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Elon Musk says it’s more important for Tesla to make a robot than new car models this year

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Tesla Robotics
Courtesy: Tesla

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call that a humanoid robot is the “most important product” that Tesla is developing this year, putting it ahead of the much-hyped Cybertruck and other vehicles, including the Semi and the Roadster.

Musk first teased the “Tesla Bot” in August using a human in a robot suit, warning during the company’s “AI Day” that it “probably won’t work” but added that he hoped to have a prototype in the next year.

“I think it has the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time,” Musk said of the robot, which is code-named Optimus.

The Tesla boss added the company has no plans to introduce the Cybertruck this year and that it isn’t currently working on a $25,000 vehicle. The lingering chip shortage hampers the release of new models without resulting in fewer total vehicles being delivered, he said.

While the Tesla robot could be years away and may never come to fruition, Musk said Wednesday it does have the potential to revolutionize the economy if it can perform tasks that can now only be carried out by humans.

“If you think about the economy, it is — the foundation of the economy is labor,” he said. “Capital equipment is distilled labor. So what happens if you don’t actually have a labor shortage? I’m not sure what an economy even means at that point. That’s what Optimus is about, so [it’s] very important.”

Advances in robotics have allowed companies to replace certain workers with machines, but the limitations of current technology are such that many tasks still need to be done by humans.

“[Optimus is] intended to be friendly, of course, and navigate through a world of humans, and eliminate dangerous, repetitive and boring tasks,” Musk said in August, adding that Tesla does not initially plan to use it for manufacturing.

The robot is an example of Musk’s showmanship, in which he announces that Tesla is working on exciting products scheduled for years into the future that help to energize employees, customers and investors. Often, the innovations announced aren’t realized within the projected timeline.

For instance, at an “Autonomy Day” event in April 2019, Musk said the company would have 1 million autonomous “robotaxis” on the road in 2020. Those robotaxis still don’t exist.

— CNBC’s Kif Leswing contributed to this article.

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