The big news the Financial Times (FT) got from Elon Musk at the Future of the Car Summit was certainly unrelated to cars. The billionaire planning to take over Twitter said he would reverse former President Donald Trump’s permanent ban of the platform.
But the Tesla CEO also made headlines about the world’s most valuable auto company. Musk said he would stay at Tesla “as long as I can be useful”, acknowledging concerns that a social media entry would compromise the amount of attention the world’s richest man would give to his electric car company. Tesla has long been clear that it is heavily dependent on Musk, who has been CEO since 2008.
Musk’s nearly 40-minute conversation with the FT was extensive and touched on a range of topics from Tesla’s China operations to metals mining, among others.
Here are a few highlights:
Musk estimates that China could account for 25 to 30 percent of Tesla’s business in the long term. He rejected the idea that the acquisition of Twitter could create political complications for Tesla in the country, as suggested by space industry rival Jeff Bezos a few weeks ago.
Tesla will expand its existing Shanghai factory, Musk said, but doesn’t plan to open additional plants in China anytime soon, as the company has full hands on starting production in Berlin and Austin, Texas. Tesla’s Shanghai plant was shut down for much of last month due to the Covid lockdown, but the CEO seemed optimistic that the worst of the disruption was over.
Tesla Gigafactory in Shanghai Tesla’s Shanghai factory could be threatened next year as the carmaker’s dominant position in China. Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg
“I’ve had talks with the Chinese government in recent days and it’s clear that the lockdown is being lifted rapidly,” Musk said.
Asked if Tesla would build a plant in Indonesia, Musk said the event was not the right forum for him to make such an announcement.
Musk also discussed the formation of a trio of holding companies as part of his bid to acquire Twitter.
He dismissed the idea of bringing Tesla, SpaceX and their other ventures under one roof, saying he doesn’t see “a ton of merit” in their combination. Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. SpaceX is trying to extend life beyond Earth and with Starlink is providing Internet coverage in less-served parts of the world. They have very different purposes.
Musk was less grand than usual about the road to fully autonomous driving, which has been around longer than many in the industry expected. That arguably promises more than anyone else, which has left US regulators baffled.
“Self-driving is one of those things where there are a lot of false days,” Musk said. “Your progress is initially linear, and then looks logarithmic and kind of tapers off.
“Obviously, I could be wrong,” Musk said, “but I think we’re actually pretty close to achieving self-driving at a safety level better than human, and my best guess is that we’ll be on the way this year. Will get there.”
Interestingly, Musk also said that Tesla is ready to buy a mining company.
The world’s largest automakers are racing to secure supplies of the metals needed to make batteries for electric vehicles. Tesla has always had a strategy of being vertically integrated – taking ownership of various stages of the production process – and has recently struck a number of deals for raw materials, including nickel.
“It’s not that we want to buy mining companies,” Musk said, “but if that’s the only way to accelerate the transition, then we will.”