Standing on the rear bed of his greatest boondoggle, his face obscured in shadow, the billionaire who built a rabid fanbase through seemingly inhuman feats of engineering and willpower cut a greatly reduced figure: Elon Musk was presiding over the first customer deliveries of a Tesla truck that, like most things Musk touched, was drastically over budget and far beyond its original shipping timeline. Plus, just a couple days earlier Musk had essentially sealed the dismal fate of another of his companies by publicly telling advertising partners to “go fuck [themselves].”
To say he was looking diminished is putting it mildly.
The Cybertruck launch, like most of Tesla’s delivery events, was not a substantive affair. My more patient colleagues have done a much better job actually recounting what happened there than I ever could. Suffice it to say that Musk touted his gaudy stainless steel monstrosity’s abilities for a while before explaining to a handful of the sycophantic first new Cybertruck owners (including one Alexis Ohanian) the extremely non-obvious way to open their doors and then repeating a vague and perplexing statement about how wild it’s going to be to see these driving around before calling it a day.
I mentioned the odd choice to stand on the truck bed in semi-darkness despite having a stage lighting setup very clearly designed for him not to do that, but I neglected to note the moment when a sheepish Franz von Holzhausen was drug out to weakly toss a baseball at the Cybertruck’s windows, in a moment that seemed like unintended satire of when he smashed the windows of the original prototype at a reveal event in 2019. The only takeaway from this watered down reenactment was that if von Holzhausen had replicated the 2019 mishap faithfully, with steel balls and a proper toss, I’m pretty much convinced he would’ve smashed the windows again.
Musk didn’t address his crumbling social media product or how his frequent, inflammatory comments and amplification of false and dangerous conspiracy theories have made it impossible to see a path forward for X that doesn’t end badly. He didn’t talk about how his range of distractions, including a repeatedly exploding spacecraft he’s periodically launching from south Texas, are giving Tesla investors some serious misgivings. Mostly, he talked about the Cybertruck’s potential benefits to owners in case of the end of modern civilization. And again: about how cool they’ll look.
No longer the confident, if controversial, prognosticator and big swing solutions engineer, Musk has instead become a mad-eyed, rambling and raving advocate of far-right nonsense and vacillating convictions. Even his seemingly existential objection to OpenAI’s fast-paced development of AI ended up being little more than petty jealousy, as evidenced by the harried introduction of Grok, his own, far more puerile and muddy-minded equivalent.
Undoubtedly, Musk continues to benefit from legions of devoted fanboys – many of whom I’m sure will be letting me know how amazing he still is and how garbage I still am – but it’s hard to deny any longer that his influence is on the wane, and the crowning moment of his stupidest idea made flesh in the form of the Cybertruck seems like a meaningful bookend on his era of power.