Musk moves Tesla's goalposts, investors happily move shares higher

It's the millions-of-robotaxis promise again – and all y'all buying it this time, too?

Opinion Elon Musk has a strategy and you may have seen it before: When things aren't going well, he'll say something wild to take everyone's eyes off the trouble, and raise share prices with dreams.

Take last night's earnings call as an example.

The first quarter of 2024 didn't go well for Tesla, either economically or reputationally. As we reported earlier, sales fell, net profit tumbled off the same cliff Tesla's stock price earlier careened over, and production and deliveries decreased as well. 

But give Musk a chance to toss out a flash grenade and he'll do just that: This time around with some wild predictions about his automaker producing a "purpose-built robotaxi" dubbed the "Cybercab," and Tesla's latest vision for the future as one in which it is focused on "solving autonomy." 

"We're putting the actual auto in automobile," Musk said last night. The objective, as the billionaire tycoon described it, was to put the self-driving Cybercab on the road in short order, operating alongside privately owned Teslas being rented out for use as an autonomous taxi fleet. The slide deck [PDF] for the evening even included an image of what Tesla's ride hailing app may look like once it arrives Soon™. It seems the idea is that Tesla puts Cybercabs on the streets, and makes an app for booking rides using the software-controlled vehicles, and people can add their private Teslas to the available pool.

"It's like some combination of Airbnb and Uber, meaning that there will be some number of cars that Tesla owns itself and operates in the fleet … and then there'll be a bunch of cars where they're owned by the end user," Musk said. He added the fleet will likely grow to include "several tens of millions" of vehicles by the end of the decade.

"I think," the SpaceX supremo added.

As part of the robotaxi platform, privately-owned Teslas that aren't being driven by humans or autonomously chauffeuring riders around, would be added to a lake of distributed computing resources.

"It's analogous to Amazon Web Services, where people didn't expect that AWS would be the most valuable part of Amazon when it started out as a bookstore," Musk said. "If you get to the 100 million vehicle level, which I think we will … you've got a kilowatt of useable compute," Musk said.

A whole kilowatt? "I think you could have on the order of 100 gigawatts of useful compute." Ah.

"And unlike laptops and our cell phones, it is totally under Tesla's control," Musk added.

But even these outlandish claims, which seem to have had the intended effect of boosting Tesla shares (up 12 percent as of writing), aren't anything new - Musk spent plenty of time in the 2010s claiming he'd have one million robotaxis on the road by 2020. As we all know, 2020 came and went without any such excitement. 

Have you learned nothing?

Elon Musk has flim-flammed his way out of accountability countless times in the past. 

Getting in trouble over "Full-Self Driving" claims? Stick a guy in a robot suit and call it Optimus to distract shareholders. Fail to get FSD realized this year - again? Just kick it down the road. Journalists calling him out on his nonsense? Rant about the "woke mind virus" and the media on Twitter.

Of course, Optimus has been nowhere to be seen and was barely mentioned during the call. Likewise, Tesla's dreams of tens of millions of robotaxis on the road in the next six years rests on the need for serious technological breakthroughs the automaker has failed to make despite years of trying. Oh, and a ton of permits if this is to operate in the States, at least.

This year felt different, though: It seemed like 2024 was the year in which Elon Musk might have to put up or shut up. His reputation has been harmed from his X antics. Tesla's shares performed worse than Boeing's in the first quarter of 2024, largely because of Cybertruck problems and missed expectations. 

Not so, as it turns out. Toss some new robotaxi, distributing computing, self driving, and low-cost Tesla promises out there and everyone forgets the past three months. The fact the promises have been made before - and worked their magic then, too - seems to be entirely forgotten.

In the meantime, your humble vulture will believe in the Cybercab when he sees it - and it better be more than just a guy in a car costume or a clunky prototype. The fact that Tesla investors don't seem to share that skepticism is frankly a shock at this point. ®

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