Tesla self-driving car takes Ron Baron to Steve Jobs’ house

Baron Capital Chairman and CEO Ron Baron recently saw first hand how Tesla’s self-driving technology is progressing with a ride near the company’s campus in California.

The billionaire investor told CNBC on Thursday that he was visiting Elon Musk’s SpaceX near Los Angeles on Monday morning, meeting with engineers and finance staff. Then in the afternoon, he traveled up the coast to Tesla to see employees working on autonomous-driving technology and “the compute people.”

Baron said the 12th iteration of the technology has benefitted from enormous amount of data collected by Tesla cars and by more AI-driven computing power. That’s after earlier versions required more manual coding, which slowed progress.

“Humans can’t do it. Now they have compute to figure everything out. So now you’re on the verge with autonomous driving in your car,” he explained. “So I said, ‘OK, show me.’”

For a couple hours, Tesla staff went over the technology with him. After that, Baron told them he wanted to see how it works before he had to head back to New York.

So they got into a car in the parking lot, accompanied by an analyst and two Tesla employees, he recalled.

“We’re sitting in the car, and so, ‘Where do you want to go?’” Baron continued. “I said, ‘I want to see Steve Jobs’ house.’ And they say, ‘OK,’ and they punch in the address.”

The car departed on its own, driving through the Tesla parking lot and waiting for traffic to pass before turning onto the road.

It turned again and drove behind other cars. When it got to a stop sign at an intersection, the car waited for other drivers before taking its turn while also checking in both directions.

Then a pedestrian started crossing the street, and the car stopped, Baron said. The pedestrian waved at the waiting car, which resumed its trip afterward.

“Then it pulls up and makes a left hand turn and then goes in front of Steve Jobs’ house,” he added. “It’s a nice house, just a house though.”

After that, the car went back: “It drove all by itself.” When pressed by CNBC on the timing of Tesla’s autonomous-driving capabilities, Baron simply answered, “now.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

The first-hand demonstration of Tesla’s self-driving technology came at a critical time for Musk’s electric vehicle company. On Tuesday, Tesla reported a steep dive in first-quarter profit as falling sales and price cuts hit margins.

But Wall Street breathed a sigh of relief as Musk also said Tesla is moving ahead with a lower-cost EV model, after some analysts had earlier worried that he would prioritize his robo-taxi ambitions instead. Meanwhile, Tesla has also announced job cuts, while a string of top executives are heading out the door.

For his part, Baron remains bullish on Tesla stock, which represents the largest position in his portfolio. Citing the low-cost car and robo-taxis, he predicted shares are “going to go up huge. Now is the bottom.”

Still, he also voiced some frustration with the earlier performance of the stock, up only 1% since this time last year and down overall since the start of 2021. 

“It’s not so exciting to be up 1% in a year when the market is so strong,” he told CNBC. “I do look around all the time and see everyone getting rich—and I’m not poor, but I haven’t made a lot of progress over the last three years, so therefore I think it’s like a rubber band—I’m going to catch up again.”

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