Sort Of Early Access Program —
Tesla made a promise to FSD early adopters that’s hard to keep.
Tesla customers who purchased the “Full Self-Driving” package prior to March 1 will soon get access to a new perk, the company told Ars Technica on Tuesday: priority access to new software releases. The move is an effort to fulfill a commitment the company made in a March 1 blog post, though what Tesla is actually delivering isn’t quite what Tesla promised.
The March post, titled “Upgrading to Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability,” offered the owners of existing Tesla vehicles an opportunity to activate Tesla’s driver-assistance packages at lower prices than Tesla had been charging previously.
This angered some existing customers—especially those who had prepaid for the “Full Self-Driving” package. People had paid thousands of dollars for this option in 2016, 2017, 2018, or early 2019. But by March 2019, they hadn’t gotten anything for their money because the technology wasn’t ready yet. Many were miffed that Tesla was now offering other customers a better deal on the same package, and they felt that Tesla should offer partial refunds to customers who paid the old, higher price.
To mollify those customers, the same blog post said that “customers who previously purchased Full Self-Driving will receive an invitation to Tesla’s Early Access Program (EAP). EAP members are invited to experience and provide feedback on new features and functionality before they are rolled out to other customers.”
Some FSD customers were excited about this offer. Many of them bought Tesla vehicles—and then paid for the FSD upgrade—precisely because they wanted to be on the cutting edge.
But invitations didn’t go out in March. Then in April, the blog post announcing the perk disappeared from Tesla’s website, causing speculation that Tesla was reneging on its promise.
But when I asked a Tesla spokeswoman about this in April, she said that the blog post had only been removed because it contained “out-of-date pricing” that could confuse consumers. She assured me that “we are continuing to honor the commitments we made to our customers at that time, and we will be sharing early access to new features with applicable customers soon.”
How soon? By June 1, three months after the initial post, FSD customers were still waiting for invitations to the program. So I again asked Tesla for an update.
On Tuesday, a spokeswoman told me that Tesla was finally ready to start offering early software updates to FSD customers.
A new “Software Update Preference”
It was probably never realistic to invite all pre-March 2019 FSD customers to the EAP. The EAP is a closed program Tesla engineers use to gather feedback about software updates from a small number of handpicked drivers before broader release.
The number of FSD customers dwarfed the number of EAP participants, so inviting all of them would have swamped the EAP with new members—potentially hampering software testing efforts. So Tesla is doing the next-best thing: offering eligible customers a new way to get early software updates without formally inviting them into the EAP.
Of course, not all FSD customers necessarily want to test cutting-edge software updates that are more likely to have bugs. So Tesla recently added a new setting on Tesla vehicles called “Software Update Preference.” Customers who choose “Advanced” will be eligible to receive software updates before most others. Those who don’t will only get updates after they’ve been thoroughly tested by other users.
While this setting will be available on all Tesla vehicles, a Tesla spokeswoman tells Ars that early FSD purchasers will be “among the first” to receive updates. At the same time, she stressed, not every customer will get every update.
At any given time, Tesla is working on a variety of different updates dealing with a variety of different issues. Some updates are only designed for certain Tesla models, while others only apply in certain geographical areas. So even if you’re an early FSD purchaser and you choose “Advanced,” you aren’t guaranteed to get every software update.
“Splitting hairs to get out of it”
Technically, this new program doesn’t fulfill Tesla’s promise that FSD customers “will receive an invitation to Tesla’s Early Access Program.” The EAP still exists, and there’s no sign of FSD customers being invited into it. But the new program seems to fulfill the spirit of the promise, if not the letter. It gives eligible customers access to early versions of Tesla software in a scalable way.
I reached out to three Tesla customers who had alerted me to this problem back in April to see how they felt about it. I got a mix of responses. One was fairly upbeat.
“If I actually can download new updates as soon as they’re being rolled out to my car and region, I’ll be happy,” the customer wrote.
Another owner thought Tesla seemed to be “splitting hairs to get out of” its promise. But he added that he was “not too worried about it. I do hope that, when FSD comes online, we will get it first.”
A third customer wasn’t so forgiving: “Yet another broken promise from Tesla,” he wrote. “I’m so cynical about this company now.”
The incident underscores how different Tesla’s corporate culture is from conventional car companies. It’s hard to imagine another car company making a promise to customers without checking to see if keeping the promise is logistically feasible. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, by contrast, puts a premium on rapid decision making—even if that leads to more mistakes being made. That means Tesla sometimes makes promises it can’t quite keep.