Archives for September 8, 2018

Elon Musk’s Weed-Toking Goodwill Tour Isn't Enough to Save Tesla

The thing to remember about Elon Musk smoking a blunt with Joe Rogan is not that he took just one hit, or that he didn’t seem to know what a blunt was, or that he whiffed on an opportunity to show off just how useful his “not a flamethrower” can be. It’s that it came 130 minutes into his two-and-a-half-hour interview with Rogan, for the former Fear Factor host’s podcast, livestreamed on YouTube.

Two hours in which Musk got to play the most popular version of himself: the far-out thinking engineer who doesn’t conform to the status quo. Two hours in which he whoa’d Rogan with cogent breakdowns of the threat and promise of artificial intelligence, his plan to obliterate traffic with underground tunnels, and his enlightened fear of chimpanzees. Musk talked about his idea for an electric, supersonic airplane, complete with a physics lesson on how it would accomplish vertical takeoff and landing. He used math to argue that we’re all living in a simulation. He did it while remaining relatable, likeable, and interesting. And while the interview had its boring moments, it was, overall, a lot of fun.

That’s because it starred Musk at his best. As the guy who appeared on The Simpsons, turning Homer’s silly musings into world-bettering inventions. The Elon who met Stephen Colbert’s accusation of being a supervillain with a sheepish chuckle. The one who earned a cameo in Iron Man 2.

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Cool Elon. Not the version who claimed that the British man involved in the rescue of the Thai cave boys is a pedophile. Not the Musk who sparked shareholder lawsuits and a reported SEC investigation by announcing he might take Tesla private, then recanted a few weeks later. Not the Musk who called a reporter a “fucking asshole” while doubling down on the pedophile claim. That’s the Musk who has seen Tesla’s stock price drop 17 percent since the beginning of the year. So for everyone who doesn’t freak out when someone takes a puff or two, the Rogan interview promised to be a reassuring appearance.

Except that Friday morning, Tesla shares dropped 10 percent in response to news that that human relations chief Gabrielle Toledano, who has been on a leave of absence, won’t rejoin the company, and chief accounting officer Dave Morton had resigned September 4—from a job he started August 6. (CNBC reports Morton was frustrated that Tesla’s leadership was ignoring his advice on the question of going private.) He was the third high-ranking finance executive to leave the company this year.

Tesla finally hit its target of making 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week in June, and Musk, true to form, immediately said they’d hit 6,000 a week this quarter. He has also said this is the quarter Tesla starts—at long last—to turn a profit. We won’t have a better idea of how Tesla is doing on production until early October, or of its financial state until early November, but these departures are just the latest evidence that the automaker is struggling.

Musk’s behavior of late hasn’t helped, of course. But a return to Fun Elon (and the emergence of Blunt Smokin’ Elon) isn’t enough to keep Tesla’s future from going up in smoke.


More Great WIRED Stories

Gadget Lab Podcast: Can Facebook and Twitter Be ‘Fixed?’

Facebook and Twitter went to Washington. Almost immediately afterwards, controversial Internet troll Alex Jones was kicked off Twitter. Now what? WIRED senior writer Issie Laposwky joins the Gadget Lab podcast this week to break down the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, tell us what it means for Facebook and Twitter (and Google – which didn’t send its CEO to the hearings), and to help us answer the question that’s become one of the more pressing questions in modern times: Is social media to blame, or are the humans who do terrible things on social media to blame?

Show notes: Issie wrote all about the hearings, as well as Alex Jones getting booted off Twitter, this week.

Recommendations this week: Issie recommends the Dr. Death podcast, about murderous surgeon and the health care system that failed to protect his patients. Mike recommends a podcast, too: The Bob Lefsetz podcast. Lefsetz is a music industry insider and “gadfly,” as Mike describes him; his guests are fascinating. Arielle recommends checking out the @Sweden Twitter account, the “last good thing on Twitter,” before it shuts down at the end of the month. For several years now, the account has been curated by a rotating cast of Swedes who were tasked with representing life in Sweden. Lauren recommends “Glow,” on Netflix. It’s a show about a show about women’s wrestling in the 1980’s. You won’t regret it.

Send the Gadget Lab hosts feedback on their personal Twitter feeds. Arielle Pardes is @pardesoteric. Lauren Goode is @laurengoode. Michael Calore can be found at @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. Our theme song is by Solar Keys.

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