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Forget Tesla Earnings -- Let's Talk Self-Driving Cars

Shares of Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) soared to new highs on Thursday after a blowout quarterly report, but what happened to the self-driving-car chatter?

In a Bloomberg interview earlier this week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that he has talked with Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) about incorporating the technology that the search giant uses in its self-driving, snapshot-taking, Google Maps vehicles into Tesla's electric cars.

Given Tesla's high-tech bent it makes perfect sense to find Musk at the forefront of cars that drive themselves. There will naturally be driver interest in this technology if and when it becomes commercially available. Who wouldn't want a smart car that can take the wheel when one is tired, has had too much to drink, or just wants to get work done during a commute?

However, Tesla prides itself on cars that are fun to drive. Won't this technology send a different message?

"I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self-driving," Musk told Bloomberg. "Self-driving sounds like it's going to do something you don't want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars."

Clearly Musk has thought this through.

Don't expect self-driving -- err, autopilot -- Tesla vehicles on the road soon.

Musk feels that Google's approach -- using a sensor system instead of an optical one -- is too cost prohibitive. When a company putting out cars that start at nearly $70,000 is calling something expensive then it's really expensive.

However, don't sell Musk short on his ability to justify premium pricing on features that save money over time. That's his strategy at SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY  ) , where solar panel installations are billed monthly at a rate that equates the energy savings over traditional electric power.

It's also becoming his approach at Tesla. During Wednesday's earnings call he made it a point to emphasize the cost savings of Tesla relative to gasoline, a calculation that he figures is about $200-$300 a month here and closer to $500 in Europe where gas is twice as expensive. It's part of the marketing behind the recent financing offer that almost plays out like a lease given Tesla's guaranteed resale value.

If and when we get electric cars that drive themselves you can be sure that Musk will find a way to frame this in the money that can be generated by productive drivers that won't have to get fatigued at the wheel.

At the very least, Tesla cars on autopilot will make it harder for a New York Times reporter to take some unnecessary detours during a review drive.

Near-faultless execution has led Tesla Motors to the brink of success, but the road ahead remains a hard one. Despite progress, a looming question remains: Will Tesla be able to fend off its big-name competitors? The Motley Fool answers this question and more in our most in-depth Tesla research available for smart investors like you. Thousands have already claimed their own premium ticker coverage, and you can gain instant access to your own by clicking here now.

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