Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Elon Musk says he’s ‘dumb way more often than I’d like to be’ as Tesla strategy questioned

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Elon Musk is known to be mercurial, demanding, and at times ruthless. He’s also, by his own admission, “dumb way more often than I’d like to be.” 

The Tesla and Twitter CEO made the comment Friday in response to Twitter users debating his business strategy and management style. Specifically, he replied to a comment reading, “‘Elon knows best’ is a terrible argument. He’s great but can also be dumb.” 

Whole Mars Catalog posted that comment, also writing: “What I love about Tesla Twitter is that we can debate & discuss what the company should do, have employees and management join in that discussion, & try and ultimately push the company and mission forward.”

Tesla price cuts

The debate at hand centered around whether Tesla should spend more on advertising, with Twitter user James Cat arguing that doing so would have probably generated enough demand to avoid recent Tesla price cuts. The carmaker has lowered prices a number of times this year amid growing competition, upsetting existing owners worried about the value of their used Teslas.

Musk weighed in on the price cuts, writing: “So many well off critics don’t understand that demand at scale is limited by affordability. There is plenty of demand for our products, but if the price is more money than people have, that demand is irrelevant.”

Cat responded and called for more advertising, writing, “I respectfully disagree, Elon. Most people that can afford a Tesla today aren’t buying Tesla. Many are, which is great, but affordability is just one important consideration.” 

Advertising would no doubt boost sales for Tesla, but the carmaker has traditionally not relied upon it. Musk tweeted four years ago, “Tesla does not advertise or pay for endorsements. Instead, we use that money to make the product great.”

One Twitter user jumped into the debate with, “To think you’re smarter than Elon Musk,” with an image of a man shaking is head.

Cat, a self-described Tesla fan, replied to that with: “Do I think I am smarter than Elon? No. Does that mean he or management gets everything 100% right? No. Let’s not be a cult and try to be objective. This is a cultist response.”

Musk mistakes

Musk’s admission that he sometimes makes dumb decisions was not a first. Last year, he said his greatest mistake was cofounding Tesla with others besides CTO JB Straubel. That could also be a dig at cofounder Martin Eberhard, the carmaker’s first CEO—once referred to as “Mr. Tesla”—and a critic of the autonomous driving feature pushed by Musk.

Musk also admitted in a Twitter Spaces conversation that a short-lived Twitter policy in December that resulted in respected VC Paul Graham’s account being suspended “was a mistake.” 

And last month, Musk suggested at a Tesla investors day event he had regrets over his role with OpenAI, the maker of A.I. chatbots ChatGPT and GPT-4. Musk, who has long warned about the dangers of A.I. to humanity, donated about $100 million to OpenAI in 2015 when it was still a nonprofit, before it accepted hefty donations from Microsoft and switched its business model. 

“I’m a little worried about the A.I. stuff,” he said. “We need some kind of, like, regulatory authority or something overseeing A.I. development…It’s quite dangerous technology. I fear I may have done some things to accelerate it.”

Fortune reached out to Tesla outside working hours for comments and will update this article with any response.

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