a fender bender. And that has been fixed in the code already. Cars will be like elevators, get in, hit a button and wait.
posted by sammyo at 5:38 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


As soon as readily-available driverless taxis are a thing, I am ready to invest big in companies producing stain-resistant upholstery, and my idea for an on-demand interior detailing service ("Like Uber, but for removing mysterious fluids") becomes a viable business plan. Surge pricing applies on Friday and Saturday nights especially where all the dance clurbs are.
posted by logicpunk at 5:48 AM on July 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


Electric vehicles makes tunnels easier as there's no exhaust.

yeah, ventilation, that's definitely the expensive part of burying your streets.

not the survey part, the digging part, or the relocating utilities already in that space part.
posted by indubitable at 5:57 AM on July 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


I am ready to invest big in companies producing stain-resistant upholstery
I suspect there will be two types of interiors. "Luxury fabrics" for privately owned vehicles.

And "sluiced out every ride" for the rest.
posted by Combat Wombat at 5:59 AM on July 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


> I am ready to invest big in companies producing stain-resistant upholstery

> "sluiced out every ride" for the rest.

A light opinion piece relevant to this was just on Jalopnik the other day!

Carpet In Cars Is Gross And Stupid So Let's Not Use It Anymore
posted by thedaniel at 6:08 AM on July 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


not the survey part, the digging part, or the relocating utilities already in that space part.

You're forgetting the really fun part, which is having been a city for the past three thousand years or so.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:36 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't understand MetaFilter, sometimes. These criticisms all miss the mark.

Dude made electric cars viable in the US after forty years of failures. You also want him to eliminate streets?!?

The autopilot is already twice as safe as human drivers. The idea of renting out your car is totally gross--unless you've heard of taxis. People will buy their own cars so they can guarantee travel during peak commuting times, and all the folks who travel throughout the day will benefit from their unused vehicles. How is that bad?

And if Tesla do manage even one of these goals they'll have transformed our economy massively and mostly for good.

The relevant criticism is not that Musk is a big talker who doesn't deliver; it's that he has delivered and may well deliver again, and that's going to lead to massive disruption. I know a guy studying for a Commercial Driver's License right now. That job could be gone in ten years if autopiloted semis take over trucking.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:36 AM on July 21, 2016 [26 favorites]


Bear in mind that this blog post was written by someone who docked their robot spaceship onto the ISS this morning.
posted by memebake at 6:50 AM on July 21, 2016 [49 favorites]


And landed the rocket.
posted by memebake at 6:50 AM on July 21, 2016 [20 favorites]


It seems like rooftop solar + "electric car as home battery storage" is a bigger story than "rent out your robot car"-- partially because it solves several current problems with renewable energy (PV variability & cost of storage) with mostly existing technology (as in, this can happen now) and tackles the hardest part of energy transition (the grid is already becoming green but not transportation)
posted by gwint at 6:53 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Everything he says about cars and the direction Tesla should follow as a vehicle maker is right on.

But he really doesn't make the case for the integration of Tesla and SolarCity, which is the short-term goal of the piece. Different use case, different buyer base, different sales cycle, different customer financing, different manufacturing and distribution chain, different MRO system.


I think he purposely left out spending a lot of space discussing Tesla Energy + SolarCity because he doesn't want to take away from the Gigafactory opening. But this is my analysis:

Right now, SolarCity residential sales are the way they are because they purchase commodity solar panels from China, commodity inverters, and are just starting to sell storage. That doesn't leave much room for differentiation besides financing and marketing / sales, and SolarCity has an approach that is very different from the Tesla experience.

But not that many people know that SolarCity is building a factory in Buffalo to produce 24% efficient solar cells (using technology from Silveo, who they purchased) that should be cost competitive with anything produced today. They underestimate how quickly storage will become a standard feature of residential installations, and given how fast the price of both cells and storage are dropping, how much less a tightly integrated solar + storage + inverter / charger system will cost relative to buying those parts separately and connecting them together, and how much better it will work as a whole.

So, to use an analogy from another market (dangerous, I know), Musk thinks that solar is going to go from Michael Dell in his dorm room assembling PCs from parts out of a catalog to Dell designing and selling their own fully integrated systems -- except imagine if Dell also had factories to produce the best CPUs and hard drives for themselves. Feel free to substitute Apple and the Apple Store if you weren't around in the build-your-own PC days.

The other piece is that Tesla and SolarCity have already been partnering on commercial and utility-scale Solar + Storage systems. That business is going to grow even faster than residential and will be tens, maybe hundreds of billions of dollars a year of revenue a decade or two from now.

So why not keep them independent? To reduce integration costs and to allow joint long-term strategic planning. With Musk (and others) as a major shareholder in both companies, SolarCity can't do long term product planning with Tesla without potentially allowing other storage + inverter + solar cell companies to participate too - otherwise there would always be the question of whether they were self-dealing for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of SolarCity as a whole. And they can't just take a team of, say, factory automation engineers from Tesla and set them to work on something in the SolarCity factory.

So, in short, this move makes sense if you see SolarCity's current business as a necessary but temporary step, just like it made sense for Tesla to start with the Lotus-bodied Roadster before moving on to the Model S.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 6:53 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Bear in mind that this blog post was written by someone who docked their robot spaceship onto the ISS this morning.

Isn't it interesting how when Tesla or SpaceX do something right, it was personally Elon Musk's doing, but when they fuck up, it's because of this vague, diffuse entity of the corporation?
posted by indubitable at 6:57 AM on July 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


When have they fucked up?
posted by bondcliff at 7:02 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Will the SolarCity installations work in the midst of all this shade being thrown?

These are exciting times. At least there is someone out there spearheading a group of people trying to deliver the future we were promised. Sure, they are all human, but I'm still not clear on how this is a bad thing.
posted by meinvt at 7:03 AM on July 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Autonomous electric vehicles really would help solve some of the problems with having lots of cars in cities. They're much quieter and better for air quality than combustion-powered vehicles, because electric motors are much cleaner and quieter than internal combustion ones. They will be safer for pedestrians, because fully-autonomous vehicles won't be approved unless they're proven to be much safer than human-piloted ones. And in terms of space monopolization, owners of autonomous electric vehicles might be able to send their car off to a centralized parking-and-charging area, somewhere out of the way, rather than taking up prime real estate with car storage.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:09 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ubiquitous self-driving vehicles, mostly powered by solar, will start appearing in cities in the next year or two. They will go from "Hey! Look!" to "Why is that idiot driving by hand?" inside the next five years.

It will happen, and it will happen faster than you think.

And over 3 million driving jobs will disappear in the US.


Summon Ernest Borgnine!

DEPLOY THE LASER CACTUS!

posted by snuffleupagus at 7:16 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


indubitable: source?
posted by memebake at 7:20 AM on July 21, 2016


So much in this to think about.

It will probably shake out in the future that there will be some critical utilization rate above which it makes sense for you to own your own car, even if you do farm it out when you're not using it. As society and business models adapt to autonomous on-demand vehicles, that rate will probably rise gradually. We'll probably see fractional car ownership models, much as we see fractional jet ownership today; these schemes might be organized by the car company itself, or by intermediary players. This would create a new layer with its own critical utilization rates between pay-as-you-go and full ownership.

Many American cities—especially in the South and West—aren't set up for efficient mass transit. I live in one of them. You need to have a certain population density in order for mass transit to make sense, and we just don't have that. This is where individual, on-demand, autonomous vehicles have a valuable role to play.

