Israel’s First Tesla Auto Won’t Have Anyone Behind the Wheel

A single Tesla’s Model S luxury electric car is expected to arrive in Israel next month, The Marker has learned.

Emile Salman

Mobileye, the Israeli vision technology company that has developed collision avoidance systems, recently received Transportation Ministry approval to import one vehicle to test a driverless navigation system as part of its effort to develop such a system for Tesla and other manufacturers. The system is not designed to totally replace involvement by people in driving the car and would only be activated for portions of the time the car is on the road. It is not comparable to a system that Google has developed, which requires no driver involvement.

Mobileye has declined to comment for this report, but it appears that the company’s collaboration with Tesla would ultimately seek to provide a totally driverless navigation system. The founder of California-based Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, has said the company would have driver-free vehicles available for sale in 2016, but they won’t be totally driverless, requiring driver input 5% of the time. Musk has acknowledged that the final small gap is difficult to bridge.

In the past, Mobileye co-founder Amnon Shashua has acknowledged the problem as well in comments to TheMarker. “It’s not automatic driving in which the driver puts an address in and goes to sleep. The system permits control to be transferred to it for a limited time. You can read a text message or switch radio stations and temporarily turn over control,” he said.

Tesla was founded by South African-born Musk in 2003, but unlike traditional car companies, it doesn’t actually manufacturer the vehicles for the broader public but instead is aiming at a niche market for sophisticated expensive electric cars for purchase by customers who can afford high battery costs. The company’s main model, the S, has a range of 426 kilometers, which is considerable for an electric car.

Also working on automotive innovation in Israel is General Motors, which was the first auto maker to establish a development center here.

Tesla’s story also recalls the failed attempt by Better Place, which was founded by Israeli Shai Agassi and built networks of car battery changing stations in Israel and elsewhere to service the electric cars that it sold. He was ultimately ousted from the company and the firm went out of business.