Recode’s much awaited podcast with Kara Swisher interviewing Elon Musk has finally been published; it was recorded on Halloween evening at Tesla headquarters in Palo Alto and it covered a broad scope of topics: all of Elon Musk’s companies, Saudi Arabia, a normal Musk work week at Tesla, a look back at 2018 and Musk’s distaste for the press – to name a few.
Musk’s tone during the interview was is in contrast with the spaced-out demeanor during the Joe Rogan podcast. He comes off as relatively confident, somewhat reserved and generally in a better mood. Despite this, Musk wasn’t able to make it through the podcast without attacking both journalists and short sellers, despite being “optimistic” about Tesla’s future.
In the interview, Musk admits that he still tweets “without a filter” simply because he “finds things entertaining”. He said in the interview that he only spends about 10 to 15 minutes a day on Twitter. When asked about whether or not he was under strict orders not to Tweet or whether he would have to change his Twitter behavior as a result of the SEC settlement, Musk replied “not really”.
The “genius” followed up by giving the impression he didn’t understand (or care to understand) his SEC settlement or the pertinent securities laws surrounding what got him in trouble in the first place.
“I think it’s mostly just if it’s something that might cause a substantial movement in the stock during trading hours. That’s about it,” Musk told Swisher.
When asked about the press, Musk said that his “regard for the press has dropped quite dramatically.” When asked further about it, he brought up the Wall Street Journal’s most recent article about the FBI investigation into Tesla intensifying and said about the Wall Street Journal “Like, why are they even journalists? They’re terrible. Terrible people.”
He continued on journalists, explaining why he thought there was so much negative press about Tesla. Of course, his explanation did not include anything about missing production targets or burning through cash. Instead, Musk said: “There are good journalists and there are bad ones, and unfortunately the feedback loop for good versus bad is inverted, so the more salacious that an article is, the more salacious the headline is, the more clicks it’s gonna get. Then somebody is not a journalist, they are an ad salesman.”
When Swisher asked Musk if perhaps he was just too sensitive, Musk replied “No. Of course not. I have a strong interest in the truth. Much more than journalists do.”
Asked about 2018, Musk stated more than once that it was “excruciating” and reiterated the obvious: that it is “incredibly difficult” to survive as a car company – a point he reiterated more than five times in just several sentences:
“It’s been a very difficult year. We had the Model 3 production ramp, which was excruciatingly difficult. It is incredibly difficult to survive as a car company. Incredibly difficult. People have no idea how much pain people at Tesla went through, including myself. It was excruciating.
Pretty sure I burnt out a bunch of neurons during this process. Running both SpaceX and Tesla is an incredibly difficult … You realize we’re fighting the incredibly competitive car companies. They make very good cars. They’ve been doing this for a long time. They are entrenched. Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Lexus, you name it. All those car brands. And the history of car companies in America is terrible. The only ones that haven’t gone bankrupt are Tesla and Ford. That’s it. Everyone else has gone bankrupt.”
He followed up by saying it was “absurd” that Tesla was even alive:
“Making a car company successful is monumentally difficult. There have been many attempts to create a car company and they have all failed, even the ones that have had a strong base of customers, thousands of dealers, thousands of service centers, they’ve already spent the capital for the factories, like GM and Chrysler, still went bankrupt in the last recession. Ford and Tesla made it barely through the last recession. There’s a good chance Ford doesn’t make it in the next recession. So, as a startup, a car company, it is far more difficult to be successful than if you’re an established, entrenched brand. It is absurd that Tesla is alive. Absurd! Absurd.”
Later in the podcast, he described 2018 by saying: “This year felt like five years of aging, frankly. The worst year of my entire career. Insanely painful.”
Then, hilariously when asked about Tesla’s fundamental mission, Musk – who has been known to fly around in his Gulfstream G650 private jet – said he found it “outrageous” when social justice warriors drive around in diesel cars.