Another real benefit that on-demand autonomous vehicles will have is not in freeing up road space but freeing up parking space. American cities give over about ¼ of their land to parking today. Imagine if we could just get that down to ⅛. In my city of Austin (which might be at more than ¼ parking), that would free up 33 square miles of land. That's crazy. That's an amazing amount of wealth we're pissing away on hunks of metal just sitting there.

This freed-up space could and probably would be used to increase population density. Austin has a long way to go before we reach the point where population density is high enough to make public transit economical, but that would help. On the other hand, by the time these changes ripple through society, climate change is going to be taking its toll on Austin, and it will be hotter and drier than it is now, making it a less attractive place to live. It's hard to figure how those diverging pressures will play out.

While I love the idea of moving some roads underground—and there have been semi-serious arguments in favor of burying the section of I-35 that passes through the middle of Austin—the local geology is such that we have limestone bedrock about 18" under ground level. Cutting through that would be incredibly expensive.
posted by adamrice at 7:23 AM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Autonomous electric vehicles really would help solve some of the problems with having lots of cars in cities.

A quick, BOTE calculation suggests that a fully autonomous electric bus fleet can deliver at least 3x the number of passenger-miles with the same budget, even if those buses cost 50% more to purchase. On top of that, you could probably triple the number of vehicles in the fleet (i.e. 3 x 24 person buses instead of 1 72 person bus) allowing you to triple trip frequency on top of that.

So imagine how good your local transit system would be if you were 10x more likely to find a bus going where you want to go in the next 5 minutes.
posted by Harvey Byrd at 7:28 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Expand to Cover the Major Forms of Terrestrial Transport

Oh sweet, Tesla's going to make a bicycle!

With the Model 3, a future compact SUV and a new kind of pickup truck, we plan to address most of the consumer market.

Oh.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:28 AM on July 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


Well, steps 3 and 4 explain why Tesla have been pushing the subpar Autopilot feature like crazy despite it not being an autopilot feature at all or even out of beta.
This kind of stuff really baffles me. Autopilot is essentially just traffic-aware cruise control, lane keeping and automatic parking. Most of the fail videos show that it isn't able to do something that it wasn't ever intended to do. It is certainly the case that the lane keeping sometimes fails, but its crazy to call it "subpar" when in every direct comparison to the same feature being offered by 5 other car companies it absolutely crushes its nearest competitor. Its also weird that no one is calling to have it removed from the other car companies who do the same thing, only much worse.

Musk certainly is a dreamer and doesn't always accomplish what he sets out to do, and certainly rarely does it on schedule, but it is pretty awesome to have someone trying to set the bar higher. I hope they get even some of this done.

My favorite bit, probably because I'm a Tesla owner who reads on a nearly daily basis that Tesla is going to get litigated out of existence when AutoPilot fails to avoid a deadly collision, was his one sentence dismissal of that argument: "it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability" The phrase "mercantile calculation of legal liability" makes me laugh.
posted by Lame_username at 7:30 AM on July 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


Here is the FPP I wrote about Tesla Motors 10 years ago. That seems a very long time ago.
posted by rongorongo at 7:36 AM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Well... huh. I gotta say I'm disappointed. That just doesn't have the impact that Tesla's car stuff did.

See an electric car "done right" is awesome. Up until the Roadster, there weren't really any mass-produced performance electric cars. That was something cool and tangible that most people could lust after. The fact that it had Lotus handling with an electric powertrain and some kick-ass styling? I'd *still* sell a kidney for one, and it wouldn't have to be the upgraded 2.0 version!

But this? Well let's put it this way: if it weren't Musk making the announcement I'm pretty sure this would be indistinguishable from a Bay Area startup you've never heard of.

"Our plan is to focus on the ride-sharing economy to promote green energy" etc. etc. etc.

Now I think Tesla has a better chance of actually pulling it off, but still... it's not exactly the sort of thing that makes you sit up and go "oh shit, never saw that coming" like the Roadster did.
When have they fucked up?
With the disclaimer that I'm a huge fan of the Roadster and am thus biased, I can try to answer that fairly. There are basically three areas where I've seen people say Tesla's blown it:

1) The Model X. Terrible build quality, missed deadlines, tons of problems stemming from -- as Musk himself described it -- hubris to think that they could do doors that nobody else does, and a rather substantial set of teething problems when it comes to producing the vehicles at scale. Fixable problems as they learn the lessons that other car manufacturers have, but problems all the same.

2) Model S missed its price targets by a long, long shot. Also, more build quality problems (more fit and finish than "seats come apart" or "weatherstripping peeled off", but still not good) Price still hasn't come down to anywhere near what was initially mentioned. :(

3) Autopilot. Yes, it's a great adaptive cruise control system. But the way it has been marketed is a little different from how companies with similar systems (some predating Tesla) have pitched it. There's a few reasons why they've been conservative, and the rash of "but I thought Autopilot was _____" headlines in the news lately demonstrate it. The tech is fine. It's right up there with the Mercedes S-class (for cruising, obstacle avoidance for both systems has "blind spots"). But the marketing? Yikes. Basically, Tesla suffers from the arrogance of a tech company. Totally fine if they're selling mobile phones, not so good for cars that cost as much as a house.

Now the above isn't a deal breaker. Hell, I'm a total Lotus fanboy so I clearly don't mind expensive cars with the trim build quality of a high school shop project. ;) But it's been far from all flowers and sunshine for Tesla.
posted by -1 at 7:38 AM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I like the plan, mostly, but I want to say up front, adding "Part Deux" to the name isn't going to improve people's perception of it.

I think the perception issue will ultimately come down to whether people conclude that the Hot Shots! reference was intentional or not.
posted by No-sword at 7:40 AM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


One significant topic that is missing from here is infrastructure, from networks of charging stations, to rethinking how city streets might be reconfigured. Of course it doesn't mean that Musk is not thinking about infrastructure.

There are multiple companies/consortia working on this. It's a race with a huge payoff for the winner(s). It's possible that the group that cracks the infrastructure issues in tandem with the technical issues could massively dominate these technologies going forward.
posted by carter at 7:47 AM on July 21, 2016


I don't find a reference but I saw a quote from Musk that SpaceX had been one failed launch away from bankruptcy.
posted by sammyo at 7:49 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


If almost anyone can own a Tesla, why would anyone want to rent anybody else's Tesla? Something isn't adding up here.

As someone who lives in the city and is a regular car-sharer, "can own." =/= "want to own." I'd be happy to rent the car for the occasional need on an hourly basis without the longer terms problems of owning the car (parking tickets, finding parking, insurance, etc.)
posted by Karaage at 7:50 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


If almost anyone can own a Tesla, why would anyone want to rent anybody else's Tesla?

Because: I am ready to invest big in companies producing stain-resistant upholstery

I don't want to have to drive home in a car with goldfish ground into the seats or come out Sunday morning to find a mixture of human body fluids in footwells. More importantly, running a taxi also greatly increases carrying costs, mechanical and interior wear from higher mileage, the insurance I would need, the consumables for running costs. Plus, I can't leave garden tools, a bag of CDs, even a box of wipes in a car that I'm renting out.
posted by bonehead at 8:21 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


IOW, some people drive for Uber now, and that's a great option for them, fill their boots, but it's not something I have any interest in.
posted by bonehead at 8:22 AM on July 21, 2016


Dude made electric cars viable in the US after forty years of failures.

