Ever since 2016, Tesla has been saying that all of their cars “have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability.” Now, I may not be a brain-genius like Elon Musk, but that sure sounds like everyone who bought a Tesla between that announcement in 2016 and today would have a car with everything it needed for “full self-driving.” These Tesla buyers, like most people, probably are of the opinion that you really only need to buy something one time to own it. Tesla, however, seems to have a different idea about what words mean.
The conflict with the concept of “buying” and “ownership” arises with Tesla’s announcement that the company will now offer their Full Self-Driving capability (which, it’s worth mentioning, is in no way fully self-driving, since you have to be ready to take over at a moment’s notice, which is inherently a bad idea) as a subscription service.
Previously, the only way to get the FSD system—which, it’s also worth mentioning, is still in Beta and has yet to see a “final” release—was by paying a fee of $10,000.
The subscription is $199 if you’re upgrading from Tesla’s Basic Autopilot to FSD, or $99 if you’re upgrading from Enhanced Autopilot. Now, what you’re subscribing to is software that runs on the FSD computer inside the car that uses Tesla-designed, Samsung-built chips that manage the neural-network arrays.
This Tesla-designed hardware, known as FSD computer v. 3.0, was introduced in 2019; prior to that, Tesla was using an FSD computer with Nvidia silicon. If an owner has a car with the Nvidia-based computer, Tesla says an upgrade is needed:
If your vehicle has Full Self-Driving computer 3.0 or above, plus Basic Autopilot or Enhanced Autopilot, you are eligible to subscribe to FSD capability. Check your Autopilot configuration from your vehicle’s touchscreen by selecting ‘Controls’ > ‘Software’ > ‘Additional Vehicle Information.’
Hardware upgrades to the Full Self-Driving computer are not included with Full Self-Driving capability subscriptions. To be eligible for FSD capability subscriptions, the FSD computer must be installed in your vehicle. To install the FSD computer, schedule an installation appointment from the Tesla app.
In the past, Tesla has upgraded owner’s FSD computers for no fee, making good on their assurance that anyone buying a car after 2016 would have all the hardware they need to run their FSD system:
Tesla cars with Full Self-Driving Capability and Autopilot Computer 2.0 or 2.5 are eligible for a complimentary upgrade to the FSD Computer. Schedule your installation from the Tesla app by selecting ‘Schedule Service’ > ‘Accessories’ > ‘Upgrades & Installations’ and add ‘FSD Computer Upgrade’ in the description.
Now, though, it seems that Tesla wants owners to pay for something they were told they already had:
Are hardware upgrades included with my FSD capability subscription?
No. If you do not have the Full Self-Driving computer, schedule your hardware installation from the Tesla app by selecting ‘Schedule Service’ > ‘Accessories’ > ‘Upgrades & Accessories’ > ‘Full Self-Driving computer.’
How much do owners need to pay for the hardware capabilities that they were told they already had? Well, pretty much what you’d pay for any decent computer, $1,500. From Tesla’s app:
Now, I absolutely understand that computer hardware advances at dramatic rates, and a machine from 2016 can be considered a relic when it comes to running the latest, most demanding software. I get why Tesla may need to upgrade the hardware here, but what I don’t get is why they think people will just forget that they said this:
We are excited to announce that, as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory – including Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.
To make sense of all of this data, a new onboard computer with more than 40 times the computing power of the previous generation runs the new Tesla-developed neural net for vision, sonar and radar processing software. Together, this system provides a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses.
Here’s a screenshot, in case it disappears:
Anyone shopping for a Tesla from 2016 to 2019—not that long ago—who was concerned about whether or not their cars would have what it takes to run the latest versions of Tesla’s (again, not really) Full Self-Driving system would have read that “All Tesla Cars Being Produced Now Have Full Self-Driving Hardware” and likely thought, huh, the car I’m going to buy has Full Self-Driving hardware, and they’d be totally within reason to think this is true, because Tesla themselves told them so.
Charitably, this is some bullshit.
It’s not surprising that the hardware may need to be upgraded, but you can’t sell someone an expensive car and say it’s got everything it needs for a feature, and then later try to sell them everything it needs for that feature, because that’s selling the same something to someone twice. And there’s a lot of somethings involved—there’s plenty of Teslas out there built between 2016 and 2019.
It doesn’t matter if it’s technically different hardware; Tesla sold their cars as being capable, and people paid their own good money for that capability. It’s not like Tesla’s statements had any qualifiers or anything like that; Tesla said All Tesla Cars Being Produced Now Have Full Self-Driving Hardware, not All Tesla Cars Being Produced Now Might Have Full Self-Driving Hardware But Maybe Not, Guess You’ll Have To Wait And See?
Tesla needs to just eat the cost to upgrade their customers cars, and do so without being pissy about it, because they did this to themselves. Nobody forced them to make such a sweeping claim in 2016; in fact, I’m surprised that they didn’t get more blowback on this when it happened.
In fact, as soon as the new Tesla-silicon computers were introduced in 2019, the right thing to do would have been to make right on their claim and upgrade everyone’s hardware that they sold as being fully capable. In that light, just upgrading the hardware for people who decide to subscribe to this still-unfinished FSD system that is not, again a true FSD system and likely never will be, is getting off cheap.
Tesla owners are some of the most dedicated and loyal car owners anywhere, for any brand. Tesla needs to stop treating them like magical money-dispensing garbage.