‘Autonomy Is the Future,’ Says California Gov. Newsom

Newsom Touted Self-Driving Tech While Visiting Tesla’s Shanghai Plant
Tesla's Gigafactory in China
The Tesla Inc. Gigafactory in Shanghai. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News)

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SHANGHAI — In 30 years, California Gov. Gavin Newsom thinks we’ll wonder why we ever let human drivers on the road, he told reporters Oct. 29 after touring a Tesla car factory in Shanghai on his final day in China.

“Autonomy is the future,” California’s Democratic leader said. “I think we’re going to look back in 20, 30 years and go, ‘Why were we allowed to drive and allow 30,000-plus Americans to die every single year in accidents?’ ”

Newsom’s comments come less than a week after autonomous car company Cruise was suspended from operating its commercial robotaxi service after state regulators allege the company withheld information about a crash that seriously injured a pedestrian. Newsom said he absolutely supports the Department of Motor Vehicles’ decision to revoke the company’s ability to operate robotaxis in San Francisco.

“We have a very strong regulatory market. Just ask folks at Cruise,” he said. “We don’t want to cede the future to other countries, other states, but at the same time want to keep people safe.”

The issue has put Newsom in the middle of a fight between two of his key allies, technology companies and labor unions. He sided with the tech companies and against the unions in September when he vetoed a bill that would have banned autonomous trucks.

Gavin Newsom


Tesla’s cars have some self-driving capabilities, but the company’s claims about its cars’ ability to drive themselves have faced scrutiny from the DMV, and last year Newsom signed a law that effectively bans the company from advertising its vehicles as “Full Self-Driving.”

Newsom didn’t comment on the status of Tesla’s self-driving technology during the visit to the factory, though he commented generally about how he expects self-driving technology to become much more prevalent. He also said he expects flying cars to become a reality “soon.” He didn’t give a timeline, but said he had ridden in a flying taxi prototype created by the California company Joby Aviation.

In the Tesla factory, Newsom watched workers assemble cars, connecting the bodies to the chassis, installing the windows, doors and wheels, and driving the completed cars off the assembly line.

Song Gang, vice president of manufacturing for the Shanghai factory, showed the governor around, explaining how the company has worked to make the assembly line more efficient. Tesla says the compound is one of the most productive electric vehicle factories in the world.

Electric vehicles are a central part of Newsom’s clean energy plans. In 2020, Newsom signed an executive order to ban sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, which will require a major shift toward California consumers buying electric vehicles. The California Air Resources Board, which regulates car emissions, finalized the details of the policy last year. It makes an exception for plug-in hybrids, which use a combination of gas and electric power. Electric vehicles also were one of the focuses of his weeklong trip to China, which centered on efforts to combat climate change.


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After receiving criticism over planning to largely sidestep human rights issues in China on the trip, Newsom said he did raise concerns on the matter in meetings with top government officials in Beijing. Asked whether he had concerns over Tesla sourcing materials from a region of China where there are reports of widespread forced labor, he said he was not studied up enough on the issue to have an opinion.

As part of the factory visit, Newsom also test-drove an updated version of Tesla’s Model 3 car, which isn’t available yet in the United States. It was the second time during his weeklong trip to China that he got to test-drive a car, after he drove a hybrid with self-driving and floating abilities at an electric bus depot in Shenzhen.

Newsom, who typically is driven around by his security detail, clearly reveled in the opportunity to test out the new cars.

As he drove the shiny red Tesla past the line of cameras documenting his visit, he slowed down and flashed a toothy grin.

“See you in Shanghai,” he called out the window.

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