Is it excessively uncharitable to point out that Tesla (and SolarCity, for that matter) has never turned a profit?
posted by praemunire at 8:51 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


almost anyone can own a Tesla, why would anyone want to rent anybody else's Tesla? Something isn't adding up here.


Instead of paying $30 to park it in downtown San Francisco while you work, you could have it earn you some cash.
posted by zippy at 8:53 AM on July 21, 2016


Or, it could drive home and park in your own spot. Never paying for parking at work again is a pretty attractive feature---but that could double the volume/length of rush-hour.
posted by bonehead at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2016


anotherpanacea: “The relevant criticism is not that Musk is a big talker who doesn't deliver; it's that he has delivered and may well deliver again, and that's going to lead to massive disruption.”

Exactly. Disruption is almost always terrible, but in this case it's even more so: the building of more cars, designed at high prices to be consumer items, only crowds the streets of urban centers. Meanwhile, transportation in cities is largely a solved problem. "Disrupting" that through high-tech gadgetry won't work – not any more than robots can solve injustice.

To put it in practical terms: if we had taken the five billion dollars the US government gave Tesla to develop electric cars, and spent it instead on public transportation infrastructure, our public transit system in this country would be amazing. But we apparently don't want to do that. So why is Elon Musk so thoroughly convinced that his self-driving solar-electric cars will prompt human beings to magically invent a system of car-sharing that will be wonderfully efficient and low-pollution, when we can't even get it together to buy a few buses and staff enough routes to get people where they want to go?

Tesla has done some totally awesome things, and let's never forget that technology is incredibly useful for helping us achieve our goals, but technology won't fix this problem. Only education and a genuine commitment to the public good – both spiritual and financial – will solve the massive public transportation problems we've created for ourselves.
posted by koeselitz at 9:00 AM on July 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


Five billion dollars would barely build anything.
posted by rr at 9:01 AM on July 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


That's true. But it would be a start.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 AM on July 21, 2016


And over 3 million driving jobs will disappear in the US.

As will some $5 billion a year in traffic ticket revenues to city and county governments as robots don't speed, run red lights, or otherwise drive recklessly.

Our society is going to undergo a massive, comprehensive reorganization in the next few years, or else it's going to collapse in rivers of blood. I honestly don't know which.
posted by Naberius at 9:03 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Instead of paying $30 to park it in downtown San Francisco while you work, you could have it earn you some cash

Until there's evidence for the contrary, I just don't see this being a thing, for reasons enumerated above. Now having it drive home autonomously and then come back to pick you up, sure. But as pointed out, that's just adding to the traffic and inefficiency.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:06 AM on July 21, 2016


On the other hand, maybe 32,000+ people won't have to die annually in traffic accidents. Perhaps some of the 200,000 people each year who have their lives shortened by smog exposure might get some more time. Maybe this might put a dent in the 1.9T that might be the annual cost of unchecked climate change in 2100.

Let's not forget the upsides of getting off the HC economy here.
posted by bonehead at 9:07 AM on July 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Never thought about it before but I wonder how autonomous cars are going to handle being pulled over by police and how they are going to avoid being spoofed.
posted by Mitheral at 9:08 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Combat Wombat: “And over 3 million driving jobs will disappear in the US.”

Naberius: “As will some $5 billion a year in traffic ticket revenues to city and county governments as robots don't speed, run red lights, or otherwise drive recklessly.”

And – the poor, the lower classes, all the people who still don't have regular access to smart phones or debit cards or internet magick, who are already struggling mightily to find ways to get around in American cities, will be utterly stranded as the monied classes happily play with their exclusionary toys and ignore the kinds of transportation that are actually accessible to the whole public. Which would lead to a (further) drop in employment among the lower class – which will probably lead to more disease, more famine, and more general suffering of those in poverty in the United States.

Automated cars, electric cars, internet-summoned taxis – all of these are clever solutions to relatively minor problems in urban centers. Estimating that they are a great public good requires taking advantage of the privilege we have of assuming that everyone has access to the same expensive technology we do.
posted by koeselitz at 9:13 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


rr: “Five billion dollars would barely build anything.”

I do want to contest this briefly: in my city, Albuquerque, we're paying about $200 million to build a bus corridor through town that will be much faster and more efficient than what we've had for decades. There was some controversy about it, because people don't trust construction projects in Albuquerque to finish on time, but this is a larger investment than we've put in in the past, and to my eye it looks like it will go much smoother. I appreciate that there are multi-billion dollar public transit projects in many American cities, but when we're talking about investing in bus infrastructure, there's actually a lot that can be done with that kind of money - even if it's only buying a few newer and more efficient buses. I agree that on the scale of cities 5 billion is not that much; but what's sad is that it would be a lot, relatively speaking, for many major cities in America, as far as investment in bus transit goes.
posted by koeselitz at 9:19 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Five billion dollars would barely build anything.

Holy crap would that go a long way toward fixing the DC Metro system.

maybe 32,000+ people won't have to die in traffic accidents

Using the DC metro example again, anybody want to crunch the numbers on how many fatalities have been caused by metro since 1976 vs. traffic fatalities in the region?

As far as I know, electric trains on dedicated tracks are the safest, cheapest, and most efficient way to deal with public transport in urban areas, and have been for decades. Like koeselitz, I'd love to see some of the money going to e.g. BART that goes to technotopia fantasy semi-autonomous luxury vehicles. Until then I'm gonna throw some shade, because however much Tesla's stuff works, they not only don't turn a profit, but they're not really solving the problem they claim to be solving.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:25 AM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: "To put it in practical terms: if we had taken the five billion dollars the US government gave Tesla to develop electric cars,"

It makes a nice soundbite but that 4.9 Billion wasn't just for electric cars; it didn't even all go to Tesla or Musk companies:
Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, [...]
The figure compiled by The Times comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars.
750 million of that is going to build a solar panel factory (plus 260 million in tax holiday). That alone is over a billion dollars and is a big chunk of cash that arguably shouldn't be redirected to public transit.

But even if Tesla was receiving the full five billion for electric cars developing that manufacturing technology would make that money well spent. No one starts a mass market car company without government assistance. Americans should be ecstatic it is their goverment and not China or Korea that is making that investment.
posted by Mitheral at 9:33 AM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


The thing about burying the roads... it made me think of a line in one of the Discworld books: "What Ank-Morpork was built on, is mostly Ankh-Morpork". And there was a thread here recently about the elevated pedestrian walkways.

Imagine Manhattan with a new "street level" layer a couple meters above the existing street level, with sidewalks and gardens and storefronts. And let the cars continue where they are, don't let them come up.

Maybe I have read too much SF. And too much fantasy.
posted by elizilla at 9:40 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]




Imagine Manhattan with a new "street level" layer a couple meters above the existing street level, with sidewalks and gardens and storefronts. And let the cars continue where they are, don't let them come up.

That seems much more practical and less expensive than simply kicking cars out of places they don't belong (i.e. Manhattan).
posted by entropicamericana at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Tunnels that have people inside of them require ventilation regardless of propulsion type. You gotta get rid of the smoke in a fire.
posted by hwyengr at 9:47 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Never thought about it before but I wonder how autonomous cars are going to handle being pulled over by police and how they are going to avoid being spoofed.

Tesla's autopilot feature already, when necessary (e.g. if the driver takes their hands off the wheel for too long), automatically disengages by pulling over to the side of the road and parking. Presumably autonomous car manufacturers could establish a system where law enforcement officers could contact a dispatch center which could send a command to the autonomous car ordering it to safely disengage autopilot.

