Tesla recently announced they would soon have cars with 400+ mile range. And the reactions quickly came in from the internet that “while that’s great people don’t actually need it“.
But that got me thinking about all the ways that analysis is wrong. You not only need 400-mile range, but you probably would use 1000miles of range if you had it.. here is why:
The past won’t predict the future
My starting point will be this argument, you cannot predict how people that own full self-driving (FSD) cars will use them based on how they use cars where they have to do the driving.
I think it will be very very different.
Think about how you use your car today. You probably go back and forth to work, and you probably take the kids to school or practice, and maybe you go out for a few errands to the grocery store or the home improvement store.
20-40-70 miles round trip in rush hour traffic. maybe 10 more miles of errands. The rest of the time your car is parked, in your driveway, in your garage, or maybe you are paying $20+ dollars a day to park it at work.
How many cars to do you have? Maybe one per driver. Maybe your teen drivers have to share a car.
Then every once in a while you all take a typical family road trip. Wake up early load the car. take turns driving. get gas. stop for food. hours later arrive at wherever. 5-7 hours away. For longer trips, you go as far as you can before you pull over and try to find a place to sleep for the night. maybe build in a stop at Nashville or st Louis.
If you have an FSD car, I think many of those scenarios will be different.
In the future, your FSD car will not be parked very long
If you have two cars for you and your +1, and you drive both of them for a max of a combined 2 hours a day, you are leaving 46 hours of possible usage with your car parked.
Parking is the enemy of efficiency.
Maybe it is the consultant in me, but having a low utilization makes me queasy. A car used 1 hour a day and parked the rest of the time has a utilization rate of just a tick over 4%. not very good.
Tesla and I assume other FSD cars will able to be out doing things instead of being parked. Tesla has been fairly open about its plans to create an Uber competitor once FSD is live. The Model 3 had numerous design choices intended to make FSD robotaxi operations easier.
Elon Musk has said this about yearly income for the owner of cars in the fleet.
“the yearly income from an autonomous taxi would be around $30,000 gross”
And that is assuming your car can drive 200-300 fare paying miles every day. If you have more capacity, how much more revenue could your car generate for you.
They are so serious about this fleet, if you lease a car from Tesla, you cannot buy it at the end of your lease, you HAVE to give it back.
What about wear and tear? In a separate discussion, Musk indicated that the current vehicles with their fewer moving parts should be similar to long haul semis in that they are designed to go 1 Million vehicle miles between overhauls.
So if the current and past use of a private vehicle is carrying you and your computer bag to an office tower as its primary job, then the future job of being an income-earning member of the family will require very different range and abilities.
Your limits are not the same limits as an FSD car
most assumptions of the range an electric car needs are based on Human drivers, driving human length shifts, at human driver speeds.
For example, let’s take a look at speed limits and FSD. Why are speed limits what they are? two concerns mainly: Safety and Fuel economy at the fleet level.
Here is an excellent opinion highlighting that thinking: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/editorial-cap-us-speed-limit-at-55-mph-to-save-gas/
The motto from the late 70s and early 80s was “55 Mph : Save Lives, Save Money, Save Gas”
How fast is too fast? How close is too close?
For a Human driver someplace between 5 MPH and 80 MPH depending on the road. Parking lots, maybe 5 MPH. The open highway in Texas where it is totally flat and bright daylight 80 plus MPH could be totally safe.
Same question for following distances. What is good for you as a driver? What do you think other folks need to use for following distance?
All of those change when you think of an FSD car that has nearly instant reflexes and can look in all directions at the same time. It can detect fractional changes in the trajectory of other vehicles. It can see through fog, dust, in the complete pitch-black night. It already knows all the details and curves of the road ahead. It can communicate realtime with other vehicles and data systems on the road.
At our speeds, Elon Musk estimates FSD cars will be 200-300% safer. If we say that we will accept an FSD that is the same safety level as a human, I don’t think 120+ MPH would be unreasonable as a top speed limit.
An FSD can drive much faster than you and still be safer. Maybe 120 MPH or more
What about MPG?
If we assume we can get to the same or even 300% better safety, what about the save money and gas part?
