Travelers in the Southwest have a new all-electric option: long-distance car sharing in a Tesla with Autopilot. The service is called Tesloop, and it currently serves 15 cities in southern California, plus Henderson and Las Vegas in Nevada and Phoenix, Arizona.
The idea came to founder Haydn (one name only; probably because he’s still a minor) in May 2015, when he turned 16 and got his drivers license. He figured he could get a Tesla Model S 85D and drive people back and forth from Los Angeles to Las Vegas a couple times a week to cover the cost of insurance and the lease payment. Haydn presented the idea to Elon Musk at a Tesla shareholders meeting, and soon after he had a team of cofounders and seed money from Clearstone Ventures, plus angel investors from the likes of Tesla and Facebook. Tesloop was born.
It turns out it’s challenging if not impossible to get commercial insurance when you’re 16 years old and a new license holder yourself. The cofounders, who are all long out of high school, took on Pilot duties (that’s what Tesloop calls its drivers), and the company was then able to begin offering rides in July 2015. When he’s not in school, Haydn is now in charge of PR and fleet maintenance.
So far, that fleet is still just two Teslas strong, running regular trips between Las Vegas and the LA-Orange County area, usually for less than $100 one way. Tesloop is doing one trip per car, so four people per car per day, according to CEO Rahul Sonnad. This adds up to about 18,000 miles a month, and Sonnad says Tesloop is aiming for about 30,000 miles per month as trips increase and the fleet grows.
“We have demonstrated to our own satisfaction that the cost per mile to run electric vehicles is disruptive when you start to drive them continually,” Sonnad said in an email interview. “Your car cost and fuel cost really start to transform the overall economics.”
In order to keep those cars driving continually, Tesloop makes heavy use of the Model S Autopilot system. “Driving with Autopilot on makes the task nearly effortless and much safer,” Sonnad said. “I drive almost every weekend, and I find that I can go to Las Vegas and back and still be mentally sharp. By contrast, when I drive four or five hours in traffic without Autopilot, I am super tired and just want to chill out and watch TV afterwards. I also feel that there are many times where, had I not had Autopilot, the chance of an accident would have been much higher. You really don’t drift across lane lines or risk rear-ending the car in front of you when it’s on.”
Even though Autopilot is there to help, Tesloop’s drivers are still screened and interviewed, and they go through background and driving checks. They’re also trained on all the tech aspects of driving a Tesla; besides Autopilot, they learn about suspension and driving mode settings, for example.
Tesloop also makes sure the Pilots have good customer service sensibilities. Besides being an efficient and zero-emissions way to travel, Tesloop also wants it to be pleasant. It provides water, snacks, in-car WiFi, and even travel pillows. Because if you’re going to share a ride from LA to Las Vegas with strangers, it had better be comfy.