The great thing about offering features purely as software is that they can be activated and deactivated fairly easily. Tesla is taking advantage of that by offering one month free trials of its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system for customers who didn’t opt for it from the factory.
Every Tesla electric car built since later 2014 has the hardware for Autopilot, and like satellite radio or a telematics system, Tesla apparently hopes free trials will get owners hooked on a feature they may not think they need until they try it. Tesla is notifying customers of the free trial through messages on cars’ dashboard screens, according to a post by a Tesla owner on Reddit (via Autoblog).
The free trial enables all Autopilot features, including adaptive cruise control, automated steering, an automated lane-change function that allows drivers to switch lanes simply by flicking a turn-signal stalk, and Summon. The latter feature lets a car pull into and out of parking spaces without a driver onboard, and was added to cars through an over-the-air software update after the initial Autopilot launch.
Autopilot costs $2,500 if consumers specify it at the time of purchase, and $3,000 if they decide to add it to their cars later. So in addition to getting more Autopilot converts, Tesla scores an extra $500 per customer off those that choose to add Autopilot after sampling it with the free trial.
Having more owners use Autopilot benefits Tesla because it will help the carmaker further develop the system. When an Autopilot-equipped car traverses a given stretch of road, Tesla collects data that it uses to help familiarize the system with that stretch of road, which in turn lets the fleet collectively “learn” it.
Autopilot is certainly a remarkable technology, but it’s also an expensive option, especially considering that Tesla considers it to still be in the beta stage. A free trial allows drivers to not only experience the unusual feeling of being in a car that steers itself, something that can be accomplished on a short test drive, but also to see whether Autopilot will actually prove useful in their daily lives.