A variety of automakers have begun selling “semi-autonomous vehicles,” but you’ll have to wait probably five years to buy a fully autonomous one—the kind that can drive you everywhere while you read a book by the wheel. At least, that’s what many car companies are predicting.
Telsa Motors CEO Elon Musk, on the other hand, believes his company’s fully autonomous cars will arrive in just a few years. Regulations allowing them on the road could take between one to five years, depending on the jurisdiction, he predicts.
That’s yet another notch down in Musk’s ever-shortening timeline. In September he told Danish news site Borsen he expects the company to have self-driving vehicles ready in three years. And one year before that, the company released a statement projecting the technology would be completed in “five or six years.”
Musk might not be incorrect. In October his company became the first automaker to sell semi-autonomous vehicles commercially. But his competitors are being more conservative in their predictions.
Ford CEO Mark Fields told Forbes in June that he expects “someone” to make fully autonomous cars ready for consumer purchase “within the next five years,” but declined to say that Ford would hit that deadline.
It’s possible that the exact dates are irrelevant—car companies must do more than perfect the technology behind fully autonomous driving. They also need to work with governments to set regulations, and figure out how to get the vehicles into consumers’ garages.
Even if Tesla releases the perfect self-driving car before its competitors do, that doesn’t mean its vehicles will outsell others. The self-driving car might be closer than it appears, but its popularization remains distant.