In May 2019, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) raised $2.3 billion on the promise that Tesla will have a million robotaxis on the road by 2020. It’s been less than a year, and it seems like Musk is already walking back on the promise. In a recent podcast, the Tesla CEO softened the claims by saying that Tesla will have a million “robotaxi-capable” cars on the road by the end of 2020.
Robotaxi-capable means the cars sold will have the technology to run Tesla’s Robotaxi software. But it won’t be driverless cars operating as taxis and making their owners money (which is what Musk promised).
Just before Tesla raised the $2.3 billion, the company paid its bondholders $920 million and was running low on cash. The subtle walk back on the robotaxi promise qualifies as blatant securities fraud.
Elon Musk cultists attribute his habit of lying to unrelenting optimism. Most experts agree that full self-driving vehicles are still decades away. However, in 2016 Musk claimed that Tesla will have a driverless car travel from Los Angeles to New York by 2017.
When Tesla raised $2.3 billion, Musk knew he had no shot of having even a single robotaxi on the road by 2020, let alone a million. In the prospectus filed with the SEC, there is no mention of the word “robotaxi” or “autonomous”.
After the prospectus was filed, Musk told investors in a conference call to focus on the robotaxi exclusively. Robotaxi was the selling point of the conference call, and that’s where Musk first promised that Tesla would have a million of them on the road by 2020. He even said the rest of Tesla’s business would be “small potatoes” in comparison to the robotaxi.
Given that the robotaxi was going to be such an essential part of Tesla’s business, the omission of “robotaxi” and “autonomous” from the prospectus was surprising. The prospectus makes it seem like Tesla is not even in the business of making autonomous vehicles.
So, why did Musk not mention the robotaxi plans is the official prospectus? The answer is simple: He knew the promise was a lie, and he will have to walk back on it eventually. There was no way Tesla was going to deliver on it. Even the markets did not buy into Musk’s “optimism” as Tesla shares continued falling after the capital raise.
Even now, with the share price near $525, the market doesn’t believe the robotaxi claims. Since company insiders are still dumping shares hand over fist and research and development spending are falling, there’s no reason to believe Tesla is any closer to solving the autonomous vehicle problem.
It doesn’t matter if the markets buy into Tesla’s claims or not. The bottom line is Elon Musk committed securities fraud when he raised money on a claim that he knew was a lie. Will there be any repercussions for Musk or Tesla shareholders? It’s highly unlikely. Musk got away with the “funding secured” fiasco with just a slap on the wrist, so there’s no reason to believe he will get in trouble for the robotaxi lie.
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Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:38 PM UTC