Christmas came early for Recode’s Kara Swisher, who recently got the opportunity to interview billionaire, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and inventor Elon Musk. The 80-minute session delved into various important aspects of Musk’s professional and personal life. The fact that he is working to revolutionize various business and tech domains, is part of what makes him so interesting to journalists and the general public, and this interview did not disappoint either.
Musk recently had a major run in with the SEC on Twitter. When asked to shed some light on his Twitter escapades, Musk said that he tweeted stuff that he found interesting, in hopes that others would also find it interesting.
Well, I tweet interesting things pretty much as they come to me, and probably with not much of a filter.
He also refuted claims that he was under orders to change his behavior on the social networking platform. And on the topic of making contentious tweets, he said that the only tweets he won’t make, are those that might cause a substantial movement in the stock during trading hours. Although, that’s sort of what he did when he announced that he was taking Tesla private.
Musk has has plenty of run ins with the press as well, and that reflected. Calling people who publish articles without checking the authenticity as terrible people and ad-salesman, Musk said:
The amount of untruthful stuff that is written is unbelievable. Take that Wall Street Journal front-page article about like, “The FBI is closing in.” That is utterly false. That’s absurd. To print such a falsehood on the front page of a major newspaper is outrageous. Like, why are they even journalists?
The Year 2018
Stating that it was trivial to start a car company, but very hard to make it successful, Musk said that 2018 was spent in the pursuit of this success for Tesla, and was an extremely hard year.
Pretty sure I burnt out a bunch of neurons during this process. Running both SpaceX and Tesla is an incredibly difficult … You realize we’re fighting the incredibly competitive car companies. They make very good cars. They’ve been doing this for a long time. They are entrenched. Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Lexus, you name it. All those car brands. And the history of car companies in America is terrible. The only ones that haven’t gone bankrupt are Tesla and Ford. That’s it. Everyone else has gone bankrupt.
Stating that there was a good chance Ford didn’t make it through the next recession, Musk said that the dynamics of surviving when you were a startup and the bigwigs around you were falling, required even more effort, and of course, 100-hour weeks by everyone.
Asked “Why” he was working so hard, Musk said that Tesla would die if he didn’t. He also said that his company was pushing other car manufacturers into going the electrical route, and that was why he needed to make sure that it survived and thrived.
Tesla cannot die. Tesla is incredibly important for the future of sustainable transport and energy generation. The fundamental purpose, the fundamental good that Tesla provides is accelerating the advent of sustainable transport and energy production. This supersedes political parties, race, creed, religion, it doesn’t matter. If we do not solve the environment, we’re all damned.
He said that while a transition to sustainable energy was inevitable, Tesla’s presence was pushing it to take place faster by 10-20 years. He also said that Tesla had advanced sustainable energy by 10 years, and stood to advance it by another 10.
Talking about production issues, he said:
For this past year, it’s been because of the Model 3 production ramp. Myself and others at Tesla, we had to go in and fix the mistakes in the Model 3 production system, and there were a lot of them. I personally solved a bunch. Jerome [Guillen] solved a bunch. Everyone helped, the entire team. Javier [Verdura], Franz [von Holzhausen], Deepak [Ahuja], everyone. It was … like, we had the legal team delivering cars in Q3. Todd [Maron] is great. There was a lot of people … Everyone had to basically go hardcore to solve the ramp.
Saying that the world “needed” Tesla, Musk appeared to be very committed to the car company.
While talking about his crazy work schedule, Musk said:
Yeah. Things are back to a hard work schedule, but not an insane work schedule. I was, there were times when, some weeks … I don’t know. I haven’t counted exactly, but I would just sort of sleep for a few hours, work, sleep for a few hours, work, seven days a week. Some of those days must have been 120 hours, or something nutty. You’re gonna go a little bonkers if you work 120 hours a week. Now we’re down to 80 or 90. It’s pretty manageable.
He was also quick to add that the ambien he was using was to regulate his sleep, and nothing else.
Talking about Tesla’s recent breakthrough which came in form of a profitable quarter, Musk said that Tesla was doing pretty well at the moment, and was not staring death in the face. There were no extremely pressing problems, and production was also at good numbers. Musk also said that with overtime, he could easily push production numbers to 6,000+, but he didn’t want to stress people out.
Talking about new features that are coming to his cars, Musk said that drive-on navigation is one of the first major steps toward full self-driving. You can enter in an address, and from highway on-ramp to highway off-ramp, the car will change lanes. It will go from one highway to the next automatically, and take off-ramp automatically. Apparently, the car will also be able to overtake slower cars.
Talking about the challenges with self-driving, Musk said that recognizing all types of objects from all eight cameras, was hard and required neural networks to work full speed. To ensure self-drive, or any other interesting feature Tesla car’s are famous for, the output of the neural nets needed to be integrated together and path-planning and navigation and “hooked into it”.
Musk also called Mercedes plans to put sensors in the road “hopeless”, and said that the need of the hour was a specialized solution that worked for the general populace. On government regulation, he appeared to be rather optimistic, and believed that with effort, he could get all the necessary approvals.
I think the key thing for convincing regulators that self-driving is OK is to show billions of miles with a much better statistical significance in safety than human drivers. If the probability of injury is half that of the average human driver, then I think, probably, regulators will support self-driving. But it has to be a very large population. The statistical population of miles has to be very big, like billions, in essentially almost every possible case.
Musk also went on to say that no one, including Uber, Googlee etc., was likely to achieve generalized technology for self-driving before Tesla did.
The other car companies … I don’t wanna sound overconfident, but I would be very surprised if any of the car companies exceeded Tesla in self-driving, in getting to full self-driving. You know, I think we’ll get to full self-driving next year. As a generalized solution, I think. But that’s a … Like we’re on track to do that next year. So I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else is on track to do it next year.
Musk also said that Tesla had all the money that i needed, and would be cash flow positive for the quarters in the near future.
He also hinted that he had a VTOL design somewhere in his head, that he was working on for over 9 years. However, Musk said that his head was likely to explode if he tried to do anything about it now, and that it was probably going to have to wait for some time in the future. Right now, Musk said, the focus was on the truck, the semi, and the roadster.
More to come, keep watching this space.
A bibliophile and a business enthusiast.