Hybrids & Electrics

Tesla Buyers Can Prepay For Self-Driving Features at the Cost of a Used Car

Although there are no fully autonomous vehicles currently on the market, Tesla has been teasing its future self-driving cars for quite some time. CEO Elon Musk recently stated that Tesla will offer full self-driving as a subscription option, but drivers can also choose to prepay $7,000 for these features. Musk calls this an “investment in the future” — Consumer Reports disagrees.

Tesla’s current self-driving technology

Despite Musk’s confidence in the future of Tesla’s self-driving technology, the automaker does not currently possess these capabilities. Instead, the past few years have seen Tesla roll out a partial series of driver-assist features which (theoretically) foreshadow the fully automated vehicles of the future.

One major automated feature on Tesla’s current lineup is Smart Summon. With this, drivers can use an app on their phones to summon their vehicles from across a parking lot. While this sounds great in theory — no more lugging groceries through the rain — reviewers were less than impressed. Consumer Reports found the feature glitchy, while Car and Driver called it “unfinished and problematic.”

Tesla also currently offers a Navigate on Autopilot feature, which allows certain vehicles to change lanes without driver input. This, too, sparked concern from Consumer Reports, which noted that vehicles driving on Autopilot often made mistakes and even violated state laws.

A MotorTrend review was slightly more forgiving, although it did note that drivers still needed to maintain constant vigilance — despite the feature’s name, you really can’t go on autopilot while using it.

To prepay, or not to prepay?

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According to Tesla, these driver-assist features are just the first steps in what will soon be a fully automated package. However, the automaker plans to offer this package as a subscription service rather than a straightforward purchase. 

Subscription features are beginning to make a larger appearance in the auto industry, a fact which may not bode well for vehicle resale values. Because so many features are controlled and updated via external software, it’s possible that automakers will begin charging monthly fees rather than upfront payments. In this scenario, drivers will not own the key features in their vehicle, meaning that they will funnel money into it but won’t be able to resell it at a profit.

However, it’s difficult to tell at this point whether Tesla’s $7,000 prepay option is a wise alternative. The automaker hasn’t announced any future subscription prices, making it impossible to do a real cost-benefit analysis. And without an ability to see or test a fully self-driving vehicle, investing $7,000 might be too much of a leap of faith for some folks.

Tesla’s hazy timeline

In addition to a lack of information regarding subscription fees, the automaker’s ever-shifting timeline doesn’t do much to inspire confidence. In 2019, Tesla announced that it would offer its fully self-driving system at the end of the year. That didn’t happen, and Tesla now claims that the system will be available at the end of 2020. According to the automaker, the subscription service will also begin at the end of this year. 

Musk notes that anything released this year will still be basic and that Tesla will continue to work on its reliability after release. It’s only then that Tesla will release its data to regulatory agencies for approval — a process that will take an indeterminate amount of time.

These multiple issues, in addition to the mixed reviews of Tesla’s current driver-assist technology, make it challenging to justify spending such a large sum of money on the prepay option. Ultimately, the decision is a personal one, but it might be worth waiting for more conclusive information from Tesla before making the leap.