Elon Musk: "There will not be a steering wheel" in 20 years - Axios
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Elon Musk: "There will not be a steering wheel" in 20 years

Elon Musk in 2015 (AP's Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Elon Musk predicted that within 10 years nearly all new cars made in the U.S. will be autonomous, and half of those will be fully electric vehicles. "China is probably going to be ahead of that," the Tesla and SpaceX chief said Saturday, speaking at the National Governors Association meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.

Within 20 years, he said driving a car will be like having a horse (i.e. rare and totally optional). "There will not be a steering wheel."

Musk also used the appearance to encourage the governors to be careful about what regulations they make and which things they incentivize.

Why it matters: All of Musk's businesses — SpaceX, Tesla and his new Boring Co. tunnel business — depend on new approaches to regulation.

In a discussion with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Musk also touched on several other topics:

On energy:

Musk noted that it would only take about 100 square miles of solar panels to power the entire United States and the batteries needed to store the energy would only need to take about a square mile. That said, he imagines the energy shifting to a large dose of rooftop solar, some power plant solar, along with wind, hydro and nuclear power.

"It's inevitable," Musk said, speaking of shifting to sustainable energy. "But it matters if it happens sooner or later."

As for those pushing some other type of fusion, Musk notes that the sun is a giant fusion reactor in the sky. "It's really reliable," he said. "It comes up every day. if it doesn't we've got [other] problems."

On artificial intelligence:

Musk said it represents a real existential threat to humanity and a rare example of where regulation needs to be proactive, saying that if it is reactive it could come too late.

"In my opinion it is the biggest risk that we face as a civilization," he said.

No matter what, he said, "there will certainly be a lot of job disruption."

Robots will be able to do everything better than us, I mean all of us. I'm not sure exactly what to do about this. This is really like the scariest problem.

On regulation:

"It sure is important to get the rules right," Musk said. "Regulations are immortal. They never die unless somebody actually goes and kills them. A lot of times regulations can be put in place for all the right reasons but nobody goes back and kills them because they no longer make sense."

Musk also focused on the importance of incentives, saying whatever societies incentivize tends to be what happens. "It's economics 101," he said.

On what drives him:

"I want to be able to think about the future and feel good about that, to dream what we can to have the future be as good as possible. To be inspired by what is likely to happen and to look forward to the next day. How do we make sure things are great? That's the underlying principle behind Tesla and SpaceX."

On Tesla's stock price:

Musk said he has been on record several times as saying its stock price "is higher than we have any right to deserve" especially based on current and past performance. "The stock price obviously reflects a lot of optimism on where we will be in the future," he said. "Those expectations sometimes get out of control. I hate disappointing people, I am trying really hard to meet those expectations."

Musk also talked about Trump when answering a question from Axios at the event. More on that here.

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Eatsa's robot-assisted tech for restaurants heads to Chicago

Eatsa, the San Francisco-based company that recently shuttered most of its robot-assisted restaurants, is beginning to make its technology available to outside eateries, starting with Chicago's Wow Bao.

Why it matters: This is a classic startup play—focus on the tech while leaving heavy operations to partners and customers, helping them to streamline restaurant operations.

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Report: Trump administration plans to halt work permits for H-1B spouses

Computer information specialist and immigrant from India, Santosh Pala, right, carries his three-month-old son Hemang during a prayer procession at the Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple in Frisco, Texas, in 2015. Photo: LM Otero / AP.

The Trump administration plans to halt work permits for the spouses of H-1B visa holders, which would discourage H-1B visa applicants from staying in the country and would revoke the ability to work for thousands of visa holders' spouses, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Why it matters: It's another move by the Trump administration to make it more difficult for foreign workers to come to America in its larger effort to safeguard American jobs.

  • Approximately 100,000 spouses and children of H-1B visa holders come to the U.S. every year on a visa known as H-4.
  • These workers were not able to work in the U.S. before 2015, when President Barack Obama created a work permit for some H-4 holders.
  • Silicon Valley will be disproportionately affected, since many high-tech employers employ H-1B workers. Because of the region's high cost of living, It is difficult for a family to survive on one salary and, as a result, may not be able to stay in the country.
  • A decision on the H-4 work authorization will likely come soon, immigration attorneys told The Chronicle.

