Elon Musk wants electric vehicles to be successful — even if Tesla goes under trying.
In an interview for CBS’ “60 Minutes,” the Tesla CEO and Silicon Valley billionaire was asked about competition from General Motors (GM), which announced last month it’s laying off thousands of workers as the century-old company shifts focus to self-driving and electric vehicles.
Musk appeared unconcerned.
“If somebody comes and makes a better electric car than Tesla, and it’s so much better than ours that we can’t sell our cars and we go bankrupt, I still think that’s a good thing for the world,” Musk told Leslie Stahl during the interview. Clips were shared online ahead of its full broadcast on Sunday.
“The whole point of Tesla is to accelerate the advent of electric vehicles and sustainable transport,” he said. “We’re trying to help the environment, we think it’s the most serious problem that humanity faces.”
Making EVs sexy
Tesla was founded in 2003 with a goal of taking on reigning auto giants and convincing consumers that all-electric vehicles can be safe, reliable and sexy.
By most accounts, it succeeded. Tesla has amassed a loyal fan base for its luxury electric vehicles, and the company is working to reach the mass market. Its newest car, the Model 3, is the closest yet with price points that will start at $35,000.
Tesla has sold nearly 500,000 cars worldwide, which accounts for about 20% of all the fully electric vehicles on the road today, according to a recent estimate from Navigant Research.
Legacy automakers are now making plays for the EV market. Nissan introduced the all-electric Leaf in late 2010. And GM debuted the Chevy Bolt EV two years ago.
Volkswagen recently said it will pour $50 billion into an electric vehicle “offensive” with plans to sell millions of all-electric cars in the coming years. The company will sell luxury EVs under the Audi and Porsche brands, and it could debut mass market cars that undercut Tesla on price, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess has said. The company plans to do it by honing its mass-production expertise.
Tesla’s path forward
Scaling up manufacturing proved to be difficult for Tesla as it debuted the Model 3. The company suffered months of delays because of hangups on its assembly lines.
Righting itself cost Tesla millions and required off-beat solutions that bewildered some investors.
“It was life or death,” Musk told Stahl. “Those betting against the company were right by all conventional standards that we would fail. But they just did not count on this unconventional situation of creating an assembly line in a parking lot in a tent.”
Tesla proved some critics wrong with its latest earnings report in October. The company posted a net profit of $312 million, by far its largest ever and its first quarterly profit since 2016.
But about $9 billion worth of debt bills are due for the company in the coming years, Goldman Sachs said in September. And Musk recently told investors that Tesla does not plan to raise more money to fund its future, even as it introduces new vehicle models and opens factories in Shanghai and Europe.
“We certainly could raise money, but I think we don’t need to,” Musk said in October. “And I think it is better discipline not to.”
In his 60 Minutes interview, Musk also floated the possibility that Tesla may expand its footprint in the United States. He said Tesla “would be interested” in taking over some of the factory space GM said it will abandon during its restructuring.
The company’s current assembly site in Fremont, California, also has a history with GM. The plant was jointly operated by GM and Toyota before Tesla took over in 2010.