This suggests other, more controversial, uses of autopilot in future autonomous cars, such as a lender ordering an autonomous car to repossess itself if you miss too many car payments.
posted by RichardP at 9:49 AM on July 21, 2016


It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels

It's important to keep in mind that SolarCity residential customers (generally) don't buy the solar panels. They lease them. According to law, the credits and rebates go to the owner, that is, SolarCity, which then monetizes the credits somehow (tax credits are only useful as offsets to tax liabilities, so they are valuable only to a certain set of companies). So this sentence, clearly drafted to imply that somehow it's not SolarCity benefiting from those tax credits and rebates, is on the disingenuous side.

I think autonomous cars will eventually, if properly implemented (which has to include decreasing the number of cars on the road for reasons folks have described above), be a real boon for humankind, and I'm in favor of space exploration and such, but I can't bear the disingenuity, hucksterism, and private-sector-worship in which the Musk companies seem to have to dip everything.
posted by praemunire at 9:54 AM on July 21, 2016


Instead of paying $30 to park it in downtown San Francisco while you work, you could have it earn you some cash.

Roving packs of robocabs, doing gigs, using the proceeds to buy fuel and rent parking spaces, and distributing remaining profits to shareholders.
posted by acb at 9:56 AM on July 21, 2016


Imagine Manhattan with a new "street level" layer a couple meters above the existing street level, with sidewalks and gardens and storefronts. And let the cars continue where they are, don't let them come up.

I know! We could call them Skywalks, and we could build them all over the place about twenty years ago! Then we can spend the last two decades deciding they suck for various reasons, and by now we could already be tearing them down.

I swear, didn't we just have a post about this, like days ago?
posted by Naberius at 9:58 AM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


grahamparks: "His vision still seems based on a car-centric view that's incompatible with dense cities most people live in. He seems to care not one jot about severance, danger, space monopolisation, noise etc that go along with filling cities with motor vehicles. It's all rather backward."

Except, he is also pushing forth (or *was* at least) pushing forward Hyperloop which was a sort of hybrid public transport system - public infrastructure type system (tubes) but with personal privacy/service of a private system (individual transport pods). I think that's honestly one of the things holding good public transport back. People want convenience and ease, they don't want to wait 2 hours and finding locations of the correct stop, etc. I mean, I guess they put up with it, but finding a way to hybridize the advantages of both is a good idea.

That said, the Tesla plan appears to be about energy production/storage (see: combining w/Solar City) and less about transport in and of itself, whereas Hyperloop, from what I can tell, is more about the transport issue itself.
posted by symbioid at 10:05 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


While I think Musk is a genius and hard worker, he's still quite beholden to a largely SV mode of capitalism and that ultimately sucks the wind out of a lot of good sailing, IMO. At least he opened up the plans and realizes benefits of "open sourcing" the tech for others to use. But until Capitalism itself is destroyed the gameplay and antics required to succeed will ultimately push him to take shitty roads to achieve these goals of his.
posted by symbioid at 10:06 AM on July 21, 2016


They will go from "Hey! Look!" to "Why is that idiot driving by hand?" inside the next five years.

I think five years is wildly optimistic. But I do believe it's inevitable.
posted by chimaera at 10:10 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Imagine Manhattan with a new "street level" layer a couple meters above the existing street level, with sidewalks and gardens and storefronts. And let the cars continue where they are, don't let them come up.
You mean like Chicago did 150 years ago?
posted by adamrice at 10:52 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


The major engineering challenges have already been solved. It's a matter of iterative, incremental development.

I do think autonomous cars are gonna happen but this statement is a big 'ol red flag...
posted by atoxyl at 11:18 AM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Carpet In Cars Is Gross And Stupid So Let's Not Use It Anymore

That piece converted me to its opinion so fast it made my head spin. What is the counterargument?
posted by Cozybee at 11:19 AM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's cheap and it doesn't show marks easily. That's also part of the reason it gets so gross; it hides dirt.
posted by bonehead at 11:41 AM on July 21, 2016


Also. I remember vinyl seats. They were ok in the 10 to 20 C range. You'd stick to them, but they weren't utterly horrible.

At 30 C you were in danger of burning yourself on the seat material, and shorts and t-shirts got super gross.

At -30 C, all the boys had to cup their nethers before getting into the car.
posted by bonehead at 11:44 AM on July 21, 2016


all the boys had to cup their nethers before getting into the car.

And they're like, it's better than yours
Damn right, it's better than yours.
I could teach you, but I'd have to charge.
posted by Naberius at 11:51 AM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


As someone who lives in the city and is a regular car-sharer, "can own." =/= "want to own." I'd be happy to rent the car for the occasional need on an hourly basis without the longer terms problems of owning the car (parking tickets, finding parking, insurance, etc.)

The claim is that buying a robocar will be cheap, because you'll be able to buy one, then rent it out when you're not using it to recoup the cost. Hence, everybody will be able to afford a robocar. But if everybody already has a robocar, who's renting them to provide funding?

Either buying one is expensive, and people will pay you good money for a rental, or buying one is cheap and nobody is interested in renting except for very cheap because they already have one or there's a huge pool of rentals lying around - I don't think you can have it both ways. A company with lots of capital buying a fleet and putting it to work makes sense; individuals paying a decent amount upfront and renting it out to recover some of it makes sense. Everybody getting one and then also renting it out, not so much.

For the record, as a household-of-one person with two jobs at different locations and no convenient public transportation, I need to own a car for about an hour per day: I would very much love to have the option to only pay for that much. The thing is, everybody I know needs their car early in the morning to get to work and late in the afternoon to get home. I can't see whose car I would be renting, and don't know many people who would need to rent all our cars at off-peak times on a steady basis.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:25 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


household-of-one person with two jobs at different locations and no convenient public transportation, I need to own a car for about an hour per day

With a bit of flex in work-hours, we could make a single car work between us, my wife and I. That would be a pretty large cost savings for us, and for our environmental footprint.
posted by bonehead at 12:28 PM on July 21, 2016


Imagine Manhattan with a new "street level" layer a couple meters above the existing street level, with sidewalks and gardens and storefronts. And let the cars continue where they are, don't let them come up.

The long history of a tall sidewalk: How elevated skywalks have failed cities in the United States
posted by Tom-B at 12:55 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Tesla have been pushing the subpar Autopilot feature like crazy despite it not being an autopilot feature at all or even out of beta

Just curious what do you consider "par" if twice as safe as human drivers is subpar? And TFA addresses the beta label as not being the same as traditional beta definitions.
Autopilot works well* now, and is continuously improving.

* not perfect, but better than human drivers
posted by rocket88 at 1:05 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


* not perfect, but better than human drivers

A lot better than some. Having read up on the Florida incident, I don't see how you can blame Tesla for that, except perhaps to argue that the mere existence of the Autopilot option encouraged the driver to act as he did. I mean I'm sorry the man died, but seriously, against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.
posted by Naberius at 1:29 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's right there in the name - autopilot. Its harder to sell 'mostly drives itself except you've got to stay on high alert all the time, almost like the feature is unreliable autopilot'.

I blame the degradation of language.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2016


Airplane autopilot is the same - pilot remains aware and at the controls while it's engaged.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 2:07 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just curious what do you consider "par" if twice as safe as human drivers is subpar?

