VW will sell you self-driving for $8.50/hour some day. Too high or too low?


A VW executive suggested they might sell you a real self-driving function (when they have it) for around $8.50 per hour, as opposed to paying for it in a lump sum when you buy the car as Tesla plans.

What are the economics like of buying self-driving by the hour?

Read about that in my Forbes.com article at VW will sell you self-driving for $8.50/hour some day. Too high or too low?


That price would be awesome if it was available today, especially if it was available when the car had no human in it. I wouldn't use it all the time, but on those occasions when I would most benefit from it, $8.50/hour would be great, if it was available today.

I suspect the price will quickly drop once it does become available, though. This will relatively quickly become a commodity that every car company will offer for a very low cost, I think.

As for whether or not people "value their time more than minimum wage," I don't think that's really a good way of looking at it. You're not really buying time by having your car drive for you, at least not necessarily. Lots of driving is solo driving, so you're not gaining time to socialize (and how much more can you socialize when not driving as when you are driving?). The ability to stare out the window may not be very advantageous, or even advantageous at all. Like a lot of people, I usually listen to the news when I'm commuting to/from work, and I can do this just as effectively whether I'm driving or not. If you can get work done and thereby spend less time at your actual job, that would probably be most valuable, as you could use that saved time on virtually anything. But that may or may not be possible. Is your boss going to let you go home an hour early if you work in the car for a half hour each way while commuting? If you can work in your car so effectively, why do you have to commute every day in the first place? (Maybe there's a reason. Maybe there isn't.) There are a lot of factors. Just saying that $8.50/hour is less than minimum wage is oversimplistic.

I think a lot of people would only use it occasionally at that price, like I would. I would love the ability to go on a day-trip somewhere an hour away and not have to worry about being too tired to safely drive home after a long day, for only $8.50 (or $17 if I use it both ways, although if I had good TACC/lanekeeping for free I maybe wouldn't use it in the morning when I'm fresh and awake). For my daily commute? Nah. To pick up my groceries? Maybe. If it took 20 minutes for the car to drive to the grocery store, pop the trunk, let the grocery store workers put the food into the car, and then drive the groceries home to me, for $3, I guess that's a good deal. (But by the time that's available, I bet the grocery store will offer delivery cheaper than that, as it'll have its own robodeliveryvehicles.)

If you have this while it's on you can work (especially in today's world of remote work) or do leisure (watch videos, read books, fiddle about online in blogs, and do phone and video calls.) So I think it's very much time recovered. Today you can only do music or other audio, and phone calls, and even the latter has risks.

I never listen to the news when not in a car. I read it or watch it.

And yes, your boss is indeed going to let you leave work an hour early for your hour commute. Or get in an hour late. Google does this with their commuter bus, that's one reason people love them. You get on the bus, there is wifi,there are tables, sometimes there are even co-workers. A private car is even better as you can talk loudly. The main issue is the bus is a big shaky to work on a laptop, so people mostly do stuff on tablets.

I would use it a lot. I live 45-90 minutes (traffic) from San Francisco and I often make the decision about going there for a social event based on that round trip drive time. While the cost of the ride is still a factor (less so in electric car) I would definitely be more willing to do it if I could pay $15 to have the car do the driving. I might not bother for a 10 minute local drive around here, but any drive over 30 minutes I would definitely consider it.

There is an event down in LA (7 hour drive) this weekend I probably won't go. I probably would if we could pay $50 for the car to drive itself each way. The main barrier is that cars are still a bit bumpy so you can't spend 7 hours working on a computer in them.

You have a long commute. Probably well above average. I have a relatively short commute. Somewhat below average.

I'm not going to work during my commute. For the 10 minutes I spend in the car, in a cramped space with a tiny screen, I'd get close to nothing done.

