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February 8, 2018 12:30 PM, EST
Autonomous Coast-to-Coast Tesla Trip Past Deadline, Still Coming
Tesla Inc. Model X P100D sports utility vehicles sit on display at the company's new showroom in New York. Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg News

Tesla Inc. hasn’t thrown its plan to demonstrate an autonomous cross-country drive out the window — it’s just tapped the brakes.

CEO Elon Musk said a self-driving Tesla will attempt the trip from Los Angeles to New York in the next three to six months after missing the deadline he set for late 2017. The autonomous capability will then become available to customers, he said.

“We could have done the coast-to-coast drive but it would have required too much specialized code to effectively game it,” Musk said on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call Feb. 7. Although the electric-car maker would have been able to pull it off, the solution would have been “somewhat brittle in that it would work for one particular route but not be a general solution.”

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Tesla’s Autopilot program has been going through a period of upheaval, with three division leaders in roughly a year. Amid the talent churn and a disclosure that Tesla didn’t test any autonomous cars on California’s public roads last year, investors have been wondering if the company — which doesn’t use lidar — has the hardware necessary to deliver on its promises.

Musk tried to put the issue to bed Feb. 7, reiterating his long-held belief that lidar — which uses laser beams to sense surroundings — is inferior to Tesla’s system of cameras, radars and ultrasonic sensors. Lidar is the tool of choice for most competitors in the self-driving race, including Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and General Motors Co.’s Cruise Automation.

“They’re going to have a whole bunch of expensive equipment, most of which makes the car expensive, ugly and unnecessary. And I think they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage,” he said, calling lidar “a crutch” that rivals will have a hard time giving up.

“Perhaps I’m wrong, in which case I’ll look like a fool,” he said. “But I am quite certain I’m not.”