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Elon Musk struggles to generate excitement at Tesla

The carmaker’s stock plummeted as Musk pursued Twitter, the social media site he now owns. Now he’s under pressure to rebuild momentum.

Elon Musk. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News)
4 min

SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk unveiled pieces of his “Master Plan” for a more sustainable planet and showed a video of a humanoid robot at a Tesla event Wednesday — but didn’t announce a major product update for the company, disappointing investors.

The company announced it will build a new factory in Mexico and hinted at a new vehicle, although executives said they weren’t yet ready to unveil it. Tesla leaders also revealed some changes to the company’s manufacturing processes, but the presentations failed to break much new ground.

Tesla’s stock plunged 7 percent when the markets opened Thursday morning.

The lack of product updates prompted the company’s stock to fall roughly 6 percent in after-hours trading Wednesday during the hours-long event. Commenters on the YouTube live stream called the roughly three-hour presentation a dud.

Many had been expecting the company to unveil a new vehicle or at least to provide major product updates, like with its long-awaited Cybertruck. Much of what was presented was already public.

Musk played a key role in the presentation, helping outline his vision for a “fully sustainable earth” — a plan that appeared to have little to do with Tesla directly, other than emphasizing the importance of electric vehicles.

“Riding a non-autonomous gasoline car is going to be analogous to riding a horse and using a flip phone,” Musk said. The company would publish a white page with its plan soon, he said.

The highly technical presentation is likely to add to criticism that Musk has been preoccupied with Twitter — while struggling to generate new excitement at Tesla. Investors have pushed for him to devote more attention to Tesla, the crown jewel of his portfolio and the company that made him the richest person on earth.

Tesla, the electric-car company that is key to Musk’s fortune, shed more than half of its value after he began pursuing ownership of Twitter, which he purchased in October for $44 billion. As Musk has devoted an increasing amount of attention to the social media platform, he has faced investor pressure to demonstrate his commitment to the carmaker.

Meanwhile, the company has faced demand and supply-chain concerns, an aging lineup of vehicles and broader concerns about production. Tesla has established itself as the market leader in electric vehicles, breaking production and delivery records and putting millions of EVs into the hands of consumers. But it also has faced challenges in recent years, and its latest plans come as mainstream automakers pivot to electric cars, creating more competition.

Tesla has long promised a pickup truck, which it dubs the Cybertruck, but has yet to produce the model — which has an unorthodox, angular design — since unveiling it in 2019. Tesla also has promised a new version of its Roadster sports car but has not provided specifics on an eventual release. The company late last year delivered its first long-haul trucks, dubbed the Tesla Semi.

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Tesla announced last week that its “engineering headquarters” would be in Palo Alto, Calif. — less than two years after publicly moving its main California headquarters to Texas. Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, already had hosted Tesla’s key engineering staff for years.

During the event Thursday, design executive Franz von Holzhausen did not give details on the new car, despite images of a cloaked vehicle.

“I’d love to really show you what I mean and unveil the next-gen car,” he said. “But you’re going to have to trust me on that until a later date.”

Musk also gave a short talk on the humanoid robot the company is developing. Like a scene from sci-fi show “Westworld,” Musk showed a video of two Optimus robots assembling a third — appearing to attach an arm.

The company debuted the robots last year, although there is still no update on when the it might sell the technology.