Home Business News Tesla's Elon Musk Turns Conference Call Into Sparring Session

Tesla's Elon Musk Turns Conference Call Into Sparring Session

10 min read
0
28

Elon Musk, here at a press conference in February, expressed some displeasure with analysts’ questions Wednesday.
Photo:

joe skipper/Reuters

Elon Musk

wanted to talk about the future of

Tesla Inc.
TSLA 0.41%

—self-driving cars, its next all-electric sport-utility vehicle and opening a factory in China.

What he didn’t seem eager to discuss with analysts on Wednesday’s quarterly conference call was the state of the business, after the Silicon Valley auto maker burned through about $1 billion during the first quarter as production struggles beset the Model 3 sedan.

Chief executives of publicly traded companies typically grit their teeth and coolly dance around pointed questions during these calls. Mr. Musk, known to defy convention, chose instead to spar with analysts over their “boring, bonehead” questions, cutting off two of them after they asked about Tesla’s capital requirements and Model 3 reservations.

After Mr. Musk began deflecting questions, Tesla’s stock fell more than 5% in about a 20-minute span.

Mr. Musk has created a devoted following with his bravado and efforts to upend transportation and save the world. Investors have lifted Tesla’s market value to rival those of

General Motors Co.

and

Ford Motor Co.

, much larger auto makers, while often brushing off Mr. Musk’s overly ambitious goal-setting.

But the stock slide shows that some investors may be losing patience.

Mr. Musk’s frustration bubbled up about a half-hour into the call when

Toni Sacconaghi

of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. asked about Tesla’s target date for achieving 25% gross margins on the Model 3—which the company seems to have pushed back by six to nine months from the goal stated just last quarter.

A Model 3 at a Chicago Tesla dealership in March; the company is running the assembly line around the clock as it chases its goal of producing 5,000 of the sedans a week.
A Model 3 at a Chicago Tesla dealership in March; the company is running the assembly line around the clock as it chases its goal of producing 5,000 of the sedans a week.
Photo:

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chief Financial Officer

Deepak Ahuja

attributed the delay, in part, to added labor costs and a weak dollar. Mr. Musk interrupted to say the gross-margin difference is a matter of three to five percentage points and will be resolved in three to six months.

“Don’t make a federal case out of it,” he said.

Mr. Sacconaghi—who co-wrote a report last month questioning Tesla’s ability to automate its factory—then turned to the company’s investment plans. Tesla had previously said it expected spending this year to about match last year’s $3.4 billion, but on Wednesday announced it was scaling back plans to less than $3 billion, which could ease its cash crunch.

When Mr. Sacconaghi asked what the company’s specific capital requirements would be, Mr. Musk cut him off.

“Boring, bonehead questions are not cool—next,” Mr. Musk said, turning to the operator for the next question.

Joseph Spak

of RBC Capital Markets then asked what percentage of Model 3 reservation holders who have been invited to start configuring their orders have actually done so.

Mr. Musk was silent for about 15 seconds.

“We’re going to go to YouTube, sorry. These questions are so dry. They’re killing me.” He directed the operator to take questions from Tesla investor

Galileo Russell,

whose HyperChange TV YouTube channel features a video titled, “Why I Bought Tesla Today at $255/Share.”

Mr. Russell, who had campaigned to get on the call usually reserved for analysts, got more than 20 minutes from Mr. Musk. The first of his dozen or so questions: When will Tesla launch its own network of driverless cars?

“Thank you for an interesting question,” Mr. Musk replied.

Model S sedans moving down the line at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory in 2012; robot problems are among the production issues for the Model 3.
Model S sedans moving down the line at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory in 2012; robot problems are among the production issues for the Model 3.
Photo:

Reuters

Following the call,

Alexander Potter,

an analyst from Piper Jaffray, sent a note to investors saying that Tesla’s management is “clearly fed up with fielding nit-picky questions” about Model 3 orders, production delays and other capex requirements.

When the call started, Tesla’s stock was down less than 1% in after-hours trading. Mr. Musk spent the first 10 minutes describing some of the challenges faced in ramping up production, such as robots’ struggles to put fiberglass mats atop of battery packs.

Analysts then began peppering Mr. Musk and Mr. Ahuja with tough questions about the Model 3 delays. Mr. Musk has directed the factory to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to reach the goal of making 5,000 of the sedans a week by around the end of the second quarter.

Brian Johnson,

an analyst for Barclays, posed questions about the math, finally concluding that Tesla has about one vehicle coming off the line every two minutes, compared with the industry average of one a minute. That, Mr. Johnson suggested, seemed to be at odds with Mr. Musk’s claim in February that his factory would outpace the industry, which he called slower than a “grandma with a walker.”

Later, Mr. Musk again praised Mr. Russell’s line of questioning as he asked about a range of topics including the Model Y, which has yet to begin production.

“Asking questions that are not boring,” Mr. Musk said.

Write to Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com

Let’s block ads! (Why?)


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

American Airlines passenger sparks mid-flight brawl after denied beer, threatening to kill seatmate

One unruly American Airlines passenger caused quite the scene in the high skies when his r…