Few days pass when Tesla CEO Elon Musk isn’t making headlines or at least tweeting about them. Between not seemingly caring if the Cybertruck flops and finally acknowledging that full self-driving isn’t all that easy, Musk doesn’t appear to care what people might think of him or, by extension, Tesla. It’s an interesting duality because he also seems to believe Tesla would “die” if he left. Would the EV maker really wither if Musk departed?
As far as Elon Musk is concerned, any press is good press
By being trailblazers in electric vehicles, Musk and Tesla frequently make headlines, often for positive reasons. Tesla recently struck a massive deal in Texas to provide Powerwalls and Solar Roofs for new housing, working to provide clean energy beyond the automotive market. And they’ve also reportedly found a way to extract lithium on a more economically feasible basis using table salt, for which the company recently filed a patent.
But for all the positive headlines, there are often as many negative ones. Tesla’s Autopilot, or full self-driving mode, pops up quite a bit, either due to delays in technology — which owners pay for but can’t use — or to instances of drivers abusing the function, like the guy who posts pictures of him riding in the back seat of his Tesla, with no driver, getting arrested and then buying another Tesla and doing it again.
Even if the press is about a lawsuit
Musk’s bold statement about Tesla ceasing to exist without him came during testimony about Tesla’s acquisition in 2016 of SolarCity. According to Reuters, the lawsuit alleges Musk strongarmed the company’s board to purchase SolarCity, of which he was chairman and was also founded by his cousins. Shareholders believe it was less of a buyout or acquisition and more of a bailout for the investment Musk made in the company. However, he claims that he did not gain anything from it because it was a “stock-for-stock” transaction and that he owned roughly the same amount of stock in both companies.
The Drive reports that during his testimony, Musk said he did not particularly like being CEO but had to stay in that position because, otherwise, “frankly, Tesla is going to die.” He apparently prefers designing and engineering and his self-awarded “Technoking of Tesla” title — which, Musk agrees, generated free press for Tesla, even if the board did not vet the title.
For Tesla, Musk is like a pendulum that swings between good and bad
There is no doubt Musk has been a driving force in propelling Tesla forward in terms of profits and leading the EV industry. On occasion, Musk has also undoubtedly been a driving force for Tesla in the wrong direction. Because of his eccentricity and tendency toward tantrums, Musk has earned a controversial reputation, which could tarnish Tesla’s image because he’s synonymous with the brand.
As far as the current lawsuit, after Musk’s testimony, other board members will testify, and it will likely be several months before a ruling is reached. If Musk loses, he could face paying damages around $2.6 billion, which, even for one of the world’s wealthiest people, isn’t exactly chump change. And even if he wins, it likely won’t be the last lawsuit he faces, and it almost certainly won’t be the last time Musk and Tesla are in the press, for good or bad.
If Elon Musk is nothing else, he is consistent. Maybe a little (a lot) narcissistic. But he is consistent. Whether or not that will ultimately benefit or kill Tesla remains to be seen. We will have to wait to see which way the pendulum swings next.