I'd probably do relatively useless stuff like what I'm doing right now, which is not worth anything close to $8.50/hour. Or maybe just listen to the radio, which is what

I sometimes listen to the news when I'm not in a car. Almost always it's because I'm listening to something in the car and then get home, so I pop up the streaming app on my phone so I don't have to sit in the car in my driveway for a long time, burning gas or sweating from the lack of AC. I also sometimes listen to the PBS News Hour (on YouTube) while cooking or doing something else that requires less than my full attention. It's technically video, but I rarely watch it as the video tends to be fairly useless. But importantly, if I didn't get my daily dose of mainstream news through the radio, I'd probably have to take the time to get it some other way.

If I could get 30 minutes of productive work done on my commute, and therefore get home 30 minutes earlier and be able to start dinner 30 minutes earlier, etc., that would be very valuable.

But I can't. My workspace in my car would never allow me to be anywhere near as productive as at work (or at home). Unlike most people I am my own boss, so that's not an issue, but I won't allow myself to go home early every day. Someone needs to be in the office in case someone stops by. I'm not changing my business hours to be completely out of sync with the rest of the world.

Moreover, if I could leave early every day and do my work in my car, then I could leave early every day and do my work at home. If my work could easily be done from anywhere, then I wouldn't have to commute in the first place.

For sure the world is moving in this direction. Hopefully one day my home will be my primary office, and I'll just hop in the robocar for face-to-face meetings at some mutually convenient location that I rent by the hour or use for free. Seems reasonable, but we're not there yet. At least, I'm not there yet, and most of the world isn't there yet (though much of the world is getting closer).

When I say it isn't time recovered, I'm referring to the fact that time is not completely fungible. Sometimes it's worth $8.50/hour not to have to pay attention to the road. Sometimes it isn't. I think that's true for the vast majority of people, though the degree varies a lot.

I think it's important to clarify that I'm talking about how I'd use the service in the immediate future. Over time, robocar technologies are going to completely change how we do business. They're also going to completely change where people live. I have a short commute today in large part because I don't have a robocar. If I had a robocar, I'd immediately start looking for a house in a more rural area. Over a longer period of time, I'd be looking for a way to abandon my office lease. I'm actually already looking at rural real estate, both zoned residential and zoned for a small office. (Even if I was ready to go virtual, I might keep a very small office in the short term, as it's a pain to be completely virtual in my industry.) Preferably I can find one place zoned for both residential and small office that is less expensive than one zoned for residential and one zoned for small office. But until I've got the robocar, it's going to have to be a second home/office.

Why not take a bus to LA?

I currently work from home. But people in Silicon Valley often travel to San Francisco both for work and for social events, and I would definitely use it then.

Not everybody can spend their commute time working, of course. Though a lot of jobs have an hour of time each day spent simply in meetings, talking to other employees -- and today, more and more of that has become video calling due to WFH and distributed companies. I can do a video meeting in a car if it's got a good suspension (something that will be more true in dedicated robocars where there is no need for the driver to feel the road.)

And a large fraction of the world spends much more than an hour watching videos, dicking around online or reading. Which many people can do in a car, though some get uncomfortable.

So will absolutely everybody be able to use it? No. But a lot will.

I don't think many people are going to be doing video meetings during their commutes. In addition to a car not being a good environment to hold a video call, trying to coordinate the timing of video calls to accommodate this would be impossible.

Yes, many people will spend time watching videos, dicking around online or reading during their commutes, if they are able to. And in a great many cases this will likely serve mainly to increase the amount of time each day that they spend watching videos, dicking around online or reading.

It'll be nice to have self-driving cars, but not worth $8.50/hour for all driving scenarios.

The great thing about being able to pay per hour, or per mile (I think I'd prefer per mile) is that you won't have to use it all the time. You can use it when you're drunk, or tired, or to park at home after you drop yourself off at the airport, or to pick up your kids, or whatever. Places where you either use a taxi, or would use a taxi if the price of a taxi for a long trip made a little more sense.

If a taxi cost only $8.50/hour, or if somehow I could magically teleport a taxi driver to my vehicle, pay them $8.50/hour, and then magically teleport them home when I'm done, I'd use a taxi a lot more, especially for long trips.

With that said, I think prices will come down very quickly, to much less than $8.50 an hour. At least, once truly autonomous technologies come out. For partly-autonomous cars, which require trained humans working in a remote facility somewhere, per-hour pricing makes sense, and prices will likely stay relatively high.

