Robotaxis Won’t Be a Real Business for at Least Five Years

One man’s opinion. Differing business plan than Tesla’s.

Self-driving taxis won’t be a significant business for at least five years, Xpeng Vice Chairman and Co-President Brian Gu said Thursday.

While robotaxis will be transformative for mobility if they become prevalent, “to have a real, full-fledged commercial operation. I think it’s more than 5 years away,” Gu told reporters on the sidelines of the Beijing auto show.

“Right now it’s not something that we are considering when we are launching and planning the sales,” he said.

Xpeng, a China-based electric car startup that is also selling in Europe, has made driver-assist software one of its selling points.


Thanks for the good news. Just don’t change your mind! You’ll have plenty time to play ketchup.

The Captain

Two tomatoes are taking a walk. As one lingers the other one calls out, “Come on, ketchup!”


That seems right. I mean, robotaxis exist today - you can grab a driverless Waymo in LA and go from Downtown to Santa Monica right now, if you want to. But we’re a very long way from having any regulatory framework that would allow them to be deployed at large scale.

Catch up to who? The gating for robotaxis - at least in the U.S. and Europe - is almost certainly going to be regulatory. It’s going to take years and years before regulators are comfortable with widespread deployment of robotaxis. Despite Musk’s naivete, it’s going to take a lot more than just an automakers’ internal data on overall safety to get past that hurdle.


Ok if you say so.

** * 23 states have passed laws allowing AV testing and/or deployment, according to the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association.**

** * A handful of others, particularly in the Northeast, allow testing, while 13 have no AV-related statutes.**

Remember that article that was posted originally has nothing to do with the World, only China. But if you want to follow China I suspect it’s probably a fine example.



Exactly. Testing. You can get permission for testing an autonomous vehicle. You can get permission to operate pilot programs for AV fleets in various places - all of which are subject to significant reporting requirements, operational limitations (like no highway driving), and geographic constraints. So that the regulators can see how your proposed system functions as an AV system in the real world. That’s the gating.

And states only have jurisdiction over motor vehicle operation. Design of motor vehicles is in the purview of the NHTSA, whose approval of an exemption is needed before you can make or sell a car that doesn’t have a steering wheel or brakes or mirrors. No vehicle for carrying passengers has ever been granted an exemption.
The requests from GM/Cruise have been under review for years, and drew a formal objection from the Teamsters Union. NHTSA only has a limited ability to grant those exemptions (two years and only 2,500 vehicles), and all of the efforts to change that and allow easier and permanent AV approvals have died in Congress.

The regulators aren’t going to let someone turn on a “real business” scale AV system without years of pilot programs and testing (so that the regulators can independently monitor and review how the safety data is assembled). The idea that regulators are just going to let a company - any company - just “turn on autonomy” and convert a “gigantic fleet” of cars to self-driving all at once is quite fanciful.

Musk’s statement during the earnings call - “I actually do not think that there will be significant regulatory barriers provided, there was conclusive data that the autonomous car is safer than a human-driven car.” - reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how regulatory barriers actually work. I don’t know whether he actually believes this is true, of course. He’s more of an engineer in perspective and disdains regulators, so it’s entirely possible he believes it. But regardless, it’s wrong.


You need to read that again. It says testing and/or deployment.

Now I am not a lawyer but to me, the layman, deployment means I can test then deploy them on the street. Where am I getting that wrong? If I can deploy that means I can put them out there.


Sure. As I mentioned in my earlier post, you can take a driverless taxi from Santa Monica to Downtown LA today. Robotaxis exist.

But you’re subject to all kinds of restrictions, limitations, and conditions. And those are significant enough to keep robotaxis from being a “real business.” We’re not going to see a regulatory environment in the next five years that allows deployment without significant restrictions, limitations, and conditions (at least, not in the U.S. or Europe). So they’re going to keep any robotaxi deployment super-tiny for the intermediate term.

And of course, it’s illegal everywhere in the U.S. to have a passenger-carrying vehicle on the public roads that lacks a steering wheel or pedals or mirrors. States can regulate operations, but under federal law all motor vehicles have to physically include all the equipment to allow them to be driven by a person. Which has its own limiting effect on adoption of AV’s.

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You sure about that?

As of now, seven states—Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia —do not require a driver behind the wheel or for the driver to be licensed if they are, providing that vehicle is deemed to be SAE Level 4 or 5 capable

So you are saying that they can be deployed? Interesting.


U.S. clears way for driverless vehicles without steering wheels (



Could you provide me a link to where that’s coming from? I know there are states where their statutes are silent as to AV’s - I wasn’t aware there were any that had granted blanket approval for them.

