Tesla’s Robotaxi Plans Face Regulatory Hurdles in California

Tesla’s Robotaxi Plans Face Regulatory Hurdles in California Tesla’s Robotaxi Plans Face Regulatory Hurdles in California

SAN FRANCISCO — Two California agencies that regulate robotaxis said they haven’t heard from Tesla about its plans for the cars, even though Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced last week that he’ll reveal a new robotaxi product in August.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Public Utilities Commission CPUC said in separate statements to NBC News that Tesla hadn’t applied for the two permits it would need to operate a driverless car service in the country’s most populous state.

Two other states that regulate robotaxis, Arizona and Nevada, also said they had not heard from Tesla about its plans.

The lack of permits — or any attempt to acquire them — raises questions about how quickly Tesla would be able to get a robotaxi service up and running.

“Tesla’s a long way away from getting that approval,” said Brad Templeton, a consultant in the autonomous vehicle industry.

Representatives for Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

California, which has been ground zero for the rollout of robotaxis, requires aspiring robotaxi services to obtain at least two permits.

The DMV handles permits to deploy autonomous equipment on the road, and Tesla currently has the lowest-level permit, allowing it to test autonomous vehicles with human drivers present. Only three companies have the highest-level permit, which allows them to deploy autonomous vehicles without human drivers.

“Tesla has not applied for a deployment permit with the DMV,” the department said in a statement in response to questions.

If Tesla were to deploy robotaxis that are autonomous, it added, “the DMV will take steps to make certain that Tesla operates under the appropriate autonomous vehicle permits.”

The CPUC handles permits to operate robotaxis as businesses, including for tech startup Waymo’s services in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Tesla has no CPUC permit and hasn’t applied, the commission said.

“If Tesla wanted to provide a robotaxi service they’d need to follow the same rules as other such companies i.e., DMV approval for driverless testing/deployment before seeking a CPUC permit. The CPUC has not been contacted for such a permit,” the commission said in a statement in response to questions.

Waymo, a spinoff of Google, needed eight months to get its initial CPUC permit to operate a robotaxi business that could charge fares, as opposed to offering free test rides only. It applied in December 2022 and won approval in August.

Templeton said it’s possible Tesla’s timeline for approval could be shorter than eight months — or longer.

“It could also be that they think Tesla is premature and they never approve it,” he said. Templeton is a former member of Google’s self-driving car team, which became Waymo, but he left a decade ago and said he no longer has ties to the company.

Tesla has approached the challenge of self-driving technology differently from Waymo, for example. Tesla has relied less on expensive hardware sensors such as LiDAR, and it has deployed driver assistance systems in stages nationwide while Waymo and General Motors subsidiary Cruise focused on mastering small geographic areas, such as parts of the Phoenix and San Francisco metro areas.

Tesla does not yet have publicly released technology for a car to drive without human supervision. Its “full self-driving” product requires a human driver to be present and ready to take over at any time.