Many of the company's cars already have an "autopilot" option that allows certain autonomous driving features, such as automatic steering, braking and the ability to stay on track on the highway. But Musk recently told a podcast of investment firm ARK Invest that the technology would soon be even more advanced than expected.
Musk said that even the level of self-driving would still require that the driver remains aware and can take over in case of problems. But he added that the limitation could also be lifted soon.
"We think it's safe for someone to fall asleep and wake up to their destination, probably by the end of next year," he said. "It's at that moment that I think it would probably be safe enough for that."
Musk issued an important warning: he does not know when regulators would allow this type of technology on the roads so soon.
"It's a variable over which we have limited control," Musk added. "I do not know when the regulators will agree."
A spokesman for Tesla declined to comment beyond Musk's remarks.
Everyone does not agree with Musk. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, for example, believe that the prediction is extremely optimistic, according to research director Shaun Kildare.
He added that Tesla vehicles did not detect as many obstacles as some of the cars tested by Waymo's Alphabet unit or by various automakers. And he said that it was not at all clear that Tesla's autopilot safety data was as conclusive as the company claims.
Kildare said his group supports autonomous driving and that it "can save many lives and avoid many injuries".
"But it is not ready yet," he said.
Musk's statements are worrisome because they could spur Tesla owners to pay less attention than is necessary when they use autonomous driving functions, Kildare said.
"We already have big problems," he added. "That's just adding to that."