Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a polarizing figure, a billionaire entrepreneur who can incite immediate and divergent reactions with a single tweet. His actions during Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call Wednesday were deemed both unhinged and brilliant, spurious and authentic, cagey and candid.
Whatever adjective people want to use, Musk’s comments on the call had a measurable effect on the company’s share price in after-hours trading. The call started out normal enough, but around the 32-minute mark, after Musk provided opening comments and answered about five questions from analysts, the mood shifted. And then the share free-fall began.
Here are some of the most interesting comments Musk gave on the call:
Bonehead Questions Are Not Cool
Analyst Tony Sacconaghi with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co was asking a followup question on Tesla’s lowered capital expenditure plans. He specifically asked about what the company’s capital requirements will be for the remainder of the year, when Musk interrupted him.
Excuse me. Next. Next. Boring bonehead questions are not cool. Next?
These Questions Are Killing Me
Joseph Spak with RBC Capital Market was the next analyst to be victimized by Musk’s sass. Spak asked a question about reservations for the Model 3.
We’re going to go to YouTube. Sorry. These questions are so dry. They’re killing me.
With “YouTube,” Musk was referring Galileo Russell, host of the “HyperChange TV” YouTube channel, who was invited to be on the call to represent retail investors. The week prior, Russell had asked Musk via Twitter to “give retail investors a voice.” Musk responded, “Ok.”
Journalists Are Killing People
Russell was able to ask a number of questions, including when the company might launch its Tesla Network, a program that would let Tesla owners rent or share fully autonomous vehicles. Tesla vehicles are not fully autonomous today, and Musk was asked about the timeline for when the company might be able to achieve that.
Musk initially said regulatory approval made it tricky to guess timing. It was here that he went onto a rant of sorts about journalists and their role in reporting on autonomous vehicle accidents, and more specifically coverage of Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot feature.
Here are a few of his best lines.
If it’s an autonomous situation, it’s headline news, and the media fails to mention that—actually they shouldn’t really be writing the story, they should be writing the story about how autonomous cars are really safe. But that’s not the story that people want to click on….
So they write inflammatory headlines that are fundamentally misleading to the readers. It’s really outrageous. And this will be true, even if electric cars were—sorry, if autonomous cars were—10 times safer. So if instead of a 1 million deaths you had 100,000 deaths….
a bit later …
And, yeah, it’s really incredibly irresponsible of any journalists with integrity to write an article that would lead people to believe that autonomy is less safe. Because people might actually turn it off and then die. So anyway, I’m really upset by this.
In Musk’s opening remarks, he talked about the company’s plans to balance automation and more manual tasks. He gave one example of how the company went to0 far with its automation, and that’s when we learned about flufferbot.
We had these fiberglass mats on the top of the battery pack. They’re basically fluff. So, we tried to automate the placement and bonding of fluff to the top of the battery pack, which is ridiculous. So, we had flufferbot, which was really an incredibly difficult machine to make work. Machines are not good at picking up pieces of fluff. Human hands are way better at doing that. And so, we had a super complicated machine using a vision system to try to put a piece of fluff on the battery pack.
Throwing Shade to Daimler CEO
Musk was asked a question about the battery technology on its Tesla Semi, a heavy-duty truck the company unveiled in November.Russell said during his question that “even I believe the CEO of Daimler said it breaks the laws of physics. ” Musk fired back with this zinger.
He doesn’t know much about physics. I know him. I’d be happy to engage in a physics discussion with him. I actually studied physics in college.
Moats Are Lame
Russell was back at it, asking Musk why the company is willing to open its network of fast chargers to other automakers. Why not keep it a walled garden or a “moat?” (Musk said they would open the network to automakers for a fee.)
I think moats are lame. It’s nice sort of quaint in a vestigial way. If your only defense against invading armies is a moat, you will not last long. What matters is the pace of innovation. That is the fundamental determinant of competitiveness.
Tesla Has a Leak
When asked for an update of when Tesla was get to 3,000 and 4,000 per week on the Model 3, Musk’s response was that they’d learn when it leaks. Because there are leaks. And lots of them.
Yeah, actually, Tesla is such a leaky sieve of information that, I think, the news will leak pretty quickly.
Day Trader? Sell Your Tesla Stock
As Musk continued to talk about volatility in Tesla stock, he made a pointed reference to day traders.
We have no interest in satisfying the desires of day traders. I couldn’t care less. Please sell our stock and don’t buy it.
Then, a bit later:
I think that if people are concerned about volatility, they should definitely not buy our stock. I’m not here to convince you to buy our stock. Do not buy it if volatility is scary. There you go.