Elon Musk: The man making the future happen
Nobody dreams as big as Elon Musk, the serial entrepreneur who has space in his sights
Solar City went public in December at a value of nearly $500 million, and its share price has since more than doubled.
Tesla made its IPO in 2010 and is also now trading at more than twice its initial offer price, with a value of more than $5 billion, having this week announced its first profitable quarter. The factory in San Francisco closed by Toyota in the financial crisis and reopened by Tesla will make its target 20,000 cars in a full year, and the Model S won Car of the Year awards from both Automobile and Motor Trend magazines in the US.
Musk also launched the Supercharger network of fast-charge stations on interstates which allow Model S owners to add three hours’ driving time in a half-hour stop. The Model S goes on sale in right-hand drive in the UK and Irish market early next year and Musk expects “to do more sales in Europe than the US in the long term, as the cost of petrol is so much higher, the distances travelled are shorter and the environmental consciousness is higher”.
But these past few months are not typical of the 11 years since Musk cashed out of PayPal. The Irish Times last met him in 2009, when both Tesla and SpaceX had almost died – Tesla suffered cost over-runs and design reboots that delayed production, and SpaceX a third launch flame-out that left everything hanging on the final attempt. And the economy tanked. Just how bad was it?
“It was like being in the stockade while people hurl shit at you,” Musk says (this, and the Clarkson quote, not reflecting his more typical gentlemanliness.) “We struggled very badly for many years just to keep the company alive. I had nothing left. I had to borrow money for rent. I sold everything I could, and I would have sold the plane too except that in 2008 you literally could not sell a plane.”
The plane is a Dassault Falcon 900 intercontinental jet; there’s also a vast new Bel Air mansion. But Musk is far from materialistic. “Profit is important in that if you don’t make more money than you spend, eventually people will stop giving you money and you will die. But it’s not something that’s of personal interest to me. I just want to have the resources to get the things done that I think matter.”
For Musk, this is a simple statement of fact and not an invitation to be grateful for his altruism. In America, not everyone is: he and his businesses are far from universally popular. It’s not so much Elon himself; instead, the controversies are more to do with the nature of the businesses and the circumstances in which they operate.