Elon Musk predicts full self-driving cars are imminent, contrary to prevailing views that it will take a few years to perfect the technology. Picture: REUTERS
Elon Musk predicts full self-driving cars are imminent, contrary to prevailing views that it will take a few years to perfect the technology. Picture: REUTERS

Elon Musk said Tesla Inc robotaxis with no human drivers would be available in some US markets in 2020, continuing a habit of bold pronouncements that have excited many investors, while often missing deadlines.

“Probably two years from now we’ll make a car with no steering wheels or pedals,” the Tesla CEO predicted, while acknowledging he is often late to meet aggressive targets.

Central to this promise is a new microchip for self-driving vehicles unveiled by Musk on Monday during a webcast presentation, made by Samsung Electronics in Texas. The chip, now in all Teslas, is hoped to give the electric-car firm an edge over rivals and show its massive investment in autonomous driving.

The webcast presentation came two days before Tesla was expected to announce a quarterly loss on fewer deliveries of its Model 3 sedan, which represents Tesla’s attempt to become a volume car maker.

After launching the event with detailed technical descriptions of Tesla’s progress on hardware and software by top executives, Musk began hawking the Model 3 and its potential.

“The fundamental message consumers should be taking away today is it’s financially insane to buy something other than a Tesla. It’s like buying a horse,” saying Tesla was the only company to have a full self-driving suite of hardware.

Tesla’s use of the term “full self-driving” garners criticism, as it sells such an option today that is not yet level-4, or nearly fully autonomous, in which the car can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention.

Musk has said that with the hardware complete, improvements in software will allow vehicles to fully drive themselves in future. The technology faces many regulatory hurdles.

Global car makers, large technology companies and start-ups are developing self-driving vehicles — including Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber Technologies — but experts say it will be years before the systems are ready for prime time.

“A year from now we’ll have more than a million cars with full self-driving, software, everything,” Musk predicted.

Tesla has been working on a self-driving chip since 2016 and Musk had previously forecast that cars would be fully self-driving by 2018, a target Tesla has missed.

Investors appeared unmoved by the chip announcement but shares rose slightly in after-hour trading following the announcement of the robotaxis.