This one is actually a lot easier. The cost to operate an EV is already a lot lower than a conventional Gas-powered car. When fuel spiked to $4 a gallon in 2008, my fixed cost for charing up my Volt worked out to be a per gallon equivalent of $0.75 or less a gallon.
And let’s not forget that the root of all of that fleet fuel economy was the fuel crisis of the 70’s and the associated shortages triggered by OPEC. We as a nation have essentially been trying to ration fuel lightly for the 40+ years since.
A countrywide move to EVs will allow us to go whatever speed we want like we used to for the first 200 years of our country’s existence.
What about the environmental impact? Same answer. A move to EVs allows for a fully renewable and clean source to power all of our human ground transportation. We can move to solar, wind, hydro, geothermal or whatever clean electricity source the market will support. But the first step is moving to EVs and then working backward from there.
But the bottom line is that the cost per mile will always be lower, and we won’t be tied to a limited supply source.
Travel Duration and FSD
what is the longest you have ever driven without stopping? What is the longest you have sleep without stopping?
I am guessing on a daily basis you do not drive more than 90 min at a time max. And I would guess for a road trip you might not go more than 4-5 hours before stopping to stretch your legs. And even then I bet you were miserable and exhausted after that long in the seat. Even professional long-distance drivers have to stop a minimum of 30 min before they hit 8 hours. So the best human drivers struggle to hit even 8 hours in the driver’s seat.
I bet most of you could sleep between 5-8 hours without even trying hard. I bet you all do that every single night.
What is the practical on-duty limit for an FSD car? How many hours could a self-driving car drive before it started getting sleepy and losing the ability to focus? The question doesn’t even make sense.
A fully automatic car could drive for 8 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 96 hours and the next hour would be just as safe, just as attentive as all the previous ones. So the limit is really only the battery range.
Which brings us back to the 400-mile limit that we started with.
Range and FSD
Assuming you can sleep for 7 hours in a car. (and I can sleep on anything that moves, cars, airplanes, etc) then an FSD car could theoretically drive 7 hours x 80 MPH = 560 Miles. And if we assume a slightly higher speed limit and an 8-hour shift we could sleep our way 8 hours x 120 MPH = 960 Miles.
An FSD car could easily use 500 to 960+ miles of range on an overnight trip
The FSD car will transform your family road trips
I recently was looking to book a trip back to Ohio, and we were trying to figure out the costs and time of driving vs flying. It is a long trip from where we live. And the conversation went something like if all of us fly that is like 500 per person. If we drive we need 2-3 drivers to take turns and we could stay in Nashville or St Louis on the way there and back, so figure $200-$400 on a hotel depending on what we can find when we get there. And then factor in fuels costs of about $3/gallon would be about $250 for the whole trip, nevermind the 34 hours or more of travel time.
We ended up with just me going on the trip and flying. BUT the discussion would have been very different if we could have had the car do the driving for us while we slept. And 1000 miles would require a 120 MPH FSD speed limit. which is still a bit too far into the future. But it did get me thinking what would be a reasonable overnight sleep trip? You could get to a lot of interesting locations with 5-600 miles of sleep while the car drives capability.
Now imagine if you can travel coast to coast every weekend while you sleep? Where would you go? Do you ever pull over to stay at a Motel 6 or Days Inn? what happens to all the roadside hotels you would never stay at otherwise?
If your car drives 500-600 miles while you sleep there are a lot of interesting places you could “wake up in” tomorrow morning. Maybe the beach? Maybe the mountains?
If you can go close to 1000 miles, would you ever fly domestically again?
So now let’s look to the future and you own an FSD car, and it has a 600-800 mile range.
Now imagine you do have that range every day and your car can go make money for you while you are at work. Your car now is not making $30k per year, it is making $60+k per year for you.
Now imagine that when you get to your vacation location your car goes out and makes enough money while you are on vacation to pay for it all?
How we use our cars in the future will be very different. It will impact hotels. It will impact short-haul airlines. It will connect us in new ways.
But if we limit what we are building towards based on how we use our cars today, we will miss out on the transformative potential of FSD EV cars.