After Tesla released its 4Q20 financial results, Musk said that Tesla is having internal discussions about the viability of licensing out Tesla’s self-driving technologies to other automakers.
Tesla’s autopilot and FSD (full self-driving) are the leaders in their respective fields in the automotive industry, but for Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, it may not be the best course of action to keep this technology to himself.
After announcing Tesla’s financial results, Tesla held an investors’ conference, as usual. One of the topics discussed in the conference had to do with whether the FSD function will be licensed out to other automakers, as has been mentioned already.
It’s not the first time this problem has been brought up, since many automakers have had a hard time in self-driving development. Should Musk license out some of Tesla’s software, he’d stand to potentially profit much. But he used to think that this involved too many complications, so he had always refused prior to this.
But things are different now. Musk says that Tesla is internally discussing details of potentially licensing out some self-driving functionalities to other automakers. Musk indicates that Tesla has to first prove it’s on the right path before licensing out its technologies to others; though this isn’t impossible, they must first demonstrate FSD’s abilities, and at the moment, they must work harder.
What Musk said revealed two logical thoughts: First of all, other automakers have started to catch up to Tesla with regards to information technology, which, more specifically, refers to hardware, including sufficiently powerful automotive processors, fast and low-lag data transfer, precise and reliable wiring and electronics, as well as massive amounts of sensors, such as radars, LiDARs, cameras, and ultrasounds.
Only after sorting out these aforementioned hardware issues will it be possible to develop full self-driving; this means “harmony” (as in, harmony among the various computer systems) is the second priority. Understandably, if all drivers on the road were computer drivers which share the same communication platform, then car accidents would be highly unlikely to happen.
However, most automakers are sticking with their proprietary specs and standards, and there are (still) a significant number of human drivers on the road, compounding the difficulty of self-driving development. From this perspective, even though Musk is currently in possession of the most advanced technology in the industry, it would be the more advantageous move to make Tesla’s FSD open source as opposed to a walled garden.
The final question is that, assuming Tesla does indeed license its technology to other companies, which companies are most likely to adopt said technology? According to Electrek, Volkswagen and Mercedes are the likeliest candidates, since these two automakers are relatively friendly to Tesla. Kobe Chen of Taiwan-based TechNews, however, believes that Musk will perhaps opt to partner with Japanese passenger car manufacturers or Chinese automakers first, since Mercedes and Volkswagen have already invested much time into self-driving technology, making it difficult for them to part ways with their existing technologies in favor of adopting Tesla’s. Recent developments from Volkswagen, in particular, have placed the German automaker on even footing with Tesla in the EV market, thus lending even more credence to the unlikelihood for the two automakers to collaborate.
Despite harboring the world’s largest EV market, China is relatively behind with regards to automotive software development. Hardware-wise? Not so much. Which explains Chen’s reassertion that China is the more likely candidate for partnership, but again, by his own admission, all of this is pure speculation. At any rate, it will take at least another two to three years before any of this comes to fruition.