Other efforts: Earlier this week, a House committee advanced Rep. Darrell Issa's bill to increase restrictions on how "H-1B dependent" companies can obtain the work permits for employees. Find details of Issa's bill here, and the Indian firms' lobbying efforts against crack downs on H-1B visas here.

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Former JC Penney CEO: Amazon should fear Walmart

Elise Amendola / AP

Former JCPenney CEO and Apple Store pioneer Ron Johnson said on CNBC's Fast Money that Amazon "should be really worried" about Walmart's resurgence of late, arguing that the Bentonville retailer's network of stores is cheaper and more efficient to operate than Amazon's collection of warehouses.

Why it matters: Walmart's earnings announcement was the highlight of a week filled with surprisingly strong performances by Amazon's brick-and-mortar competitors, like Best Buy, Gap, Abercrombie, and Foot Locker, which all reported stronger than expected same-store sales growth. These performances have powered the SPDR S&P Retail ETF 3.9% higher this week — its best five-day stretch of the year.

Sound smart: Despite a good week, Retail indices are still down year-to-date, while Amazon's value is up more than 50%. Outside of a few exceptions like Walmart and Best Buy, brick-and-mortar retailers are still struggling to attract traffic and grow sales, just less so that we thought last week.

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Elon Musk unveils an electric semi-truck

Screenshot from Tesla live feed

In a typically showy ceremony in Southern California last night, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled a sleek prototype electric semi-truck that he said will travel 500 miles on a charge, go zero to 60 mph in 20 seconds fully loaded, and charge most of the way in 30 minutes while a driver rests and eats. He appeared to say that the vehicle will be able to operate semi-autonomously in convoy, which would be the first step to self-driving trucks.

Why it matters: Musk did not say how much the truck will cost, but that it will be cheaper to operate than a standard diesel. If he is able to deliver the semi-truck as described, it seems likely to shake up the freight market just as he has the car business. Experts expect semi-truck traffic to surge in the coming decades as the global population grows to 9 billion people.

The unveil in an airport hanger in Hawthorne, CA., came as Musk is confronting doubts about his ability to pull off arguably his most important project of all — the scale-up of the Model 3, the flagship mainstream-priced electric that he has touted as Tesla's route to the mass market, and the jump-starting of a global electric car industry.

Tesla has taken more than 450,000 reservations at $1,000 apiece for the Model 3, which launched in July, and he was supposed to be turning out 5,000 of them a week by now. But, while making high-profile announcements about a Hyperloop, Space-X launches and now the prototype semi-truck, he has failed to create a standard automated assembly line for the Model 3, so his workers are building them in part by hand, and only by the dozen. As a result, Tesla's sky-high share price has plunged by about 19% over the last two months, closing at $312.50 yesterday.

    • Yet the semi-truck launch, with unexpected specs including a far-more-than-expected range, seems likely to wow his fans and quiet at least some of his critics. Musk said the average truck trip is less than 250 miles, which meant that a driver could do a round trip without recharging. Still, Musk said the truck's battery pack, built into the floorboard, can be charged to 80% of capacity in 30 minutes. He said solar-powered "mega-charging" stations for the trucks would be installed worldwide, and would be priced at 7 cents a kilowatt.
    • The cost per mile would be $1.26, compared with $1.51 for a diesel-operated truck. If the semi-truck is operated in a convoy, he said, the efficiencies took the operating cost below $1 a mile, and made them cheaper than moving freight by train.
    • The two details — range and recharge time — were crucial, and they dispelled the most profound doubts about the truck. In addition, he said standard equipment will include automatic breaking, lane-keeping and forward collision warning.
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GOP tax plans could worsen housing affordability crisis

Photo: Keith Srakocic / AP

Proposed changes to corporate tax rates, and tax credits for the construction of below-market housing, could worsen the nation's affordability crisis, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: A recent report from Freddie Mac estimates that America's stock of housing that is affordable for low-income Americans fell by 60% between 2010 and 2016.

  • The problem is concentrated in cities with the highest-paying jobs, like New York, Seattle, and San Francisco.
  • The lack of affordable homes in America's most economically vibrant areas is reducing economic mobility, because workers cannot afford to move to cities with higher-paying jobs.

Both the House and Senate tax bills, by lowering the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, would automatically reduce the uptake of the affordable housing credit, because lower rates make tax credits less valuable.

