What the August 8 Tesla robotaxi launch could look like, RNG goes up to 79% usage last year

Why did Tesla invest $2 million in Lidar, an autonomous vehicle (AV) technology that CEO Elon Musk had dismissed years ago nearly as much as he had done with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles? Does it have anything to do with his highly anticipated Robotaxi launch on August 8? Or his getting the green light by the Chinese government to test Tesla AV technology in their country?

Well, for one thing, August 8, or 8/8, is lucky in China. “I did partly pick it because 8/8 is a lucky number in China!” Musk told X user Michel de Guilhermier in late April.

Tesla’s FSD (Full Self Driving) doesn’t use Lidar (which every other AV does use), which comes from laser-based 3D mapping sensors. Tesla AVs, and Tesla vehicles equipped with its Autopilot features, use only use cameras to understand the world around it. AV experts have made convincing arguments, and have produced convincing test data, that Lidar is a must.

Tesla is obviously betting on robotaxis. The electric vehicle maker has scrapped its highly anticipated Model 2 in favor of the self-driving electric car on the same platform as the Model 2.

Tesla’s $2 million investment with Luminar is expected to produce 2,000 Lidar units for Tesla vehicles.

General Motors agrees with Tesla’s analysis that AVs tie very well to electric vehicles. Compared to an internal combustion engine vehicle, an all-electric battery pack is able to serve as a more stable power that can enable higher-powered AV components, the automaker said on its blog.

When AV technology exploded in 2014-15, arguments were made that it would be ideal to address the global trend toward crowded, polluted cities that would become even more susceptible to vehicle collisions. Then the testing began, and concerns were raised — and flags waived — about integration of the new AV technology with existing human-driven vehicles, the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, collision liability responsibility for AV owners and vehicle manufacturers, and whether consumers and fleets around the world would buy into AVs. It became obvious that adoption of AVs beyond limited fleet tests would be taking quite a few years in countries around the world.

Looking at what’s next
Here are a few recent developments that tie into the big picture of where robotaxis and AV technology are going in America, and perhaps, around the world……………….

Didi in China: A report by global consultancy IHS Markit said the market size of China’s self-driving taxi services is expected to surpass 1.3 trillion yuan ($180.7 billion) by 2030, accounting for 60 percent of the ride-hailing market nationwide. The Chinese government has been rolling out policies to promote the development and commercialization of AVs. Didi Chuxang and its ride-hailing platform has been heavily involved in testing out AVs in China and, not long ago, in the U.S. The Chinese company lost its DMV permit in California in February. Testing and development has been going on since 2016 in China, and the company began allowing customers to take self-driving car rides in Shanghai starting in 2020. Didi recently opened an automated operation and maintenance center in that city offering repairs, parking, and battery charging for AVs.

Tesla’s FSD coming to China: Musk proposed testing Tesla’s FSD technology in China by deploying it in robotaxis, during a recent visit to the country. Chinese officials told the Tesla CEO that China “welcomes Tesla to do some robotaxi tests in the country” and hopes it can “set a good example,” a newspaper reported. Musk met with the country’s second-highest-ranking politician, Premier Li Qiang, during that visit. The automaker still needs to get final approval for the rollout, and to collect and transfer data from Tesla driver-assistance features.

More on Tesla robotaxi: In April 2022, during the grand opening of Tesla Gigafactory Texas, Musk shed more light on the robotaxis that he’d first talked about in 2016. The company would be rolling it out in the near future as its own exclusive robotaxi model, he said. In X tweets, Musk has said the the robotaxi will essentially be the initially planned $25,000 electric car with out a steering wheel.

Feds testing Autopilot safety: The safety of Tesla’s Autopilot features, and how that would transfer over to its FSD technology as well, is still being evaluated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The company had recalled more than two million vehicles last years over crashes involving its Autopilot system. The feds say they’re undergoing an investigation due to crashes continuing and concern over its safety and reliability. NHTSA put out a report last month from investigations of 956 Tesla crashes between January 2018 and August 2023, where Autopilot was involved; and in which 29 people died in the crashes. The electric vehicle maker had recalled the vehicles last year to fix Autopilot with an over-the-air software update after regulators said the driver-assist tech wasn’t doing enough to stop driver misuse. NHTSA is looking at tests of the recalled vehicles the effect of Tesla’s software update for getting drivers use the functions safely.

How Waymo is doing: Google parent Alphabet says that its self-driving Waymo One service is getting 50,000 rides a week in Phoenix, San Francisco, and more recently in Los Angeles. The company operates 24/7 service in parts of these cities. Waymo is also trying out Austin, Texas, but that only through limited rides to select members of the public. The company said that it’s taken a “safe and deliberate approach” to scaling its program for reaching the 50K milestone. Waymo says that they’re finding the autonomous robotaxi rides to be attractive from customers in all walks of life who appreciate their freedom of movement.

Cruise going to Arizona: Robotaxi competitor Cruise has had a whole set of problems with its San Francisco operations, but the General Motors subsidiary will begin testing robotaxis in Arizona this week with human drivers on board to make sure safety remains present. Cruise says it will make sure the check the vehicles’ performance against its “rigorous” safety and autonomous vehicle performance requirements as it puts its AVs in the Phoenix area.

After dragging a San Francisco pedestrian about 20 feet in October by one of its robotaxi vehicles, Cruise had its permit suspended by the California Public Utilities Commission. The PUC alleged that Cruise had covered up details about the crash for more than two weeks.

Will Tesla be offering paid robotaxi services? Good question. The company hasn’t clarified that question. In the past, Musk talked about how Tesla owners could make income offering their self-driving Teslas out to renters and riders. But with Waymo, Cruise, Didi, and other companies, testing out the autonomous ride model, it’s likely Tesla will do the same — at least their own version of it.

And in other news………..

Renewable natural gas taking off: Seventy-nine percent of all on-road fuel in the U.S. used in natural gas vehicles was renewable natural gas (RNG) last year; and it surpassed the previous year’s record-breaking level. That comes from the Transport Project (TTP) and Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG Coalition). RNG can produce carbon-negative results when fueling on-road vehicles like short- and long-haul trucks, transit buses, and refuse and recycling collection vehicles. That comes form capturing the RNG above ground from organic material in agricultural, wastewater, landfill, or food waste.

Time to bring in the experts: While upcoming greenhouse gas emission reporting standards and practices will soon become more complex in California, it’s not the only place GHG and climate reporting compliance will become more demanding. The European Union, the United Kingdom, and Japan have released proposed sustainability reporting standards that will add to the complexity.