On crucial earnings call, Musk reminds the world Tesla is a tech company. ‘Even if I’m kidnapped by aliens tomorrow, Tesla will solve autonomy’

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As the debate over whether Tesla should be valued as an automaker or a software company rages, CEO Elon Musk laid out his view in no uncertain terms. 

“If you value Tesla as just an auto company, fundamentally, it’s just the wrong framework,” Musk said during Tesla’s first quarter earnings call on Tuesday. 

Musk’s comments came during a critical moment for Tesla. Heading into the earnings announcement, Tesla faced mounting pressure from investors over its future. Investors were especially concerned that Tesla might scrap plans for a new, more affordably priced car altogether given that Musk had repeatedly telegraphed his intentions to turn much of Tesla’s resources toward robotaxis and self-driving car technology. Investors have balked at the idea that a car company with declining sales would delay the release of its new model in favor of developing a technology that does not exist yet. 

Instead, Tesla split the difference. It moved up the production schedule of its new models from late 2025 to early 2025, with a possibility they may even arrive by the end of this year, according to Musk. While at the same time making crystal clear that the investment thesis for the company should be entirely focused on its tech endeavors. 

“If somebody doesn’t believe Tesla is going to solve autonomy, they should not be an investor in the company,” Musk said. 

When asked if the company could develop self-driving cars without him, Musk was confident the work was close to completion. “Even if I’m kidnapped by aliens tomorrow, Tesla will solve autonomy, maybe slower, but for vehicles at least,” he said.

A bad quarter for Tesla

However, the down-the-middle strategy Tesla opted for belied what was a particularly high-stakes earnings call given how poorly the company performed. Investors and analysts had already been primed to expect a historically bad quarter from Tesla—which it was. 

Earlier this month, Tesla released figures that showed its vehicle deliveries were down 8.5% in the first quarter, its first year-over-year decline in four years. As earnings reports showed, those poor numbers trickled down to the rest of Tesla’s business. Revenue slid 9%, the largest decline since 2012, for a total of $21 billion in the first quarter, according to an earnings release. Total vehicle sales were down 13% compared to the year before. Net income didn’t fare much better, dropping 55%, as the company brought in $1.1 billion in the quarter. 

Perhaps the one silver lining for investors was that Tesla announced it would speed up the production of its upcoming cars. Investors had been eagerly awaiting further news from Tesla leadership about when new models would hit the market after a report the company was scrapping them entirely in favor of its robotaxi efforts. The new model, rumored to be an affordable car priced under $30,000, is still in the works. 

When pressed by an analyst on the call regarding details about the lower-cost Tesla, Musk declined to go into specifics. “We’ve said all we will on that front,” he replied. 

The lack of specifics was good enough for Wall Street though. Tesla stock was up more than 13% and climbing in post-market trading Tuesday evening. 

Tesla is ‘solving autonomy’ for driverless cars

Alongside the new car models, Musk also gave guidance about the self-driving technology Tesla is developing. In describing the project Musk painted a picture of flipping a switch to turn millions of Teslas around the world into self-driving cars. 

“Really the way to think of Tesla is almost entirely in terms of solving autonomy and being able to turn on that autonomy for a gigantic fleet,” Musk said. “It might be the biggest asset value appreciation in history when that happens, when you can do unsupervised, full self-driving.”

Currently, Tesla does not have a completely self-driving car. Its latest autonomous vehicle software, which is called Full Self-Driving, still requires human supervision. To juice demand, Tesla cut prices of the add-on software from $12,000 a year to $8,000 earlier this week. 

On the call, Tesla executives sought to reassure investors that the bad quarter was just a lull until the company could perfect its self-driving technology. Musk reiterated that it was “currently between two major growth waves.” The first wave referenced the initial proliferation of EVs that Tesla helped usher in when it succeeded in selling its cars to people other than environmentally conscious consumers. The second wave, according to Tesla, will come once self-driving cars become the norm, with it dominating the market. 

Because of that, Tesla anticipates a difficult remainder of the year with middling sales growth. “In 2024, our vehicle volume growth rate may be notably lower than the growth rate achieved in 2023, as our teams work on the launch of the next generation vehicle and other products,” Tesla wrote in a shareholder presentation. On the call, Musk said he did expect sales in 2024 would be higher than last year. 

A first glimpse of Tesla’s robotaxi app and prototype will be unveiled on August 8, according to a post from Musk on X. Musk made a similar claim in 2019, saying Tesla robotaxis would be ready in 2020. Four years later, investors are still waiting.

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