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Elon Musk believes Tesla cars will be fully autonomous by 2018, and have an all-electric range of more than 1,000km, double what it is today. He also predicts that by 2035 all new cars will not require a driver.
A renowned futurist and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Musk predicts that the range of the Model S can be increased by between 5% and 10% every year, as battery technology improves. He also claims the AutoPilot self-driving feature currently being beta tested by Tesla will be rolled-out to all compatible Model S vehicles by the end of October. AutoPilot provides automatic steering, accelerating and braking on motorways, but only in countries which have updated their road laws to allow it.
In an interview on Dutch television, Musk said: "My guess is that we could probably break 1,000km within a year or two. I'd say 2017 for sure...in 2020 I guess we could probably make a car go 1,200km. I think maybe 5-10% a year [improvement], something like that." A Model S was recently driven 452 miles (723km) on a single charge, but drove at an average speed of just 24mph. Musk says his predictions account for driving at a more realistic speed.
We will have full autonomy in three years
Musk added that AutoPilot will be switched on in a month's time, adding: "My guess for when we'll have full autonomy is about three years, approximately three years." This is much sooner than 2020, when analysts had expected to see autonomous cars from Google - and possible Apple - go on sale.
But this is with a caveat. "Regulators will not allow full autonomy for one to two years – maybe one to three years – after that," Musk said. "It depends on the particular market; in some markets the regulators will be more forward leaning than others. But in terms of when [full autonomy] will be technologically possible, I think three years."
Looking even further ahead, Musk predicts that – providing "civilisation is still around" – by 2035 "we'll see a very large percentage of cars being electric [on the road] probably all cars being built will have full autonomy in 20 years." Again, however, a caveat exists, in that cars are not replaced as often as smartphones, so it will take a considerable amount of time for all vehicles on the world's roads (around 2.5 billion) to become electric and autonomous. Musk reckons it would take another 20 years to fully replace all cars and trucks being used in 2035 with electric vehicles.
This may seem like a long time to wait, but with new cars taking between five and ten years to design from scratch, the fully-autonomous dream could be just a couple of generations away from reality.
The coming months and years will be busy and challenging for Musk. Tesla's new Model X, a luxury, all-electric SUV to rival the Range Rover Sport, will start being delivered to early adopters in October, while the company's Model 3, a car to cost around £22,000, will be revealed in 2016. Meanwhile, traditional car makers like Porsche and Audi are preparing to enter the all-electric market.