OK, this is the second time in this thread that someone has claimed this, could you please share where you're getting that figure from? In the last Tesla thread, I think people made a pretty convincing argument that it was not.
posted by indubitable at 2:34 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Possibly the "twice as safe" is derived from this:

automotive fatalities increased by 8% to one death every 89 million miles. Autopilot miles will soon exceed twice that number and the system gets better every day.

Except autopilot is only intended for divided highways (which are statistically safer) and is probably used mostly in safer conditions, so it's a misleading comparison.
posted by grahamparks at 2:43 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Airplane autopilot is the same - pilot remains aware and at the controls while it's engaged.

The extent to which human takeover is anticipated is much lower than with Tesla "autopilot," though. You really could fly most of a flight with no pilot takeover and reasonably anticipate a safe trip. That's not a claim Tesla would make for the equivalent car journey.
posted by praemunire at 2:49 PM on July 21, 2016


The cost of insurance for human driven cars other than on a restricted track will at some point make it un-affordable for most drivers.

As I recall (and I read it a long time ago), Heinlein predicted in around 1940 that the cost of insurance would bring about the demise of the human-driven car. Of course in his version of the future the replacement was a 100mph conveyor belt, but, you know, details.
posted by mr vino at 3:01 PM on July 21, 2016


No, this stupid insurance canard was also addressed multiple times previously. Insurance is risk pooling. As vehicles become safer, the payouts from the pool drop, and so the premiums paid in drop. That happens regardless of whether you segregate human driven cars into a separate pool or not.
posted by indubitable at 3:08 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


if we had taken the five billion dollars the US government gave Tesla to develop electric cars, and spent it instead on public transportation infrastructure, our public transit system in this country would be amazing.

Huh? The Phase 1 alone of the 2nd Avenue Subway costs $4.4 billion, and that is just in capital costs. Transit systems in the US and Europe typically also recover less than half of operating costs from farebox revenue, so you'd have to add that in too.

The cost of transitioning the US to a transit system more like, say, Germany's would probably be closer to $5 trillion, or maybe $50 trillion.

in my city, Albuquerque, we're paying about $200 million to build a bus corridor through town that will be much faster and more efficient than what we've had for decades

OK, so at that cost, $5 billion would build 25 such new bus corridors. The Albuquerque corridor is projected to serve 15,750 daily riders (about 1% of the NYC Lexington Ave Subway alone), many of whom are already transit users. In a car dependent country of 320 million people, that is just not significant at all.

I'm all for transit funding, like everyone else here I guess, but let's not pretend that a major shift toward transit can be accomplished without increased public spending on par with the defense or social security budget.
posted by andrewpcone at 3:10 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


newdaddy: "I like the plan, mostly, but I want to say up front, adding "Part Deux" to the name isn't going to improve people's perception of it."

It should really be Tesla Master Plan Deux.0
posted by chavenet at 3:18 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Mitheral: Never thought about it before but I wonder how autonomous cars are going to handle being pulled over by police and how they are going to avoid being spoofed.

Reminds me of this New Yorker cartoon.
(Policeman, to driver of car: "Does your car have any idea why my car pulled it over?")
posted by memebake at 3:21 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


if we had taken the five billion dollars the US government gave Tesla to develop electric cars, and spent it instead on public transportation infrastructure, our public transit system in this country would be amazing.

Five billion doesn't buy much hardware in the US these days. It'll get you a few miles of light rail, that's it.

Musk has formulated an essential vision for the future ... and delivers on his ideas. Despite the usual inertia from the do-nothings. I'd back a 1% tax on every stock transaction and give it to Tesla without strings, because he's a real leader.
posted by Twang at 5:01 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Presumably autonomous car manufacturers could establish a system where law enforcement officers could contact a dispatch center which could send a command to the autonomous car ordering it to safely disengage autopilot.

OH FUCK NO. The car needs to only respond to the owners' key (by which I mean cryptographic, though I imagine it will be contained in a physical keyfob). Even assuming the fantastical notion that law enforcement wouldn't abuse the shit out of this power, there's no way that backdoor is remaining exclusive to law enforcement.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:14 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Presumably autonomous car manufacturers could establish a system where law enforcement officers could contact a dispatch center which could send a command to the autonomous car ordering it to safely disengage autopilot.

They won't even need to. Presumably the cars will be reporting their own location to insurers, services that prevent theft, probably even various newfangled tolling authorities. And even if they don't do that, computer vision is getting good enough, and cameras are cheap enough, that authorities can simply know where every car is. Follow it until it runs out of gas. Or send an autonomous self-driving cop car (or drone) with sirens and lights if you don't trust an over-the-air command to stop the car.

Cryptography isn't really going to help much here. Driving is a highly regulated activity, and I have a hard time imagining a future where it doesn't get easier and cheaper for the cops to find you and pull you over.

Anyway, remote disabling is already a thing if you have OnStar, as many cars do.
posted by andrewpcone at 5:47 PM on July 21, 2016


Presumably autonomous car manufacturers could establish a system where law enforcement officers could contact a dispatch center which could send a command to the autonomous car ordering it to safely disengage autopilot.

Or they could order the car to lock the doors and take you to the police station.

posted by hellphish at 7:15 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


The cost of insurance for human driven cars other than on a restricted track will at some point make it un-affordable for most drivers.

This comes up every one of these "robots will drive our cars!" threads, but insurance rates are based on risk, and if anything, rates will go down because supposedly it'll be harder to crash into a non-human driver.
posted by sideshow at 7:49 PM on July 21, 2016


Bear in mind that this blog post was written by someone who docked their robot spaceship onto the ISS this morning.

Remaking cities, property ownership, driver habits, cars etc. is essentially an engineering problem, tractable by the same methods that apply to navigating rockets, so I see immediately the direct relevance of this fact.
posted by kenko at 7:51 PM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm reading Seeing Like a State right now and all of the Tesla-boosting in this thread is highly reminiscent of Scott's discussion of 1930s agronomists who were certain that they could plan a 500,000-acre farm in Russia from a hotel in Chicago. And they did! The really did create a 500,000-acre farm. Only it didn't actually work so hot in practice. And, in general, the book is an account of all sorts of modernizing, technocratizing plans that really were put into practice, only the "scientific" rationales turned out to be more dogmatic ideologies, and things never quite worked out.
posted by kenko at 7:54 PM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Instead of paying $30 to park it in downtown San Francisco while you work, you could have it earn you some cash.

This is an answer to the question "if anyone can own a Tesla, why would they want to rent their Teslas out?". It is not an answer to the question "if anyone own a Tesla, why would they want to rent a Tesla [also]?".
posted by kenko at 7:57 PM on July 21, 2016


At least he opened up the plans and realizes benefits of "open sourcing" the tech for others to use...

Tesla is just "pinky swearing" not to sue anyone who uses their IP. I can assure you that GM and Toyota, who can deliver more cars in a day than Tesla can in a year, don't get to use all that stuff for free.
posted by sideshow at 8:00 PM on July 21, 2016


One of Google's self-driving cars had their first accident earlier this year and it's interesting that the issue arose from the software failing to predict the behaviour of a human driver:
“On February 14, our vehicle was driving autonomously and had pulled toward the right-hand curb to prepare for a right turn. It then detected sandbags near a storm drain blocking its path, so it needed to come to a stop. After waiting for some other vehicles to pass, our vehicle, still in autonomous mode, began angling back toward the center of the lane at around 2 mph -- and made contact with the side of a passing bus traveling at 15 mph. Our car had detected the approaching bus, but predicted that it would yield to us because we were ahead of it.

