At the Tesla Motors shareholder meeting last week, a confident-looking 16-year-old stepped up to the microphone and asked Elon Musk a question about his brand new Tesla: "I'm going to be creating a constant loop of this car with people filled in it going between Culver City [California] and Las Vegas. I call this a Tesloop," he said. "Will autopilot be good enough to ensure their safe travels on the road?"
Teslas don't drive themselves yet, so, over his summer vacation, Haydn Sonad and a few of his partners are going to constantly shuttle people back and forth between west Los Angeles and Las Vegas—a kind of long-range cross between a bus and a taxi service.
"I just finished my sophomore year of high school and my options for a summer job were a fast food-type thing or this," Sonad told me. "Most cars are not put to good use, especially Teslas. They're capable of saving carbon emissions and gas, but they still sit around most of the time."
Sonad plans on charging customers $75 each way for the trip, which he says is cheaper than a flight and cheaper than driving yourself. He won't pay to recharge the electric cars, because Tesla has a series of "Supercharger" stations that will allow the company to recharge its car for free.
"Purely economically, the bus might be a little cheaper, but, in the end, it's a Greyhound bus. It's a different experience," he said.
A $70,000 Tesla Model S isn't affordable for most Americans, let alone a 16-year-old. Haydn's father, Rahul, who is a cofounder of Tesloop, helped him out with a loan to lease the Model S, and Haydn plans on paying him back with profits from the company.
"I was skeptical when he came to me about the idea, but we spent all night running the numbers and we think you can make $5,000 a month doing a few runs to Las Vegas a week," Rahul Sonad told me.
It's impossible to say whether or not Tesloop will work or whether it'll be successful, but it's certainly an intriguing idea. Teslas are small cars capable of only holding a couple passengers, which would seem to make them bad people movers. But they also famously hold their value (at least for a few years) and need little upkeep. The Sonads won't pay anything for electricity, essentially limiting their operating costs to that of the Tesla itself, the money they pay any drivers they hire, and any marketing they do.
"We want to run this from LA to San Diego, maybe do some in Mountain View up north," Haydn Sonad said. "We'll start with one car, fill some seats and buy more."
And that brings us back to Haydn's initial question for Musk: If Teslas can eventually drive themselves, he'll have an army of electric robot buses that are bringing in pure profit.
"I was surprised when Elon said it might only take three years to get to the point where you can fall asleep in the car. I was thinking, 'wow, that's barely any time to get a company up and running,'" Rahul Sonad said. "I think startups are teaching [Haydn] some super important skills for life, it's a great experience. But also, we think it's a good idea. For me, I think it's maybe 60 percent a test company and 40 percent a real opportunity."
At the very least, Haydn will have a very interesting summer vacation.