Of course. As I’ve mentioned several times, Waymo has deployed driverless rides in LA (and other cities) subject to numerous limitations and restrictions.

As for the CNBC article, I can’t find anywhere that says that the rule was actually adopted. GM’s petition to have the FMVSS waiver for the Origin is still pending, and the Teamsters filed a petition opposing it last fall - so the standards must still be in effect:


Sure here is one from Florida.

Under the 2020 Florida Statue § 316.85, “a licensed human operator is not required to operate a fully autonomous vehicle,” and “a fully autonomous vehicle may operate in this state regardless of whether a human operator is physically present in the vehicle


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From the opening paragraph of your link (note the bold section):

The Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Steven S. Cliff, Ph.D., signed the following final rule on March 10, 2022, which the Agency is submitting for publication in the Federal Register. While NHTSA has taken steps to ensure the accuracy of this Internet version of the final rule, it is not the official version of the final rule. Please refer to the official version in a forthcoming Federal Register publication, which will appear on the Government Printing Office’s FDSys website (GovInfo | U.S. Government Publishing Office) and on ( Once the official version of this document is published in the Federal Register, this version will be removed from the Internet and replace dwith a link to the official version.

Additionally, I went to the relevant section of the link and it is not clear that the story on this is accurate. In other words, I think the reporting may be wrong. Start reading around page 30. This seems to be more about clarifying terms than it is about legalizing vehicles without any method of manual steering.

For example, from page 32:

NHTSA does not agree with Tesla that it is necessary at this time that the definition for manually operated driving controls account for the use of tablets or cell phones to control the vehicle. The new definition is meant to encompass traditional driving controls, not future controls that have not yet been developed. We also note that this rulemaking does not address joystick-type designs that are intended to be the only manual driving control or driving controls that have no fixed position at a particular seating location. Since this issue raises crash avoidance and crashworthiness safety concerns that are beyond the scope of this rulemaking action, we will not address the matter in this final rule.30


That’s possible but it seems they are looking at it and trying to figure it out while states are actually putting forth laws. I suspect the first ones will have a way for someone to take over but after they are proven out all of the controls will go away. After all this is incremental not all at once.


Under one of the subsections:

When an alert is given, the system must require the licensed human operator to take control of the autonomous vehicle or must achieve a minimal risk condition. The term “minimal risk condition” means a reasonably safe state, such as bringing the vehicle to a complete stop and activating the vehicle’s hazard lamps.


Means no robotaxi. If my unlicensed 16 yr old daughter can’t take control or otherwise reasonably activate some system to bring it to a complete stop, it fails this requirement.

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Can your 16 year old daughter hit a button?

But I get your point I am sure they will have age limits at first. I mean you wouldn’t want someone who is irresponsible to put their child in the car when they can’t even understand that if the car has problems they need to hit a button. But I am sure the vehicle would be able to pull over on it’s own. I mean we are talking autonomous.


I will copy it again:

require the licensed human operator to take control of the autonomous vehicle or must achieve a minimal risk condition.

She is not a licensed operator. Even if one were to read this as not needing someone licensed to simply “hit a button” this won’t be authorized to be a taxi because a non-zero number of people that use a taxi or other pay service are doing so because they are legally impaired/intoxicated.

Thanks for the Florida link. So there might be a few states where they could roll it out. I think that changes after the first newsworthy accident, but it’s certainly allowed now (the “come to a safe stop” provision applies to the automated driver system, not a human taking over).

Wouldn’t a button that you push like in an elevator achieve minimal risk condition? Realize that all risk can not be eliminated.

So if you are not a licensed operator then maybe you shouldn’t be in the robo taxi? I mean if you are going to set rules that require someone to be licensed. Also if you are legally impaired isn’t that on you? Like I said this world isn’t completely safe. I mean we do give intoxicated people knives and guns.


You welcome. I think this is moving faster than anyone of us thinks it is. But it seems to be going the route of Marijuana. Approval in the state and then moving to federal.


Here is the Georgia statute.

A person may operate a fully autonomous vehicle with the automated driving system engaged without a human driver being present in the vehicle, provided that such vehicle:…Georgia Code § 40-8-11 (2022) - Operational Rules for Autonomous Vehicles; State Consumer Laws Applicable :: 2022 Georgia Code :: US Codes and Statutes :: US Law :: Justia

The UAE seems to be leading the way as well:

Well, it’s been almost thirty years since the first state legalization of marijuana (California in 1996), and it’s still illegal at the federal level. So perhaps not the most optimistic comparison!