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20th of October 2018

Automotive



Elon Musk’s Blunt-Toking Goodwill Tour Won't Fix Tesla's Real Problems

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 the return of Fun Elon (and the emergence of Blunt Smokin’ Elon) doesn't address the real, knotty problems facing the automaker—those that could send Tesla's future up in smoke.

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