Leaked Tesla Cybertruck Image
Leaked Tesla Cybertruck image; (photo/Cybertruck Owners Club)

Cybertruck Hits the Skids: Musk Admits Tesla Plans Shift to Full Self-Driving Cars & ‘Humanoid Robot’

The Cybertruck is dead, or so it would seem from comments made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk during a Wednesday evening earnings call.

There’s been plenty of confusion about Tesla’s plans for the much-ballyhooed Cybertruck pickup of late. Recently “leaked” images appear to show work moving forward on the truck, but the automaker also said earlier this month that the project is being pushed back to a 2023 launch date, at the earliest.

CEO Elon Musk let more details out of the bag during a lengthy call to discuss Tesla’s earnings on Wednesday evening. And, for those hoping to buy a Cybertruck — as well as those who’ve been looking for the entry-priced EV Musk has promised — the news doesn’t seem very good. The 50-year-old Tesla CEO suggested the brand’s future could actually shift to the production of its humanoid Optimus robot.

Though Musk didn’t say the two programs are dead, he came awfully close. The Cybertruck has run into an assortment of obstacles, he acknowledged, and the odds of overcoming them seem limited, at best.

Cybertruck Challenges

The recently announced delay triggered plenty of speculation about the ongoing shortage of semiconductor chips, as well as challenges coming up with all the batteries Tesla would need for Cybertruck.

“Batteries will probably not be the limiting factor in Cybertruck production,” Musk said during the Wednesday conference call. “There’s a lot of new technology in the Cybertruck that will take some time to work through.”

But there’s a much bigger problem, Musk acknowledged. “Then there’s a question of like what’s the average cost of a Cybertruck? And to what degree is that affordable? You know, you can make something infinitely desirable. But if it’s not affordable, that will constrain people’s ability to buy it because they simply don’t have the money.”

With its stainless steel body and other features, in other words, Tesla can’t figure out how to make a Cybertruck that the reported 400,000-plus advance reservation holders could actually afford to buy.

No Cheap Electric Vehicle, Either

And the cost of production is likely the reason why Tesla has effectively put on hold the development of the $25,000 electric vehicle Musk had promised.

“We’re not currently working on that $25,000 car,” he replied to a question by an industry analyst on the call. “At some point we will, but we have enough on our plate right now. Too much, frankly.”

When pressed about bringing in an affordable model, Musk declared that “the wrong question,” shifting the discussion to updates of the company’s Autopilot technology. “Really, the thing that overwhelmingly matters is when is the car autonomous?”

The Right Question?

Tesla last year released what it dubbed a “Full Self-Driving” version of the system, even though it still requires a driver to retain focus on the road — and hands on the wheel. The CEO has promised a true, hands-free system for several years, and again said it is on the way.

“I would be shocked if we do not achieve full self-driving cars that are safer than a human this year. I would be shocked,” Musk said, returning to the topic repeatedly during the hourlong call.

Where 2022 was once expected to be a big year, with the launch of Cybertruck, the Roadster, the Semi and, perhaps, some news about the $25,000 entry-level EV, Musk flatly stated, “We will not be introducing new vehicles this year.”

Shifting Priorities

If anything, nonautomotive technology seemed top of mind for the South African-born executive.

Tesla Optimus Robot
Tesla Optimus Robot; (photo/Tesla)

“In terms of priority of products,” he explained, “I think … actually the most important product development we’re doing this year is actually the optimist humanoid robot. This, I think, has the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time.”

Tesla first announced plans to develop a robot to “eliminate dangerous, boring, repetitive tasks” back in August 2021. It stands 68 inches in height, weighs about 125 pounds, and can carry up to about 50 pounds.

“If you think about the economy the foundation of the economy is labor, capital equipment is distilled labor,” Musk said. “So, what happens if you don’t actually have a labor shortage? I’m not sure what to call it an economy even means at that point. That’s what Optimus is about. So (it’s) very important.”

Exactly when Optimus might be ready for production — and who might be its actual customer — Musk didn’t say. But it now looks like that could happen before any Cybertruck or cheap EV get to market.

Indeed, considering the apparent delays in the Semi and Roadster programs, Optimus just might be Tesla’s next big thing.

Luckily for us, there is still a growing list of electric pickups to consider — although, the Bollinger is dead as well — and the price of entry-level electric cars is slowly coming down as more options hit the market.

Paul Eisenstein

Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning publisher, photographer, editor, and one of the world’s most widely published automotive journalists. His work appears in a wide range of print, broadcast, and electronic outlets, including AutoWise, GearJunkie, NBC News, Forbes Wheels, and his own automotive website, TheDetroitBureau.com. He’s a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror, and board member and past president of the Automotive Press Association. J.D. Power also named him a “Pioneer of the Internet."