While the price will come down, this price (which many have expressed as reasonable) may not be too far off. The average American, driving 10K miles or roughly 250 hours (again, average, depends where you drive) might not do more than 100 self-driving hours a year, costing $850 which is pretty cheap for this level of car function.

As for video calls and other things, I am imagining vehicles much more designed for that than traditional cars. Indeed, they would have a video call station in them, with a motion stabilized camera, background remover etc. You will just put in your earbuds, sit back in the chair and look at the screen, also using your tablet or laptop (which is on a desk) for other things during the call as we like to do. You also might not be on video.

As for scheduling it, I imagine it like many phone calls I have had where during the course of the call the person switched from being at a desk, to walking to being in a car. There might be no video during the walking. You might not schedule the call to match the ride.

In the early days of cell phones a lot of people decided that driving was the time of day they did their phone calls, since that's the only business thing you can do while driving. People are more wary of that.

The price is very reasonable if you're only going to use it occasionally. It'll come down, in my opinion, because of competition. I don't see how these companies making self-driving car software are going to be able to protect their intellectual property. Patents are about the only thing that could be effective, and I don't see any crucial software patents right now that can't be worked around. Relying on the demand-side for price only works if you have some monopoly power, and without intellectual property rights I don't see where that monopoly power will come from. Maybe regulations. But so far the regulations are relatively light, at least in some states, and I'm hopeful that it'll stay that way. If a new startup get can a foothold by undercutting the big players in a state with few regulations, they can they expand to the states with more regulations and undercut the bigger players there as well.

If we can take out the human element (rescue vans and central monitoring stations), self-driving tech will quickly (several years, but not several decades) become ubiquitous, like airbags, or at least like cruise control. Whether it's more like airbags or more like cruise control depends, I guess, if courts/congress recognize that it's fundamentally a safety feature. (If they do, then car companies simply won't be able to charge by the hour for it. The first lawsuit claiming that a fatal crash would have been prevented had self-driving not been intentionally disabled will wake car manufacturers up to that, if nothing else. Imagine if you had to pay by the hour to activate airbags in your car.

Look at what Tesla did with TACC and autosteer. They don't even charge extra for it any more. It'll probably bother a lot of people if they ever offer FSD for no-additional-cost, but I could see it happening eventually, at least for a limited version of FSD (TACC, autosteer, and traffic light awareness everywhere).

Putting a sophisticated video call station in your car is possible, but I doubt many people will do that. It doesn't make sense for many people, when they can just have the meeting during normal business hours, when they'll likely either be at home working from home or at the office.

A 30 minute commute is also useful downtime. In that sense, maybe it'll be worth $8.50/hour for many people who have stressful commutes, just to be able to relax during that 30 minutes twice a day. I guess I underestimated that, since my own commute is relatively stress-free (especially nowwdays - traffic still hasn't yet come back to pre-pandemic levels, though it's also summer so maybe traffic will return when school's back in session). But in the past I have had much more stressful commutes, and maybe would have paid to eliminate the stress. ADAS is going to be available much less expensively that will also greatly reduce the stress. I was skeptical at first about the value of TACC/autosteer, but I find it extremely stress reducing to not have to worry much about keeping my lane in heavy traffic on the highway.

For a certain component of the population, which is definitely not me, they are able to sleep just about anywhere, including easily in a moving car, even with seats that don't recline, but better when they do.

For commuters, the ability to catch an extra hour of sleep would be highly valuable. In particular, today around here you can get a house for 1/3rd the price if you are willing to tolerate that 90 minute commute and get up early in the morning. But for those who sleep easily, they might find great value in that. They may or may not also sleep on the return commute, but could chill, watch TV or yes, do meetings and work depending on the ride quality.

Many people of course get upset when they hear this, because it does mean adding a lot of VMT and potential congestion, so it can't become a major mode. (With electric cars it need not add emissions, nor congestion on the rural roads.)

Of course also possible are sleeper vans that are nothing but beds in the morning that take 8 people along the shared part of their route. Those would reduce congestion.

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