Elon Musk’s frustrations with reporters and analysts are boiling over onto his Twitter feed and earnings calls, highlighting a shift in relations between the Iron Man and those who have historically afforded him hero status.
Musk has always been part visionary, part P.T. Barnum. He makes stunning promises and predictions about the future and doesn’t always deliver. The tone of the media coverage oscillates accordingly, often depending on whether his most recent rocket launch was a success or a failure. February’s Falcon Heavy launch was a high point.
Like production of the Tesla Model 3, coverage of Musk has come down to earth. Every missed deadline, every staff change, every autonomous car crash is covered with intense scrutiny.
Musk clearly sees the coverage as both sensational and myopic.
In the last two weeks, he has criticized media outlets and Wall Street analysts.
“It’s super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage,” he tweeted about a Washington Post report.
“Ford has had 3 CEOs in 4 years & no one even knows, but hey Tesla hired some interns!,” he tweeted about a Fox Business report.
On a recent earnings call, he interrupted analysts who asked about capital expenditures and Tesla Model 3 production: “Boring, bonehead questions are not cool,” Musk said to one. “These questions are so dry. They’re killing me,” he said to another.
While Musk may be right that one Tesla crash pales in comparison to tens of thousands of fatal auto accidents, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t warrant coverage. As Jalopnik’s Ryan Felton points out, “it’d be wholly irresponsible to avoid scrutinizing whether [autonomous] technology can perform in the real world.”
Musk’s dismissal of analysts’ concerns is also hard to justify. Musk’s visions can’t be achieved without financing. Today, Goldman Sachs predicts Tesla will need $10.5 billion in new capital over the next two-and-a-half years to keep operating and meet targets.
Musk is a long-term thinker in a short-term world, but his runway is running out. Tesla needs to demonstrate real, tangible progress to convince everyone other than his most bullish investors that he’s still a safe bet.
CNNMoney (Los Angeles) First published May 17, 2018: 4:53 PM ET