Elon Musk, Who Claimed 'Tesla Will Solve Autonomy' With Or Without Him, Now Wants To Hold AI Hostage For His Compensation Plan

The face of a man who’s never been disowned by any of his kids for not accepting their identity - Photo: SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP (Getty Images)
The face of a man who’s never been disowned by any of his kids for not accepting their identity - Photo: SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP (Getty Images)

Elon Musk has recently become convinced that his floundering car company is actually, secretly, an incredibly powerful robotics company. Model Xes and Ys are no longer the big business to him; it’s all about Optimus and robotaxis — that is, unless he doesn’t get his way at the upcoming shareholder meeting.

This past weekend, Musk threatened to take AI and robotics away from Tesla if he’s not handed everything he wants on a silver platter: 25 percent voting power in the company, his full $55 billion compensation package, and Tesla’s reincorporation in Texas. The problem is, he already said on an investor call just last month that Tesla doesn’t really need him.

Last Saturday, a Twitter account called Teslaconomics (a real name the account holder chose, despite “Teslanomics” seemingly being totally open and available) laid out a clear quid pro quo: If Elon gets all his little treats, then Tesla gets to keep the business wing that Musk has told investors is key to its success. The reverse is all there in the implication — if Elon doesn’t get the treats, he takes his ball and goes home, leaving the company with nothing but a backlog of outdated vehicles that consumers are increasingly shying away from. Musk, seeing this exchange explicitly laid out in writing, replied with a single word: “Yes.”


This is an interesting threat for Musk to make, given that he personally told investors that Tesla doesn’t actually need him. To quote Musk himself on last month’s earnings call:

Well I think no matter what, Tesla — y’know, even if I got kidnapped by aliens tomorrow — Tesla will solve autonomy. Maybe a little slower, but it would solve autonomy for vehicles at least. I don’t know if it would win with respect to Optimus, or with respect to future products, but it would — there’s enough momentum for Tesla to solve autonomy even if I disappeared for vehicles.

So, for vehicles — the things Tesla actually makes and sells — Elon Musk is not a necessary part of the business. If anything, given his arbitrary decision making, last-minute changes, and tendency to overpromise and underdeliver, he may actually be a hindrance. Even if you believe that Tesla will create fully self-driving robotaxis that save the company, Musk himself will tell you that he doesn’t need to be there. It’ll happen either way.

Musk’s additions to Tesla, then, are focused around the achingly slow robot that the company does not sell and still lags behind more established competitors in the segment. Musk has said he sees no limit to the robotics market, no maximum spend that it can support before buyers lose interest, which mostly just shows he has no idea what he’s talking about. That’s not how any product or market works.

Musk may be threatening to take his ball and go home, but he’s making the threat at a poker table — the thing he’s swearing to take away has nothing to do with the game that everyone else is playing. Yet, he hopes that this threat alone is enough to convince everyone else that he should walk off with the entire pot, win or lose. God, real tough call for investors there.

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