“Our test driver, who had been watching the bus in the mirror, also expected the bus to slow or stop. And we can imagine the bus driver assumed we were going to stay put. Unfortunately, all these assumptions led us to the same spot in the lane at the same time.”
It's likely that we won't get the full safety benefit of self-driving cars until we go "all in" and remove the human element entirely.

Also, about renting out your car and getting it back with gross stains, I expect that occupants will be recorded for their entire trip duration and there will be some kind of passenger rating system like there already is for Uber. Vomit all over the interior someone's car on Friday night and Saturday morning you'll find no-one is willing to give you a ride.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 8:00 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is it excessively uncharitable to point out that Tesla (and SolarCity, for that matter) has never turned a profit?

It doesn't seem all that relevant. Amazon likewise takes the revenue that exceeds their costs (which would otherwise be called profits) and spends it on expansion and investment. People likewise don't really see it as a sign of Amazon failing.

Instead of siphoning the money to shareholders, Tesla puts it into expanding factories and the supercharger network and the gigafactory and so on. This is consistent with the mission statement to hasten the advent of sustainable energy. Lining the wallets of wall street... lower priority.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:53 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Amazon likewise takes the revenue that exceeds their costs (which would otherwise be called profits) and spends it on expansion and investment.

I haven't looked at Tesla's figures in a while, but SolarCity's revenues have never exceeded their costs.

Profitability is absolutely relevant to the question of viability. If you can't consistently produce the product at a cost that will allow you to sell it at a price acceptable to your target market (without internal or external subsidies), then your product is not, long-term, viable. Perhaps Tesla will get there. It's not there yet, especially with a mass model.

Instead of siphoning the money to shareholders, Tesla puts it into expanding factories and the supercharger network and the gigafactory and so on. This is consistent with the mission statement to hasten the advent of sustainable energy. Lining the wallets of wall street... lower priority.

It will never cease to amaze me that there are people out there who think that uber-capitalists like Musk will ever have a higher priority while running their businesses than lining their own pockets. (Okay, escaping death. I'll buy that one.) Maybe his pursuit of profit will be a net benefit to society, maybe it won't (I hope the former), but that's what it is. Otherwise, he'd be running a charity.
posted by praemunire at 10:44 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


It will never cease to amaze me that there are people out there who think that uber-capitalists like Musk will ever have a higher priority while running their businesses than lining their own pockets. (Okay, escaping death. I'll buy that one.)
There are non-altruistic motives that aren't all about money, e.g. fame and glory. Musk wants to be in the history books, even if he could make twice as much money doing something more mundane I doubt he would abandon SpaceX and Tesla. Would you?

I think people are asking for too much expecting him to solve all of society's transportation and related environmental problems and dismissing him as a failed techno-utopian if he can't. If Tesla can produce an affordable and mass produced electric car (and help advance a whole lot of related technologies in the process), that on it's own is a huge step forward isn't it?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 11:08 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


insurance rates are based on risk, and if anything, rates will go down because supposedly it'll be harder to crash into a non-human driver

Risk of having to pay out. Currently, in a lot of states, that risk is $15,000 per person killed. I could see that going up, significantly.
posted by alexei at 1:02 AM on July 22, 2016


I'm reading Seeing Like a State right now and all of the Tesla-boosting in this thread is highly reminiscent of Scott's discussion of 1930s agronomists who were certain that they could plan a 500,000-acre farm in Russia from a hotel in Chicago. And they did! The really did create a 500,000-acre farm. Only it didn't actually work so hot in practice. And, in general, the book is an account of all sorts of modernizing, technocratizing plans that really were put into practice, only the "scientific" rationales turned out to be more dogmatic ideologies, and things never quite worked out.

Can you say more about why they seem similar to you? Most of the plans Scott reviews failed because they didn't take individual human action into account. Musk isn't planning whole cities, or even whole transportation routes. A self-driving car is quite the opposite. Public transportation is the result of the state trying to figure out where and when people will want to go. Self-driving cars (and buses) would allow for far more autonomy by individual people, the very thing that Scott says the big technocratic planners never considered. He's not planning massive solar projects, he's providing another option for power that individual people can decide on the utility for their own circumstances. He's providing tools and letting people figure out how they're useful. That is the exact opposite of the failed planning projects Scott critiques. On the other hand, self-driving cars and smart electric grids will provide vast amounts of data that will make transportation and energy networks far more legible, something Scott argues is vital to the State. I love that book, and his argument is so much more interesting than "technology is scary!"
posted by one_bean at 1:13 AM on July 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I haven't looked at Tesla's figures in a while, but SolarCity's revenues have never exceeded their costs.

I haven't looked at SolarCity's figures ever but doesn't it seem obvious that their plan is to buy upfront a long-tail income trickle to accumulate over the long term? You seem to be pointing to their upfront costs being higher than the initial trickle as planned as if this is unexpected... ?!

Profitability is absolutely relevant to the question of viability. If you can't consistently produce the product at a cost that will allow you to sell it at a price acceptable to your target market (without internal or external subsidies), then your product is not, long-term, viable. Perhaps Tesla will get there. It's not there yet, especially with a mass model.

You are conflating ideas. Tesla cars are some of the most profitable in the auto industry. Tesla (the company) is diverting all those profits and more into purchasing massive expansion and assets, rendering it "operating at a loss". Companies like Amazon have been very profitable even though they operate at a loss because they rolled their profits right back into expansion.
Looking at Amazon ten years ago and saying "not viable" is (to me) measuring with the wrong yardstick.

It will never cease to amaze me that there are people out there who think that uber-capitalists like Musk will ever have a higher priority while running their businesses than lining their own pockets.

Someone whose top priority is lining their own pockets would not sink their personal fortune into making a rocketry start-up unless they were crazy.

Someone whose top priority is lining their own pockets would not sink their personal fortune into making a car start-up unless they were crazy.

The guy is motivated by more interesting things than just hording cash he can't spend.

If you will only imagine small-minded people starting companies, then perhaps consider interpreting Musk as already having more money than will buy him every human comfort and now wishes to line his pockets with historical legacy and greatness. Money is a means to an end for this guy. If he had to choose between making Wall Street happy vs being the man who took humanity to another planet and being remembered forever, is it really so hard to imagine that he might decide that altering the course of human history is more interesting thing to do with his life?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:01 AM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think people are asking for too much expecting him to solve all of society's transportation and related environmental problems and dismissing him as a failed techno-utopian if he can't

But he's claiming that his company will solve these problems, which is where my own criticism, at least, is coming from.

I don't think Elon Musk personally is the problem, so much as his lionization.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:47 AM on July 22, 2016


his lionization

What the fuck? Is that even a thing? Is he having his DNA recoded by hand? Is that part of some scheme to save endangered species by merging them into a far more successful gene line? Why would he even want to... eh, it's Elon Musk. Who knows why he does things?
posted by Naberius at 7:05 AM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


thundercats_lion-o.gif
posted by aspersioncast at 8:20 AM on July 22, 2016


It's likely that we won't get the full safety benefit of self-driving cars until we go "all in" and remove the human element entirely.

Precisely. By far the toughest engineering problem to be solved is accurately predicting the behavior of human-driven vehicles.
posted by rocket88 at 9:34 AM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Vomit all over the interior someone's car on Friday night and Saturday morning you'll find no-one is willing to give you a ride.

