On Wednesday, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk reported solid earnings and the serial executive also discussed the company’s future, including a massive battery “gigafactory” and the upcoming third-generation Model X on a conference call. But perhaps the biggest news to come from Musk’s mouth came in another call with Bloomberg Television right after the earnings report, in which Musk claimed that Tesla would lead the way in nascent autonomous car technology, and also admitted to meeting with Apple about… something.
“We had conversations with Apple. I can’t comment on whether those revolved around any kind of acquisition,” Musk told Bloomberg’s Betty Liu.
When Liu pressed Musk on what advice he might give to Apple about getting into the car business, he responded “I’d probably tell them that I think it’s a great idea.”
Carmakers and Apple have been engaging in an ongoing tango of sorts for years now, with automotive OEMs generally struggling to keep up with the accelerated pace of innovation and iteration in the world of mobile devices, where development cycles may be only one quarter the length of the typical cycle for a new vehicle. However, Apple announced last year that it was hard at work on bringing its iOS mobile operating system into vehicles. At CES 2014 in Las Vegas this month, an Android-based initiative involving a number of automakers was also announced, so it would seem the time for the long-awaiting merging of the dashboard and mobile OS is near.
It’s long been thought that Tesla could be a logical first-mover for this true auto-mobile convergence, given its reliance on data for the efficient operation of its battery-powered vehicles. But if such a thing is in the works, neither company is likely to show their cards until such an effort is perfected, and given the reputations of both Musk and Apple for perfectionism, if the two were to team up, I might venture that nothing would ever be completed to the satisfaction of both.
To this point, Musk told Liu that Tesla had considered using Google’s Android in its cars early on, but at the time “it was too early in the life of Android.”
Musk made another interesting declaration in the Bloomberg interview that crosses over into Google territory, saying that he expects Tesla to be “the first company to market with significant autonomous driving function in the vehicles.”
Musk clarified that Tesla wasn’t necessarily working on a self-driving car like those Google has received so much press for over the years, but that he prefers the term “autopilot” like the function commonly used in aircraft. He explained that he sees a role for an autopilot function in vehicles that would allow the car to go into autonomous mode for a period of a time, but still require a driver to be able to take over control.
Musk said that such technology was not more than a few years away, with possible mass adoption within a 10-year timeframe.