  • The House bill goes further, eliminating a tax break on bonds used to finance affordable housing projects.
  • The Journal cites a report by Novogradac & Co., an accounting firm specializing in real estate, that predicts if the House bill passes, the U.S. economy would create 1 million fewer affordable housing units over ten years.

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Immelt says he wasn't "ready" to lead Uber

Lauren Olinger / Axios

Former GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt said he's ok with not getting picked to be CEO of Uber. "At the end of the day I wasn't really ready for something that visible, that intense," Immelt said at an Axios "Smarter Faster Revolution" event at the University of North Carolina.

He said Uber is based on a "seminal" idea but an open question remains: "Can you take this thing that's an amazing idea and turn it into a fantastic business, a profitable business?"

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Average Bitcoin investor would sell at $196,165 — or 26x current value

A Robocoin kiosk used to sell bitcoins. Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP

A new LendEDU survey of Bitcoin investors shows that a vast majority plan to hold their investment for over a year, challenging the assumption that the cryptocurrency is mostly used by short-term investors.

Why it matters: Only 16.49% of respondents to the survey said they planned to hold their Bitcoin for less than a year, coupled with more than two-thirds who hadn't sold any of their investment. If these results are actually indicative of most Bitcoin investors, that finding suggests a much stronger long-term outlook for the cryptocurrency as a viable, productive investment.

More from the survey:

  • A third of Bitcoin investors don't plan on reporting their purchase to the IRS, which officially states that "virtual currency is treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes. General tax principles that apply to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency."
  • The average investor would sell their Bitcoin at a price of $196,165.78, which is more than 26 times higher than the current price of $7,476.78.
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Best Buy misses revenue forecast on late iPhone release

Alan Diaz / AP

Best Buy reported third-quarter earnings and revenue below analyst forecasts, sending the retailer's stock down 6.6% in early trading Thursday. It said $100 million in revenue was not registered in the third quarter, due to Apple delaying the release of its iPhone X—though these sales will presumably show up in the fourth quarter numbers.

Why it matters: Best Buy has ramped up discounts to keep pace with rivals like Amazon.com, and is now offering free shipping through Christmas, with no minimum order requirements.

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Trucks are fueling the world's oil demand

Tesla is hardly the only player in the nascent electric truck market — as Bloomberg notes — as big companies like Daimler and Cummins are moving toward commercialization.

Why electric trucks matter: Trucks, especially big rigs, are a small percentage of vehicles on the road but use lots of oil. (Check out the chart above, reconstructed from the International Energy Agency's new World Energy Outlook 2017.)

Data: IEA World Energy Outlook 2017, OECD/IEA; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

In what amounts to IEA's base case (a model of existing and officially announced policies), oil demand for trucking swells to 20 million barrels per day in 2040, led by that sharp increase you see in diesel demand for heavy-duty freight.

  • It's one reason, though hardly the only one, why IEA does not forecast a peak in global crude oil demand through the end of their analysis period in 2040.

The bottom line: Widespread deployment of electric heavy-duty trucking — alongside other alternative fuels and stronger fuel efficiency mandates for diesel-powered rigs — could alter the trajectory of oil demand in coming decade if Musk and other players can make it cost-effective.

Go deeper: Check out a preview of Tesla's electric truck, which is scheduled to be unveiled today.

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Walmart revenue soars on strength of online sales

Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP

The reigning heavyweight champion of brick-and-mortar retail is making a name for itself in e-commerce, with Walmart announcing that online sales grew 50% in the third quarter, powering the company's revenue past analyst expectations.

Why it matters: Acquisitions of e-commerce upstarts like Jet.com, Modcloth, and Bonobos have helped supercharge online growth, but Walmart.com is also benefiting from innovations like free two-day delivery on orders more than $35 and curbside pick-up.

The better than expected numbers were about more than e-commerce:

  • Same-store sales rose by 2.7%, well above analyst expectations of 1.7%.
  • Grocery sales were strong, powering the average customer spend 1.2% and illustrating customers durable preference so far for brick-and-mortar grocery shopping.
  • Walmart stock is up 4% in early trading.
One problem was a decline in operating income due to shrinking profit margins as Walmart and subsidiaries like Jet.com invest heavily in discounting aimed at growing market share.