NEW YORK — Self-driving Tesla cars are coming to American roads by this summer, Elon Musk, chief executive of the automaker, said Thursday.
Musk said that a software update scheduled for release in about three months would give Model S Tesla sedans the ability to start driving themselves, which the company refers to as autopilot mode.
Once updated, the cars will be able to navigate highways and major roads without the driver’s touching the wheel or pedals. Musk said in a conference call that the self-driving technology was “technically capable of going from parking lot to parking lot,” meaning through cities as well. But, he said, Tesla will disable the autopilot when cars are not on highways or major roads, citing safety concerns.
The cars can also be summoned to the driver via smartphone and can go park themselves in a garage or elsewhere. That feature will be allowed only on private property for now, Musk said.
He said Tesla had been testing its autopilot on a route from San Francisco to Seattle, with company drivers letting the car navigate the West Coast largely unassisted.
Musk also revealed on Thursday that a software update within the next two weeks would give Tesla owners a new set of active safety features, including automatic emergency braking and blind-spot and side-collision warnings. Also to be added are tools to help drivers monitor the status of charging stations and plot routes to ensure the ability to complete a trip without running out of battery power.
The move is intended to help reduce “range anxiety,” the fear drivers have that they will run out of juice, prompting them to constantly calculate distances and worry about being stranded. The Model S sedan has a range that starts at just over 200 miles for the base model. Other automakers have plans to match those numbers in the coming years.
Musk said Thursday that he believed 200 miles was a “minimum threshold” that consumers would accept but that pushing beyond 300 miles was unnecessary.
The company won a major victory in New Jersey on Wednesday, when Governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill allowing Tesla to sell directly to customers.
Musk has been outspoken about his desire to bypass traditional dealerships. Last year, Christie banned Tesla from selling its cars directly, but indicated he would reverse the policy if the state Legislature passed a bill to allow such sales. The Legislature recently passed a bill granting automakers with zero-emission vehicles the ability to sell vehicles directly.