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, or 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. 

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.

Each state handles robotaxi regulation differently, and it’s possible that Tesla could seek to launch a service without California, although it would mean cutting out a major market. Tesla was the No. 2 seller of new cars and light trucks in the state last year, with 230,589 new registrations, behind only Toyota, according to a report from the California New Car Dealers Association. 

Musk hinted at his plans in a brief post late Friday afternoon on X, writing: “Tesla Robotaxi unveil on 8/8.” 

He gave no details about his plans, but the post boosted the morale of Tesla fans on social media who had watched the company get battered in the business media and on Wall Street. Three days earlier, Tesla shares fell after the company reported a drop in deliveries, but on Monday, the next trading day after Musk’s post, Tesla’s share price rose 4.9%, Reuters reported

Tesla message boards have been rife with speculation about what Musk’s August announcement would be. It’s not even clear whether Musk plans to announce a vehicle, a service or something else. 

Musk has talked about a robotaxi service for years. In 2019, he discussed plans to launch a robotaxi fleet using Tesla vehicles that people had leased and then returned. That strategy would have shifted the startup costs of building a fleet — in particular, the depreciation costs — to leaseholders, drivers and analysts noted at the time

Musk has also talked about a robotaxi service with decentralized ownership, in which Tesla owners could rent out their cars for fares. 

Tesla may need authorization from various states or localities to operate a nationwide robotaxi fleet. 

In Arizona, Waymo and Cruise have permits from the state Transportation Department to operate as “transportation network companies.” The department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Tesla has applied or would need to apply. 

Cruise, which also obtained California permits for a robotaxi service, halted operations nationwide last year after one of its cars in San Francisco failed to detect a pedestrian pinned underneath it and then dragged her for 20 feet. California officials also accused Cruise of failing to properly disclose details of the incident, and they revoked Cruise’s permits. Cruise said this week it was resuming testing with human drivers. 

Amazon subsidiary Zoox has said it has authorization from Nevada to operate a robotaxi service, which hasn’t launched. Nevada has a “self-certification” process for robotaxi operations, and the Nevada DMV says it will issue a “certificate of compliance” to those eligible.

The Nevada DMV has not received paperwork from Tesla to begin the certification process, said Eli Rohl, a department spokesperson, but he said the process doesn’t need to take long. 

“If Tesla was interested in getting certified or permitted in Nevada, they could likely do so in short order,” he said in an email. 

Tesla already has a rocky relationship with California regulators. In 2022, the California DMV accused it of engaging in deceptive practices around the marketing of its driver assistance systems, including using the product name “Full Self-Driving.” An administrative hearing in that matter is scheduled for September. 

Source: | This article originally belongs to Nbcnews.com

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