In his quarterly conference call with financial analysts on Wednesday, the last thing Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk wanted to answer were Wall Street analysts’ questions about how much money the automaker needs to keep the lights on this year. So he cut them off, declared their queries “boring, bonehead questions” and instead opened the floor to a retail investor and super fan from YouTube. It was a strange experience.
Earning calls typically aren’t a rollicking affair, when most of the time companies are expected to take questions and explain what their financial outlook is going forward. But Tesla isn’t most companies, and Musk is Musk, so the automaker’s quarterly calls have gathered a strange allure about them, with reporters and observers—for whatever reason—anxious await in anticipation to see what Musk will do.
Early on, Musk turned to one of his favorite targets—the media—and derided any journalist who covers fatal crashes involving Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system as irresponsible hacks with zero integrity.
Musk trotted a similar line in the fall of 2016, after the first fatal Autopilot-related crash emerged, and it’s something we took great pains to highlight why it’s such a disingenuous ploy to deflect attention away from something that’s unquestionably important and, more so, newsworthy.
But Musk cutting loose about his interpretation of journalism isn’t new. What is new was the way he handled questions from Wall Street analysts. Musk has been saying for weeks that Tesla won’t need to raise more capital this year, and he strongly believes the automaker will be profitable by 2019.
Some of the analysts on the call were clearly interested in hearing more about this, and whatever’s going on with the sluggish production of the Model 3 sedan.
Here’s what happened:
He Next’d them! I could barely contain myself because it felt totally reminiscent of Sean Spicer fielding questions from Skype to prove a point or whatever to the White House press corps. You want to talk finances, finance person, screw you!!!! Over to YouTube!
At the beginning of the call, the operator emphasized that each analyst could float one question and a follow up, and that’s final. When he handed the call over to YouTuber HyperChange (on Twitter as @Gfilche), what started as a straightforward—and relatively boring—call, devolved into Musk just shooting the shit with a guy from YouTube.
The host, Gali Russell, asked Musk if he thinks Tesla’s Supercharger network should become available to other automakers, or whether he should keep it as a strategic “moat.”
Here was Musk’s response:
Russell also asked about when Tesla plans to open a network of driverless cars, where Tesla owners could share their cars on a system for autonomous driving.
Musk dug it—“Thank you for an interesting question”—before proceeding to offer very little substance that provided no insight into when, or if, the so-called Tesla Network is happening. Russell did manage to pull some news out of Musk, regarding the Model Y, which he says should begin production in 24 months.
Russell, in total, got about 20 minutes to chat with Elon, while the rest of us plebs just sat and listened in. At some point, a Tesla spokesperson passed along the number to dial-in to join the queue for questions. I dialed in, but alas, 74 minutes after it began, the weird ride ended without any input from Jalopnik.
At one point, Musk responded about the company’s stock price, and implored any investor to listen: “If people are concerned about volatility, they should not buy our stock.”
On Thursday, they apparently responded. Tesla’s shares dropped 7.5 percent as of midday.