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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is banking on a risky new strategy for the electric automaker: a robotaxi service that he argues will transform Tesla into a $500 billion company.

The big picture: Like other AV companies, Musk is fixated on a potential $3 trillion market opportunity for autonomous mobility as a service.

  • But while most say fully self-driving cars are still a decade away, Musk is telling investors they'll be here by next year and that Tesla will have first mover advantage with a million robotaxis on the road.

Between the lines: Investors are eager to fund his plans — witness last week's fresh $2.7 billion equity and bond deal.

  • Musk's track record is spotty, though — even he admits to blowing his self-imposed timetables — but in the end, he insists, "I get it done."
  • Still, his latest idea — for Tesla owners to rent out their cars via a vast Tesla robotaxi network — seems "half baked," as Cowen analyst Jeffrey Osborne put it to CNBC.

Driving the news: Musk touted the Tesla car-sharing network at an investor event on April 22.

  • Then, according to CNBC and Bloomberg, he doubled down a week later on a private investor call, saying AVs are now the fundamental driver of value for Tesla and making his case for that $500 billion market cap.

How it will work, according to Musk:

  • Tesla owners can offer their cars for rent on Tesla's car-sharing network.
  • They could pocket up to $30,000 a year (Tesla would keep 25% to 30% ) and their cars will rise in value — up to $250,000 within 3 years, Musk claims — as more self-driving capabilities are added via software updates.
  • Tesla would supplement the fleet with company-owned cars as needed.

Yes, but: The economics of the plan seem dubious and there are a host of serious legal, logistical and technology questions that remain unanswered.

  • Tesla says it made a technological leap by replacing a Nvidia processor with a new proprietary AV computer chip, which will enable self-driving capabilities starting in 2020.
  • "I feel very confident predicting autonomous robotaxis from Tesla next year. Not everywhere. But we will have regulatory approval somewhere," Musk says.
  • But there are no federal regulations on AVs and no prescribed validation methods, so states are still trying to figure out how to govern self-driving cars.

What they're saying:

  • The new focus on autonomy could push out the path to profitability even further, Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a research note Tuesday.
  • Patient investors will be rewarded, ARK Invest analyst Tasha Keeney tells Axios. "It's not too wild to say the company be worth $500 billion in the next 5 years."
  • "Let's count how many truly autonomous (no human safety driver) Tesla taxis (public chooses destination & pays) on regular streets (unrestricted human driven cars on the same streets) on December 31, 2020. It will not be a million. My prediction: zero. Count & retweet this then," tweeted robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks.

My thought bubble: Tesla's strategy is far-fetched, but plausible, if, as Osborne says, they are better than GM at manufacturing, better than Nvidia at hardware, better than Google at software, and better than Uber at running a taxi service. That's a lot of ifs.

Go deeper: Teslas are among the most popular cars rented on Turo

Go deeper

1 min ago - World

U.S. wants nuclear deal done before Iran's new president takes power

Iranian negotiatorAbbas Araghchi arrives at the Grand Hotel Wien for the nuclear talks. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration wants to finalize a deal with Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal in the six weeks remaining before a new Iranian president is inaugurated, a U.S. official tells Axios.

Key quote: The official said it would be "concerning" if talks dragged on into early August, when Iran's transition is due to take place. "If we don't have a deal before a new government is formed, I think that would raise serious questions about how achievable it's going to be," the official said.

Drought, record heat wave in West tied to climate change

People on Folsom Lake in Granite Bay, California, U.S., June 16, 2021. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The prolonged and widespread heat wave in the West, along with the region's increasingly severe drought, is a sign of how climate change has already tilted the odds in favor of such extremes, studies show.

Why it matters: The rapidly growing Southwest, in particular, is also the nation's fastest-warming region. The combination of heat and drought could lead to a repeat, or even eclipse, the severity of 2020's wildfire season in California and other states.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

What to watch as infrastructure talks heat up

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A mix of Beltway action and extreme weather events have brought the fault lines in infrastructure talks and their planetary stakes into sharper focus.

Catch up fast: Senate Democratic leaders pledged to seek big climate measures in a multitrillion-dollar, Democrats-only package that faces a very narrow political path.

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