Despite being known for his genius with electric vehicles, space rockets and power supplies, Elon Musk should be at least equally well-known as a marketing genius, for that is really what drives the companies. Forget technology, batteries and thrust, it’s all about the right perception.
It can’t be denied that a great deal of innovation in the self-driving and autonomous car industry is a direct result of Musk, either through Tesla or his competitors not wanting to be left behind. And although marketing genius can get you so far, the rest has to come from the product.
Tesla Autopilot safety debate
Recently, Tesla have come in for some harsh criticism regarding their Autopilot technology, they have been accused of “repeatedly exaggerating the autonomous capabilities” of the tech. John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project Director has even gone so far as saying that Tesla has “consistently and deceptively hyped its technology”. Harsh criticism indeed.
Alongside these calls for Tesla to drop the Autopilot name (believed to be misleading), the AAA have also added their two-cents with a study of over 1,000 motorists – 73% of respondents stated that they would be afraid to ride in a car that was fully self-driving, and 63% said they’d feel less safe just even sharing the roads with autonomous cars.
The Radar vs Lidar argument
Some believe Tesla will never get the Autopilot system to where it needs to be, purely because of the choice of Radar, rather than Lidar, but Musk is adamant that Radar is (quite literally) the way forward.
Whether it’s a genuine choice of feeling that Radar will outperform Lidar, or whether the choice is budgetary, remains to be seen. This could just be another stroke of marketing genius from Musk; making us believe that Radar is the better technological choice.
We know that every Tesla produced since October 2016 has the hardware capable of full autonomy, and in theory, these could all be set up through an over-the-air update, but that won’t necessarily happen for some time yet.
Tesla’s competitive advantage
A number of companies are hot on the heels of Tesla, whether that’s producing electric cars, self-driving systems or just other forms of new car technology, it seems that at the moment, they’re all looking toward Tesla as the competition.
While a number of manufacturers are working to make their single offering the best it can be, Tesla lead the market with development and models – Roadster, Model 3, Model S, Model X and even a Semi. The advantage that Tesla have is that they aren’t mass producing fossil-fuelled vehicles at the same time – it’s just all-electric, and that’s their strong point.
It’s simple touches that give Tesla the edge over their competitors – the Model X having the lowest drag coefficient of any SUV for example; the devil is in the detail, and that’s where Musk excels.
The most innovative solution though is something that takes car diagnostics options to a completely new level: Tesla offers the possibility of addressing most service repair issues remotely. The issues can be identified and monitored through a software update, which means there is no need to bring the car to the dealer.
With the Internet of Things and more and more connected cars on the road it’s little wonder that car manufacturers are looking to test new infotainment systems that can be built on modern vehicles. Undoubtedly, the cars of the future will be able to “say” a lot more about their health and condition than ever before. While this does not mean that cars will get automatically fixed, it is a significant step towards self-repairing cars.
The way forward for Tesla
Despite coming under pressure for the downfalls, you can guarantee that Musk et al will continue to drive innovation and technology in the driverless car or electric vehicle market at a pace that other manufacturers can only dream of.
Yes, there’s competition, but right now, that competition is constantly looking toward Tesla, rather than any other single manufacturer, and it seems that they’re one or two paces behind. So while Tesla occasionally come in for some criticism, surely that’s just one of the pitfalls of being an innovator rather than a follower, isn’t it?