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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Elon Musk predicts full self-driving features — which Tesla is now selling as a $6,000 option on its electric vehicles but aren't yet available — will transform the company's bottom line.

The big picture: Right now, Tesla's Autopilot has only limited self-driving capabilities on highways. When Tesla can offer a fully self-driving car, Musk said this week in Tesla's Q2 earnings call, profit margins will soar to as much as 30% (from today's 19%). Revenue that had been deferred will be recognized, but more importantly, Musk expects orders for the full self-driving package to increase significantly.

"The gross margin over time will be really quite compelling when factoring in the full self-driving option."
— Elon Musk

Between the lines: Tesla had about $1 billion of deferred revenue on its balance sheet as of March 31, for "unsatisfied performance obligations."

  • Deferred revenue is common in businesses where customers prepay for a subscription or service, for example.
  • In Tesla's case, these aren't just self-driving features that have yet to be activated but certain other services, including access to Tesla's Supercharger network and internet connectivity.
  • Of the $1 billion in deferred revenue, Tesla expects to recognize $462.3 million in the next 12 months — a sign that it intends to add some of the promised features. The remainder will be counted over time, up to the 8-year life of the vehicle.

Tesla's timetable for driverless cars is far more ambitious than the rest of the industry.

  • While most carmakers say fully automated vehicles are still a decade away, Musk says Tesla will have a million robotaxis on the road by next year.
  • Tesla timetables have proven unreliable, however, and the company is still working on two promised features — traffic signal recognition and automated city driving — in the "full self-driving" package.
  • Since Tesla says it will keep improving the technology — and raise prices accordingly — the package description could also change.

What to watch: Tesla, which had said it expected to return to profitability in the third quarter, has changed its outlook slightly.

  • The company now says instead of "expecting" a profit, it is "aiming" for one but adds its main focus will be boosting deliveries, expanding factory production and generating cash.

Go deeper:

Editor's note: This story has been corrected from a previous version that stated erroneously that Tesla did not have access to the money it is collecting for fully self-driving features.

Go deeper

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.

Updated 2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook refers Trump ban to independent Oversight Board for review

Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook's independent Oversight Board has accepted a referral from the platform to review its decision to indefinitely suspend former President Trump.

Why it matters: While Trump critics largely praised the company's decision to remove the then-president's account for potential incitement of violence, many world leaders and free speech advocates pushed back on the decision, arguing it sets a dangerous precedent for free speech moving forward.