“It’s very important for the future of the world. It’s very important for all life on Earth. This supersedes political parties, race, creed, religion, it doesn’t matter. If we do not solve the environment, we’re all damned. Yes. It sort of blows my mind, all these social justice warriors driving around in diesel cars. It’s outrageous.”
He also spoke about self inflicted wounds and sleep deprivation, revealing to Swisher that his brother once said to him: ““Look, if you do a self-inflicted wound, can you at least not twist the knife afterwards?” You stabbed yourself in the leg. You don’t really need to twist it in your leg. Why do that?”
Acknowledging that he is under pressure, Musk admitted to simply “making mistakes”. “It’s not intentional. Sometimes you’re just under a lot of pressure, and you’re not getting much sleep, you’re under massive pressure, and you make mistakes,” he said.
Swisher told Musk that he looked good and rested for the interview, and Musk noted he was down to 80 to 90 hour work weeks, versus the 120 he claimed he had been working prior. Swisher also asked about Musk’s Ambien usage, which Musk again acknowledged. He stated: “…if you’re super-stressed, you can’t go to sleep. You either have a choice of, like, okay, I’ll have zero sleep and then my brain won’t work tomorrow, or you’re gonna take some kind of sleep medication to fall asleep.”
With regard to Tesla’s position as a company, Musk stated he felt like the company was no longer “staring death in the face” like it was in Q3. He also said that he thought Tesla was “over the hump” in terms of Model 3 production. Whether or not this is commentary on how the Model 3’s backlog looks remains to be seen.
Despite Musk’s earlier soliloquy regarding how hard it was to function as a car company, when he was later asked about competitors to Tesla, he responded by stating: “I don’t really think that much about competitors.” When pressed about self-driving, he conceded that he thought Google/Waymo was the closest to Tesla.
Musk also stated that he didn’t think Ford would make it through the next recession. “There’s a good chance that Ford doesn’t make it in the next recession,” Musk told Swisher. He didn’t mention anything about Tesla in the same type of recession scenario.
And those intimating that Tesla may have a cozy relationship with Apple also appear to be wrong, as Musk took a potshot at Apple’s innovation, as well.
“Apple used to really bring out products that would blow people’s minds. They still make great products, but there’s less of that. Like, I don’t think people are necessarily running to the store for the iPhone 11.”
Finally, Musk was asked about the “funding secured” and going private debacles. When asked about the Saudi’s stock they reportedly bought, he told Swisher, “They might have sold it, I don’t know.” Musk also reiterated financial guidance when he stated: “I think we will be cash-flow positive for all quarters going forward.”
Then, Musk, who said he did not want to “harp on those short sellers” spent time harping on short sellers. He also apparently has changed his view on short sellers from just being “smartish” to being “quite smart”:
“Yeah, you know, not to harp on those short-sellers, because people think I have this obsession with them, but I spent like 1 percent [or] less of time thinking about them —
Less than 1 percent of my tweets have anything to do with short-sellers. But the issue is that there’s a group of people who are quite smart, very mean, and have a strong financial interest in Tesla’s downfall.
And what that results in is a constant attack on the Tesla brand, on me personally, on the executive team, on our cars. You know, every mistake we make is amplified.
Going private would definitely result in some short-term drama. Let’s say we’re private, and then we went public five years from now. Then the area under the curve of brand damage by short-sellers would be probably less than the short-term difficulty of going private in the first place. That was the approximate calculus.”
Musk spent the rest of the interview talking about voting, the political environment, the Tesla semi, pickup truck, hovercrafts, dying on Mars and other figments of his imagination.
When asked whether he would take Saudi money in light of the Khashoggi murder (which Musk described as sounding “pretty bad”), Musk responded “I think we probably would not, yes.”
Then, about an hour after attacking the Wall Street Journal, Musk was asked what he would have done differently in 2018.
“It’s fair to say I would probably not have tweeted some of the things I tweeted, that was probably unwise. And probably not gotten into some of the online fights that I got into.”
He finished up: “I probably shouldn’t have attacked journalists, probably shouldn’t have done that.”
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