Will the Tesla Model 3 Be the First Truly Self-Driving Car?

Article/Op-Ed in the New Yorker
April 14, 2016

Levi Tillemann wrote for the New Yorker about the Tesla Model 3:

On the evening of March 31st, Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s sinuous Model 3, the company’s first “affordable” electric-car model. After touting the sedan’s punchy acceleration, two-hundred-and-fifteen-mile battery range, and sweeping, seamless glass roof, he mentioned its base price of thirty-five thousand dollars and told the audience that prospective buyers had already reserved more than a hundred and fifteen thousand of the vehicles, to rapturous applause and shouts of “You did it!” Not one to miss a marketing trick, Musk capped the night on Twitter, with a cryptic thank-you message that promised more: “Thanks for tuning in to the Model 3 unveil Part 1! Part 2 is super next level, but that’s for later . . . .”
Within hours, the tech community was awash in speculation about what more Tesla could have in store for the Model 3. Some wondered, specifically, whether it would be the world’s first mass-market, fully autonomous self-driving car. Spurred forward by Google and other Silicon Valley companies, the auto industry has been tinkering with autonomous vehicles for years. Tesla has demonstrated a unique appetite for risk, though, by equipping two of its cars, the Model S and Model X, with rudimentary self-driving capabilities. Musk has also said that people should be able to summon their cars from across the country by the beginning of 2018, which happens to coincide with the Model 3’s planned release date. And, after the announcement, Bloomberg’s Tom Randall noted that Musk kept referring to the Model 3’s “steering system” or “steering controls,” rather than its steering wheel, and that he’d said that the system shown at the Model 3 launch wasn’t final. But perhaps the most compelling evidence that Tesla’s Model 3 may have significant autonomous capabilities lies in the company’s unique technological approach, which could allow it to achieve a “hands off” driving experience at a fraction of the cost of its competitors—including Google, the heavyweight in the field.