Comparing 2009 Tesla/Elon Musk to 2018 Tesla/Elon Musk
Things Elon Musk says seem to be the driving force behind the biggest swings in the stock price of Tesla Motor Company. This indicates that things Elon Musk says are news– that they significantly alter the future prospects of Tesla.
To analyze this, I looked back at things Elon Musk said in 2009, when Tesla was just rolling out its first Model S sedans, and compared them to things Elon Musk says now. Have his patterns changed? Are things Elon Musk says different now than they were before? In other words, are they newsworthy?
Elon Musk Tact (or lack thereof)
THEN: In an interview with The New Yorker, Elon Musk calls an L.A. Times reporter a douche bag and an idiot. Given time to contemplate and give a more nuanced answer, Musk doubles down: “I’m going to call [him] and say, ‘What the fuck?’ Starting with a negative conclusion and backfilling the facts is a classic dickhead move—and a classic human fallacy.”
NOW: Musk recently called someone a “pedo guy,” on Twitter (to his 20+MM followers). At the Q1 earnings call, he repeatedly insulted Tesla analysts for asking tough questions.
VERDICT: No change. Elon Musk insults people who say negative things, displaying a willful neglect of conventional social norms and complete lack of contrition.
Tesla and the US Gov’t
THEN: Tesla actively lobbied Congressmen, and succeeded in getting billions of dollars in federal loans and subsidies.
NOW: Still receiving subsidies, the relationship with the US government has soured. Musk is now publicly accusing the SEC of favoring short sellers against his company. Musk did this after he was credibly accused of securities fraud, did a deal with the SEC, backed out of the deal, came back into a (worse) deal, and then still has the gall to insult the SEC.
VERDICT: No change. Elon Musk is shameless, will use/abuse the government for his own interests.
THEN: Tesla’s long-time CTO, J.B. Straubel: “We hugely underestimated the challenge— the complexity of supply chains, of manufacturing, of the battery design. It was like working through a maze.”
NOW: “We’re going to go through at least six months of production hell,” Musk said last year.
VERDICT: No change. Somehow, Tesla is still underestimating– or is ill-equipped– for the challenge of mass production.
Tesla Executive Churn
THEN: Musk tried out many Tesla CEOs, before finally taking the job of CEO, himself.
NOW: Tesla continues to churn through executives.
VERDICT: No change. Tesla = the Elon Musk Show.
Electric Car Competition
THEN: Ford planned to release the electric Focus in 2011. Chrysler said it would have 500,000 electric cars on the road by 2013. Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi intended to release electric models. The Chinese government was setting up battery-charging stations in some of its largest cities and offering fleet owners who buy E.V.s and hybrids subsidies.
NOW: Chrysler has failed to get any electric cars to market. Ford’s electric Focus never took off. Nissan’s Leaf and GM’s Bolt did make it to market, if not profitability. China remains an excited but lagging participant.
VERDICT: Not much change. 10 years laters, competitors are still promising EVs in the near future.
THEN: “Musk spends half the week at SpaceX and half at Tesla. He bounces from meeting to meeting to meeting, never taking notes, nodding briskly as he caches information with a kind of sleep-deprived alertness.”
NOW: Musk often “sleeps at the factory” and is sleep-deprived. (I’m guessing he still doesn’t take notes at meetings.)
Verdict: No change.
THEN: Chrysler rejected Tesla’s overtures to partner on an electric minivan, saying, “Chrysler owns the minivan market, and we will stand alone on our minivan strategy going forward.”
NOW: Tesla still goes it alone. Meanwhile, Chrysler has accepted Google’s overtures to partner on an autonomous minivan.
VERDICT: No change, no partners.
Musk’s Non-Tesla Distractions
THEN: “At times, between meetings, Musk finds himself daydreaming about building a supersonic electric airplane, or a double-decker highway. Then he catches himself, with a start, and gets back to work.”
NOW: Musk has starting a boring company and has pioneered a Hyperloop transportation system.
VERDICT: No change.
THEN: Bob Lutz, famous GM executive, said, “The modern automobile has to be a certain size, and carry a certain number of people, at a certain speed. Over thirty-five hundred parts sourced from around the world have to come together at the right place and the right time to produce sixty to seventy of these things an hour. These things are called cars. And to make them you need a large engineering staff, a workforce that demands retirement benefits, a tax staff, a fleet of accountants, and an unbelievable amount of reliability testing that Tesla can’t afford to do right now. Inevitably, it will discover the only way to succeed on the scale we have is to be exactly like us.”
NOW: Same, pretty much.
VERDICT: No change. Tesla has learned the hard way this critique was/is true.
THEN: “Our success will make Toyota worry about what BMW will do, and G.M. worry about Honda—will create a concern about being late for the party. So our role is as a guiding light, helping bring these cars to market five or ten years faster than they would have otherwise—which could make an important difference for saving the species.”
NOW: All OEMs are racing to electrify their fleets.
VERDICT: No change. In what may turn out to be Tesla’s greatest competitive advantage, the company mission hasn’t changed since its inception.
THEN: “We could be selling a million cars a year in ten years. That seems doable.”
NOW: At 80,000 vehicles sold in the last quarter, Tesla is on pace for half a million vehicles or more vehicles to be sold in 2019.
VERDICT: No change. (Though, for a 10-years-in-the-future prediction, let’s give Musk partial credit for this one.) Musk is still over-promising, including and notably on Autopilot, which remains far from being a self-driving system.
So, what did we learn? Musk is pretty much the same sleep-deprived, shameless, tactless, visionary he was ten years ago. And Tesla has become the car company he intended it to be.