May 30, 2024

SpaceX founder Elon Musk doesn’t believe aliens exist. But if aliens did roam the stars, not even they could stop Tesla from launching self-driving “cybercabs” — or so he says.

“Well, I think no matter what Tesla — even if I get kidnapped by aliens tomorrow, Tesla will solve autonomy, maybe a little slower, but it would solve autonomy for vehicles at least,” Musk said Tuesday during an earnings call discussing Tesla’s first quarter results.

Musk has promised to go “balls to the wall” for autonomous driving, which he names as the future of Tesla. The Austin, Texas-based company — which Musk insists must be valued as a tech company, not an automaker — has been relentlessly promoting its Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology, slashing prices and promising frequent updates. Despite the moniker, drivers are required to be present and at the wheel of a Tesla vehicle enabled with FSD.

“If you value Tesla as just an auto company, fundamentally, it’s just the wrong framework,” Musk said, later adding that “if somebody doesn’t believe Tesla is going to solve autonomy, they should not be an investor in the company.”

On Wednesday, Tesla said it was planning to launch its own ride-hailing service using a fleet of robotaxis, promising a competitor to Uber. Musk has promised to hold a robotaxi unveiling on August 8, but analysts expect it to be more aspirational than an actual product demonstration. (Infamously, Tesla debuted its Optimus robot project in 2021 with just a person dancing in a costume.)

Analysts from Deutsche Bank have viewed Tesla’s move toward autonomy as “thesis-changing” and warned that electric vehicle investors may start “throwing in the towel” and be replaced “by AI [and] tech investors.” Tesla has been slammed by slowing EV sales growth and missed Wall Street’s expectations for revenue, but promised to make new vehicles more affordable.

Elon grabs the robo-reins

Despite his optimism about autonomy, Musk said Tuesday that he was unsure if Tesla would “win” in the race to mass-deploy humanoid robots, referring to Optimus, without him. Musk added that he would be “uncomfortable” with Tesla moving forward with the robots — and warned of a “terminator-level risk” in the future — if he didn’t have more control of the company.

Musk was reiterating his desire for 25% voting control before Tesla made further strides in artificial intelligence and robotics. Some investors have warned that Musk may leave Tesla if shareholders vote down his $47 billion pay package in June.

Tesla stock jumped almost 12% in after-hours trading Tuesday, which it carried into Wednesday, erasing much of the losses it sustained after Tesla laid off at least 14,000 employees and saw several executives resign.

After Tuesday’s earnings call closed, Tesla’s head of investor relations, Martin Viecha, said he would also be leaving the company.

“About a month ago, I spoke with Elon and Vaibhav to announce that I’m going to be retiring from the world of investor relations and moving on,” Viecha said in a post on X. “I’ll be helping out for another couple of months or so to make sure that there’s a smooth transition.”

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