Sleepless in Fremont: Tesla’s Elon Musk says more rest is not an option
Arianna Huffington took the Tesla CEO to task about his crazy work habits, but the latest funding setback has made him even more determined to take Tesla private — even if it means no sleep
Zurich/London/New York — Elon Musk sees no option but to keep working at his current relentless pace, no matter the deepening concerns of board members and investors about his health and stability as he propels Tesla toward a possible rebirth as a private company.
Only a few hours before sunrise in California on Sunday, Musk said he had just gotten home from the electric-car factory where he has toiled — and often slept — for months to ramp up Model 3 sedan production. The CEO rebutted a post from digital-media mogul Arianna Huffington, who had urged him to take time off lest he fall short of his ambitions to change the world. Sorry, Musk wrote around 2.30am: "It is not" an option: "Ford & Tesla are the only 2 American car companies to avoid bankruptcy. I just got home from the factory. You think this is an option. It is not."
The exchange underscores Musk’s determination to lead Tesla through the turmoil that accelerated after his August 7 tweet suggesting he had secured funding to take the firm private at $420 a share. Rather than soaring toward that value, the stock has since plummeted 20% as parts of Musk’s story unravel and pressure mounts on Tesla’s board for its handling of the iconic CEO. Nothing will get easier this week as he and Tesla’s board align with their separate sets of legal and financial advisers, all amid inquiries from US securities regulators.
On Sunday, the picture became a little more complicated. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund — the very investor that Musk described as a linchpin of his plan to take Tesla private — was reported by Reuters to consider buying a stake in another US electric-car company.
The Saudis’ Public Investment Fund, which recently bought an almost 5% holding in Tesla, was reported to be in talks for a separate $1bn investment in Lucid Motors that would give the fund control of that fledgling automaker.
A Lucid spokeswoman declined to comment, and representatives for the Saudi fund could not immediately be reached for comment on the Reuters report, which cited people familiar with the talks without identifying them.
While Tesla and Lucid are not at all on the same level — Lucid has only shown electric-car prototypes, whereas Tesla produces thousands of cars a month — the prospect of controlling Lucid may have appeal to the Saudis. Part of their goal is to diversify away from the oil industry.
Tesla has marketed its top-of-the-line models that boast head-snapping acceleration as having "Insane" and "Ludicrous" modes. But features some consumers may want in an automobile are not necessarily sustainable in an automobile executive.
Tesla shares plummeted Friday by the most in two years, closing at $305.50, after the New York Times published an interview in which Musk described the past 12 months as "the most difficult and painful year of my career." References to Ambien use and driving while tweeting are fuelling calls for Tesla’s board to step up its oversight of the CEO, chairman and largest shareholder.
An open letter from Huffington, a board member at Uber Technologies, to Musk accused him of "demonstrating a wildly outdated, anti-scientific and horribly inefficient way of using human energy." She added in a tweet that the Tesla founder should change the way he works. In his interview with the Times, Musk said he sacrificed family milestones in the race to meet Tesla production targets.
Still, the Tesla CEO tweeted that Ford and Tesla are the only two American car companies to have avoided bankruptcy, and dismissed the idea that he was able to cut his workload.
Musk’s already chaotic world blew up again when he tweeted this month that he had "funding secured" to take Tesla private.
He later said that meetings with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund had given him confidence to announce the news, and announced that he had tapped Goldman Sachs and Silver Lake to assist with the plan. Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission sent the company a subpoena regarding the statement.
Huffington’s attempted intervention comes at a time when she has been campaigning in support of the benefits of sleep. Her description accompanying the open letter describes her as a "flat shoe advocate and sleep evangelist."
It is unlikely Musk has lost much sleep over concerns about Newark, California-based Lucid Motors. While its prototype Lucid Air sedan has been well-received, it is unclear whether the company has the funding to get production going. Lucid’s website is taking refundable $2,500 deposits for the vehicles it plans to eventually sell.