But that's like for one major stain incident. There's a lot of small accumulation of dirt that oftentimes as a car owner I even forget how it got there: small drips, loose change, a couple of leaves brought in by shoes, the faint smell of take out food. More than likely as car rental picks up steam, there will probably be a small army of contract labor out there who's only job is to clean car interiors. And since every minute your car isn't rented out is now lost money, these folks will probably have the equipment and speed to clean a car in minutes.
posted by FJT at 10:35 AM on July 22, 2016


Or, since the car is autonomous, you'll send it to a stationary carwash in the middle of the night, when demand is low. The carwash guys will wind up changing either their time or place of operations.
posted by adamrice at 12:10 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Musk wants to be in the history books

He's also said that he wants to retire/die on Mars. It's not everyone's motivation, but he seems pretty sincere about this one.
posted by bonehead at 12:56 PM on July 22, 2016


He's also said that he wants to retire/die on Mars. It's not everyone's motivation, but he seems pretty sincere about this one.

Christ, is it everyone in Silicon Valley who has bizarre feelings about death or just the ones who worked at PayPal?
posted by Copronymus at 1:21 PM on July 22, 2016


You know, one of these problems is significantly more tractable than the other.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:13 PM on July 22, 2016


The pickup truck part of this plan is the bit that I'm most interested in. So far, absolutely nobody makes even a hybrid pickup—despite the fact that pickups are often (and are marketed as) work vehicles, where fuel is part of the overhead, and despite the fact that good low-end torque is one of their design requirements and electric motors excel at low-end torque. Also there's that big cargo bed that's just begging to have a layer of batteries installed in it. And trucks are often fleet vehicles that get driven way more than your average personal transport does, so fuel efficiency ought to be even more desirable. But they don't exist, presumably because market research suggests that Macho Men—the primary market for pickups—think hybrids and electrics are for sissies.

Maybe if they build one, that market will expand. I would buy a Tesla truck like a shot, if it was in my price range and otherwise seemed like a good truck. I'd buy any electric or hybrid truck that promised me the utility of a truck without the concomitant inefficiency. I've been waiting for one for years. I am actually holding off on or at least de-prioritizing my next vehicle purchase specifically because I know it's going to end up being a pickup and I'm hoping that one of the auto manufacturers will release a decent hybrid or electric one. If Tesla gets there first, they'll have my money for sure.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:48 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Christ, is it everyone in Silicon Valley who has bizarre feelings about death or just the ones who worked at PayPal?

Everyone has bizarre feelings about death. We hate it, we yearn for it, we want to inflict it, we want to be spared from it, it's and end, it's a beginning, it's a release, it's eternal. Some of us are somewhat sure there's something after it, others are sure there isn't, and a lot has been written, painted, sung and interpretive danced about it.

Wanting to die on Mars wouldn't even make it into my top ten personal weird musings on death. This week.

It shows a sort of optimism and ambition intermeshed with his recognition of mortality. Kind of cool, when you think on it.

The pickup truck part of this plan is the bit that I'm most interested in.

I am as well. I have a Subaru Outback, and it gets 30mpg. It's bigger and heavier than the '80s minitrucks. Take one of the old Ford Rangers, stick in the 2.5l Subaru motor, and it'd get 35mpg and be tow-rated for a small office building. I have to think there's politics involved - pickups thes days are for too big to be practical. You can't even see into the bed of most of them, never mind put a load into one.

My favorite pickup of all time, the Studebaker Transtar in two-tone paint: it had a beefy 4x4 suspension, a robust V8 motor, and a bed you could look down into. Modern pickups are these over-inflated jokes, and the "mid-size" trucks, yes, even the Taco, are what full-sizers should be.

Once Tesla just goes ahead and makes one, the dam will break, and we'll get what we need.

Maybe. I'm kinda happy with my big wagon. It can even tow one of the new, big ultralight travel trailers without a problem.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:08 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the latest generation of Tacomas makes me sad. The last normal truck is now hulking and angular and as big as a full-sized truck only with a six-foot bed instead of an eight-foot bed so it's worse for carrying lumber and much worse for carrying plywood or sheetrock. And it's much taller than it needs to be.

On the plus side, euro-style vans are spreading like wildfire now that they're finally here. For the tradesperson who is looking for a pure work vehicle (rather than owning only one vehicle and using it both on and off the job) they're often the best tool available. Tall vans especially are popular, which are dorky as hell and only carry two people, but are champion haulers/mobile workshops/practically anything—there's so much room and they are endlessly configurable. They are unsexy and all about efficiency. I could see hybrid and electric versions of those things catching on very quickly. Maybe starting with the mini ones like the Transit Connect and Nissan NV200 that typically spend most of their time in dense urban areas and are often used as taxis. Why the hell isn't this already happening?

Hmm, the UK already has an electric NV200. Maybe they'll hit my side of the pond soon. It's not what I'm personally looking for, but it would be great for some jobs and could help prove the concept of electric work vehicles in the US market. I'll be watching carefully.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:15 PM on July 22, 2016


Mitsubishi Fusos. Low slung, cab as about forward as you can get, translucent plastic diesel tanks, AWD for all eight tires, optional dump bed AND it tows a trailer with the lawnmowers and trimmers on. Costs less than a Ford F-250.

The Euro vans have vanquished he dumb American vans. The old-fashioned American vans were all body-on-frame, and could haul. No-one is buying a Fuso to replace their old Econoline to haul about the boat or RV trailer.

Tesla could completely own this.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:01 PM on July 22, 2016


Many American cities—especially in the South and West—aren't set up for efficient mass transit. ... You need to have a certain population density in order for mass transit to make sense, and we just don't have that.

Density helps, but it isn't static and the causality can go in the other direction (i.e., transit and development can encourage one another).

Even more importantly, Austin is very similar in size and density to Calgary, which has the third-highest ridership out of North American light rail systems — ahead of Boston, LA, San Francisco, and Portland. (Toronto and Guadalajara are #1 and #2.)

The reason American cities don't have better mass transit is largely political, not structural. Cities that are dense enough to be congested are almost certainly dense enough to have efficient mass transit.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:43 AM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


en forme de poire: Thanks for that link to the article about Calgary. I look forward to reading it.

Your points about transit driving density, and politics preventing better transit are both well made.

I do think that at least a part of the traffic-congestion problems we have in Austin are caused by the fact that the city is low density, coupled with a fundamentally suburban mode of development. Not only is the city spread out, shopping, residential, and office spaces are relatively separate, so we need to go farther to get from one to the other, so we drive more and there's more congestion. This has been partly enforced by city code (per your point), partly by the availability of cheap land at the periphery. Now that "the periphery" is halfway to San Antonio, the city is filling in, and the city code is being changed to begrudgingly accommodate businesses that don't have off-street parking. In some neighborhoods.
posted by adamrice at 10:25 AM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have to think there's politics involved - pickups thes days are for too big to be practical. You can't even see into the bed of most of them, never mind put a load into one.

Not so much politics as it was inspired marketing and design. You can blame Dodge for the titanic hulks that are today's pickups. The redesign of their Ram pickup, overtly taking styling cues from the iconic Mac semi, and enlarging it in evey dimension was like a bomb going off in the truck world.

Yeah, they were still shitty Dodge's,but every good-old-boy's lizard brain was screaming "goddamn that's a big macho cock of a truck!" all the way to the dealerships. Ford and GM/Chevy ultimately had to turn their trucks into beheamoths, too.

