In interview, Elon Musk dishes on Ford, Tesla pickup and Mars


Tesla CEO Elon Musk followed up on his jaw-dropping interview this summer with The New York Times by sitting down for an 80-minute conversation with tech journalist Kara Swisher. being , he drops several irresistible nuggets along the way, offering his view that Ford might not survive the next recession, he doesn’t care whether people like the upcoming Tesla pickup truck and musing about things like electric scooters (don’t hold your breath for a Tesla version), dying on , and other things that have nothing to do with cars.

In between the August with the Times, in which he acknowledged turning to Ambien to help him sleep, and his appearance on Swisher’s “Recode Decode” podcast, reported earning $312 million, its first quarterly profit in two years and just the second in its history. That seems to have helped ease some of the pressure Musk has acknowledged feeling and contributed to a more optimistic outlook than what he conveyed in the Times confessional. In the Recode interview, Musk goes into more detail about what he calls “the worst year of my entire career” and the brutal nature of the auto industry in general.

“Running both SpaceX and Tesla is an incredibly difficult … You realize we’re fighting the incredibly competitive car companies,” he said. “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.”

A bit later, he adds, “ and Tesla made it barely through the last recession. There’s a good chance doesn’t make it in the next recession. So as a startup, a car company, it is far more difficult to be successful than if you’re an established, entrenched brand. It is absurd that Tesla is alive. Absurd! Absurd.”

Ford indeed survived the Great Recession only by mortgaging all of its assets in 2006, before the crash, for $23.6 billion in loans, an extraordinary move that helped it avoid going into bankruptcy. The company on Friday declined to respond to Musk’s comments. While its stock price has struggled of late, Ford reported having more than $23 billion in cash and more than $34 billion in liquidity when it reported its third-quarter earnings of $1 billion. In July, Ford’s European chairman and CEO, Steven Armstrong, took a swipe at Tesla on Twitter after Musk bragged about Tesla’s own production numbers on the Model 3.

Elsewhere, Musk hinted there’s more in the product pipeline than the next-generation Roadster, the Model Y midsize SUV, Semi Truck and pickup truck. And he described the lattermost vehicle in almost Trumpian terms.

“I can’t talk about the details, but it’s gonna be like a really futuristic-like cyberpunk, ‘Blade Runner’ truck,” he said. “It’s gonna be awesome, it’s gonna be amazing. This will be heart-stopping. It stops my heart. It’s like, oh, it’s great.” Asked who he wanted to sell it to, Musk responded, “You know, I actually don’t know if a lot of people will buy this truck or not, but I don’t care.”

Musk is apparently feeling so much better that he predicted the company would have positive cash flow “for all quarters going forward,” adding that, “Up until around September, we were really faced with, like, ‘We must solve this or we’re gonna die,’ constantly. I feel like we’re no longer in the staring-death-in-the-face situation.”

To complete his bravado, he added this: “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.” He said Tesla was “on track to do that next year”

Grab yourself some popcorn and read the full transcript or listen to the podcast here.

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