Tesla Enables Subscription Model for Full Self-Driving

Last December, Elon Musk mentioned that subscriptions for Full Self-Driving could become a reality in 2021. Now Tesla has followed through on that timeline by offering a $199 per month subscription for people who don’t want to pay the upfront $10,000 fee for access to the driver assist software. Full Self-Driving requires a Tesla vehicle equipped with the latest onboard computer, known as Hardware 3, which costs $1500.

Customers who previously purchased Enhanced Autopilot can access the Full Self-Driving subscription for $99 per month, though they may still need to upgrade to Hardware 3. Enhanced Autopilot is no longer available for sale.

Tesla CFO Zachary Kirkhorn told shareholders during an earnings call, “If you look at the size of our fleet and you look at the number of customers who did not purchase FSD up front or on a lease and maybe want to experiment with FSD, this is a great option for them.”

Tesla has recently released the Full Self-Driving Version 9 beta update, which adds features like improvement for off-highway driving. Full Self-Driving (FSD) includes “premium” features that aren’t included in Autopilot, including Auto Lane Change, Auto Park, Summon, and Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control. Some of the features, like Summon, use the mobile app as a remote control to have their car come pick them up in a parking lot.

Upcoming features include “Autosteer on City Streets,” though Tesla has fallen behind its original schedule for developing it. When these features do become ready for prime time, they could help make Tesla’s vision for a fleet of Robotaxis a reality. Robotaxis would function like an Uber for driverless cars, basically making it possible for Tesla owners to monetize their vehicles when they aren’t using them.

As usual, the company issued a warning that the software is still in beta and not quite ready for fully autonomous driving while announcing the new subscription model: “The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”

Communications between Tesla engineers and regulators like the California DMV indicate that the software is currently at Level 2 on the professional engineering association SAE International’s scale of autonomous driving software. Level 2 software can handle things like adaptive cruise control and lane centering, but still requires drivers to remain alert with their hands on the wheel.

Due to issues with drivers failing to stay alert or even pulling stunts like riding in the back seat of a driverless Tesla, the company recently activated a camera mounted to the rearview mirror that can track operator alertness. In doing so, the company overrode concerns from some organizations like Consumer Reports that the interior cameras could violate privacy.

Even so, Tesla continues to improve its Full Self-Driving software through the beta program, which collects driving data that can help it train the central AI behind FSD. The possibility of access to the software remains popular with Tesla’s fans even though it isn’t exactly at Level 5, or full autonomy, yet. The subscription fee will simply make such access easier for people who can’t afford the $10,000 upfront cost for access to Full Self-Driving.