Personally, I miss my old GMC Sonoma. Small, no-nonsense truck that could haul everything I ever threw in it. Nice clean design, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:09 PM on July 23, 2016


For sure, density helps. But I do think that there's kind of a received wisdom that American cities are just fundamentally too spread out for transit, and I think comparisons to similar cities across and outside of the US show that's just not true.

Everywhere-to-everywhere commuting patterns are also not intrinsic problems for transit -- they can actually be assets, because while a radial "asterisk" pattern is really common and is great for commuting into an urban core, it tends to be pretty lousy for other purposes, like running errands and socializing. A frequent grid with transfers can potentially serve all of those purposes. Jarrett Walker has an article I found pretty thought-provoking about how, counterintuitively, Los Angeles is actually really well-primed to grow good transit for exactly this reason.

Of course that's assuming it could overcome the political obstacles, and those -- e.g., balkanization, rich NIMBYs, a political system set up to privilege suburbs and rural areas over urban centers, legacies of racist policy influencing how Americans feel about social spending in general, a broken and corrupt procurement system that locks the government into worst-of-both-worlds public-private partnerships -- are in many ways less surmountable than the practical obstacles.

But while self-driving cars are great and certainly have a useful niche (plus if they can actually become safer than human drivers then that is a huge win for society in general), they can't solve the same problems that mass transit would solve if they're tied to the same old car model. If anything, I worry that if they get too popular they could increase congestion, since unlike manual cars they don't need to be parked and can be "summoned from anywhere" in Musk's vision, making it more convenient to have a car and thus putting more cars on city streets... which even with ridesharing take up way more space per person than a train or a bus line. They could even end up encouraging people to waste energy idling, circling for parking, being summoned from home, etc. (That's maybe kinda forgivable if they're solar powered, but most electricity in the USA still comes from good old fossil fuels and adequately solving the renewable-energy-storage tech problem is extremely challenging.)

The frustrating part for me is that if we had self-driving electric buses driving on fixed routes, I'd be totally on board. The limiting cost of running a bus line more frequently is personnel -- this is part of how Vancouver's driverless SkyTrain is able to keep up such high frequencies. And there's an enormous difference in utility between transit that comes every 5 minutes vs. every 20 vs. every 60. That could be a real benefit for American cities struggling to fund transportation adequately, i.e., nearly all of them. Unfortunately, a lot of the excitement around self-driving vehicles that I've seen isn't focused there, but rather on the private car, private citizen, "summon from anywhere" model. Tesla becoming Uber before Uber can become Tesla, etc.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:23 PM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


But that's like for one major stain incident. There's a lot of small accumulation of dirt that oftentimes as a car owner I even forget how it got there: small drips, loose change, a couple of leaves brought in by shoes, the faint smell of take out food.

Yet somehow things like ZipCar and car2go exist and manage to not have significant trouble with having their cars constantly trashed.

To me, this is like most of the other complaints in this thread. No, autonomous cars are not a 100% solution, but nobody is actually selling them as such. They are part of an "all of the above" solution. I have zero interest in owning a car, so I don't. I use Uber sometimes, I use ZipCar sometimes, yet take transit or walk more often than either. They are all useful at different times. (Aside from cities in which transit is truly awful..like Tulsa where buses run at best once an hour and only run from 6AM to 7PM)

Here in Miami the biggest problem with transit is that people who don't use it have this impression of it being awful, so they refuse to leave their cars at home. The resulting congestion makes buses much worse than they would otherwise be, and expanding Metrorail costs somewhere north of $100 million a mile, so doesn't get done despite the huge outcry for it. It doesn't help that the half penny sales tax that was passed a decade ago to pay for expansion ended up paying mainly to correct deferred maintenance and give employees long overdue raises. We did get some nice new buses out of the deal and will shortly be getting new rail cars, but the vast majority of the area is still stuck with buses that sit in traffic the same way a person in their car does, and that car takes them directly to their destination.

It's a chicken and egg problem. Nobody will get out of their cars until transit is better, but we won't spend what it takes to get transit to the point where it will get people out of their cars until transit is good enough to get far more people out of their cars.

Give me $10 billion and the problem can be solved, but that only gets the ball rolling in one single city. At least with the efficiency improvements autonomous cars can bring, congestion will be reduced and will make bus transit more viable for more people so more money can be allocated toward expanding rail, which has to be the ultimate goal, because only rail drives the permanent changes that leads to the increased density that makes transit as a whole more viable. (Since rail can't be rerouted on a whim, higher density transit oriented development actually happens unlike with BRT, as is evidenced by Miami's current development patterns, although it took 20 years for it to really happen)
posted by wierdo at 12:49 AM on July 24, 2016


Well, we could take away lanes of traffic from private cars and give them to buses only, which would drastically improve transit reliability while requiring very little infrastructure spending. But that's usually political suicide.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:19 PM on July 24, 2016


Slap*Happy: "Mitsubishi Fusos. Low slung, cab as about forward as you can get,"

I'd have a cab over like this in a heart beat if they didn't perform so poorly in front impact collisions.

Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: " So far, absolutely nobody makes even a hybrid pickup—despite the fact that pickups are often (and are marketed as) work vehicles, where fuel is part of the overhead,"

And most companies just expense the gas. A truck has to spend a lot of time driving before the cost of fuel becomes more than a rounding error in expenses. So it is worth while for UPs to develop and install a hydro-pneumatic hybrid system or electric trucks but your average fleet operator just doesn't care.

Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: "Also there's that big cargo bed that's just begging to have a layer of batteries installed in it."

A load of batteries reduces your TARE. The size of which is theoretically why you are buying a truck in the first place.

Thorzdad: "You can blame Dodge for the titanic hulks that are today's pickups."

Upsizing has been done pretty well continuously since WWII by Ford, GM and Dodge (and Toyota, Nissan and Honda for that matter in the US). I actually can't recall a single instance where the main half ton pickup of any of them has gotten smaller when a new model was brought out. And I can guarantee the first company to reduce the size will have a legendary sales year (because it is so bad). Maybe Ford could at this time bring out a F-100 sized under the F-150 but I bet it would just cannibalize their own sales. They got rid of the Ranger for that reason.

What the market really needs is utes. GM has two in foreign markets (the Tornado in Mexico and the Holden Ute in Australia) that could be fairly simply federalized. Someone is going to figure out the right marketing scheme to make those work and is going to make a killing. Too bad the chicken tax is preventing foreign competition in this area.

Slap*Happy: "The old-fashioned American vans were all body-on-frame, and could haul. No-one is buying a Fuso to replace their old Econoline to haul about the boat or RV trailer. "

The Dodge Ram Van was unibody since 73 and could tow (varied by year and equipment) as much as 10,000lbs. A lack of towing capacity isn't some inherent limitation of unit construction. Heck I know someone who used to haul a 5000lb 5th wheel with a 60's C-Body Chrysler (not my friend's Imperial). The current infatuation in the USA and Canada with "needing" a pickup to tow is just marketing and defacto collusion by the manufacturers to restrict towing by cars. Made obvious by comparing US and European towing specs for sister cars sold in both markets.
posted by Mitheral at 5:06 PM on July 24, 2016


newdaddy: I like the plan, mostly, but I want to say up front, adding "Part Deux" to the name isn't going to improve people's perception of it.

No sword: I think the perception issue will ultimately come down to whether people conclude that the Hot Shots! reference was intentional or not.

At the gigafactory opening last week he confirmed that the Hot Shots shout out was intentional.

(Also Ludicrous Mode is a reference to Space Balls, etc. etc)
posted by memebake at 8:19 AM on August 1, 2016


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