The big news the Financial Times (FT) got out of Elon Musk at its Future of the Car summit was decidedly unrelated to cars. The billionaire planning to take over Twitter said he would reverse the platform's permanent ban of former President Donald Trump.
But Tesla's chief executive officer also made plenty of headline-worthy comments about the world's most valuable auto company. Musk said he'll stay at Tesla "as long as I can be useful," assuaging concern that a foray into social media will compromise the amount of attention the world's richest man devotes to his electric car company. Tesla has long been clear that it's highly dependent on Musk, who's been CEO since 2008.
Musk's almost 40-minute conversation with the FT was wide-ranging and hit on a lot of other topics, from Tesla's China operations to metal mining.
Here are a few highlights:
Musk estimated China will probably account for 25 per cent to 30 per cent of Tesla's business in the long term. He brushed off the idea that acquiring Twitter could cause political complications for Tesla in the country, as space industry rival Jeff Bezos suggested a couple weeks back.
Tesla will expand its existing Shanghai factory but doesn't plan to open additional plants in China anytime soon, Musk said, as the company has its hands full starting up production near Berlin and in Austin, Texas. Tesla's Shanghai plant was closed for much of last month due to Covid lockdowns, but the CEO sounded optimistic the worst of the disruption there is over.
Tesla Gigafactory In Shanghai As Carmaker's Dominant Position in China Could Be Threatened Next YearTesla's Shanghai factory. Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg
"I had conversations with the Chinese government in recent days, and it's clear the lockdowns are being lifted rapidly," Musk said.
When asked if Tesla would build a plant in Indonesia, Musk said the event wasn't the proper forum for him to make any such announcement.
Musk also discussed his formation of a trio of holding companies as part of his bid to acquire Twitter.
He ruled out the idea of bringing Tesla, SpaceX and his other ventures under one roof, saying he doesn't see "a ton of merit" in combining them. Tesla's mission is to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. SpaceX is trying to extend life beyond Earth and providing internet coverage to underserved parts of the world with Starlink. Those are pretty different aims.
Musk was less grandiose than usual about the road to fully autonomous driving, which has been much longer than many in the industry expected. He's arguably overpromised more than anyone, which has unsettled US regulators.
"Self-driving is one of those things where there are a lot of false dawns," Musk said. "Your progress is initially linear, and then looks logarithmic and sort of tapers off.
"Obviously, I could be wrong," Musk added, "but I think we are actually quite close to achieving self-driving at a safety level that is better than human, and my best guess is that we will get there this year."
Interestingly, Musk also said Tesla is open to buying a mining company.
The world's largest automakers are racing to secure the supply of metals needed to make batteries for electric vehicles. Tesla has always had a strategy to be vertically integrated - taking ownership of various stages of the production process - and has inked several deals recently for raw materials including nickel.
"It's not that we wish to buy mining companies," Musk said, "but if that's the only way to accelerate the transition, then we will do that."