-- Tesla CEO Elon Musk's "master plan" for the automaker includes dramatically expanding vehicles' self-driving capability, allowing owners to add their cars to Tesla's ride-sharing fleet to earn money while their owners are busy, he announced today.
"When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else en route to your destination," the CEO wrote on the company's blog, adding that the additional money generated by self-driving cars via ride-share could exceed the owner's monthly payment.
The automaker has faced intense scrutiny over the past few weeks following two collisions involving autopilot, a driver-assist program that uses cameras and radar to automatically change lanes, navigate traffic, and brake to avoid collision.
A 40-year-old Tesla enthusiast was killed in Florida in May when his Model S, driving on autopilot, crashed into a tractor-trailer it had failed to detect in its path. And earlier this month, a Model X on autopilot swerved off the road and struck a cable rail in Montana. (In that case, no one was injured, and Tesla says the driver did not have his hand on the wheel despite repeated alerts from the vehicle.)
Musk -- who has noted in the past that the Florida fatality was the first in more than 130 million miles of autopilot driving, outpacing the national average of one fatality per 94 million miles -- said in his "master plan" that it would be "morally reprehensible" to delay the release of features like autopilot.
"When used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability," the billionaire wrote.
However, even once the software's capabilities outpace the skills of a human driver, it may take regulators a long time to approve the program, Musk noted. Though additional benefits, like reduced traffic congestion and increased passenger capacity, could hasten adoption, the CEO still believes "worldwide regulatory approval" will require about 6 billion miles. Currently, fleets are driving about 3 million miles per day.
But autonomous driving isn't the only thing that has consumers -- and investors -- concerned. Some have claimed Musk, Solar City's chairman, overvalued the company, which has been struggling financially.