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Tesla driving away customer confidence with unfulfilled promises

A year ago, Tesla set up a hastily organized conference call between Elon Musk and reporters. Tesla had something big to announce — big enough for the chief executive to open the floor to questions. That doesn’t happen very often.

What followed wasn’t so much the unveiling of a new product as a plan for a product. Tesla’s driver-assistance platform, Autopilot, was about to begin a transformation to fully autonomous driving. Every Tesla would come with eight cameras, radar, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and a Nvidia Corp. supercomputer.

Once testing and regulatory approval were complete, Musk said, the car would be able to drive entirely by itself.

“The foundation is laid,” Musk proclaimed.

Tesla was so confident, in fact, that it started selling its “Full Self Driving” feature for an additional $8,000 (U.S.) on any new Model X or Model S. Tesla’s timeline was, as is so often the case, years ahead of what most believed possible.

Barclays Plc analyst Brian Johnson called it an “overly hyped product update,” and Tesla stock dropped 2.2 per cent the next day. Still, to start charging for the feature surely implied Tesla was very far along — right?

Maybe not. What followed were months of setbacks, delays, and in-house turmoil. A year later, there’s still no sign of Full Self Driving, and even the less ambitious “Enhanced Autopilot” hasn’t quite reached parity with an earlier, discontinued version.

The head of Tesla’s Autopilot division left in January, and six months later his successor did, too.

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