Elon Musk’s No Good, Very Bad Year


“This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career,” said Mr. Musk, the head of Tesla. “It was excruciating.”

Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, is facing an intense existential crisis. “From a personal pain standpoint, the worst is yet to come,” he said.CreditBrendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Elon Musk is on the brink. In an emotional, hourlong interview with The New York Times, Mr. Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, described what he called the most difficult year of his career. Over the last 16 months, he has gone from seemingly on top of the world to facing one of the most intense existential crises of his entrepreneurial career.

April 10, 2017

Tesla becomes the most valuable American carmaker

Over the course of one week, Tesla leapfrogged Ford and General Motors in terms of market capitalization — a measure of a public company’s value. As Mr. Musk articulated it, Tesla is going to change the world, and it has been primed to cash in on the two transformative trends in the industry: the shift to electric vehicles as part of a broader societal move to cleaner energy, and the advent of automated driving.

The proof? Tesla later in the year planned to release its first mass-market vehicle, the Model 3, something that promised to reach drivers at a substantially different scale. Wall Street appeared to buy the pitch.

July 28, 2017

Tesla unveils Model 3, but Musk warns of coming “manufacturing hell”

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Inside the Tesla event to unveil the Model 3 sedan.CreditTesla, via Reuters

Tesla unveiled its new Model 3 sedans, starting at $35,000, in a ceremony on the grounds of its sprawling assembly plant and research facility outside San Francisco.


“The whole point of this company was to make a really great, affordable electric car, and we finally have it.”

—Elon Musk


But Mr. Musk warned that success would not come easy. Tesla had said weeks before that it was facing a shortage of battery packs for the cars, putting the company far behind its target of producing 600,000 cars a year. Mr. Musk warned employees that the company was in for “six months of manufacturing hell.”

July 30, 2017

Musk says his mental health is suffering from the burdens of running his business

In a series of posts on Twitter, responding to followers, Mr. Musk acknowledges that his mental health was suffering.


“Bad feelings correlate to bad events, so maybe real problem is getting carried away in what I sign up for.”

—Elon Musk


Asked if he might be bipolar, he replied, “Yeah.” Then he added, “Maybe not medically tho. Dunno.”

Nov. 15, 2017

Identifying the enemy: short-sellers

Mr. Musk, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, railed against so-called short-sellers who were betting that Tesla’s stock would fall.


“They’re jerks who want us to die.”

— Elon Musk


Mr. Musk went on to say that short-sellers were constantly amplifying negative rumors attacking his integrity. The investors who bet against the stock argued that the company was not prepared to produce cars at the scale that it had promised.

Jan. 3

Tesla says Model 3 production is far behind expectations

Six months before, Mr. Musk predicted that Tesla would be able to make 20,000 Model 3s a month by December. But in three months, it built only 2,425.

March 23

A fatal crash raises safety concerns

The scene of the crash along a highway in Mountain View, Calif.CreditKTVU, via Associated Press

A Tesla Model X crashed in Northern California when it was the car’s semiautonomous driving mode called Autopilot was engaged, killing the driver. The crash raised questions about how safe Tesla’s cars were, and whether the company had begun to cut corners as it was dealing with production slowdowns. That same month, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the company’s credit rating, concerned that the company was burning through cash.

April 16

Model 3 production is temporarily halted

Tesla said it would stop production of the Model 3 as it tried to work out kinks that have slowed assembly of the car. Mr. Musk said “excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake” and that “humans are underrated.”

In his interview with The Times, Mr. Musk said at that he had spent much of this time working 120 hours a week to get things back on track.

May 2

Flustered, Musk publicly berates financial analysts

Tesla reported a big quarterly loss, but most investors seemed to take it in stride. That was until Mr. Musk got on a conference call with financial analysts and began berating them for their questions.


“Excuse me. Next. Boring bonehead questions are not cool. Next?”

— Elon Musk


Mr. Musk’s “boring” admonition came in response to a question about how much cash the company had on hand.

May 7

Grimes and Musk make their debut

Mr. Musk and Grimes at the Met Gala.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times

Mr. Musk attended the Met Gala in New York, an annual benefit put on by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with his new girlfriend, the Canadian musician Grimes. The necklace she was wearing appeared to be in the shape of a Tesla logo.

June 17

Musk turns his attention back to shorts

Musk tweets that short-sellers have about three weeks before their positions “explode.”

In his interview with The Times, Mr. Musk again complained about short-sellers.


“They’re not dumb guys, but they’re not supersmart. They’re O.K. They’re smartish.”

— Elon Musk


“There is a constant stream of negative propaganda from the short-sellers,” he also said in the interview. “Anytime there is something slightly negative that happens, they fan the flames to an incredible degree.”

June 28

Musk spends his birthday in a factory

In speaking with The Times this week, Mr. Musk broke down while describing this moment.

“All night — no friends, nothing,” he said, struggling to get the words out.

Mr. Musk said he had tried to take care of his health, but it had been a struggle. “Every night, I can I work out,” he said in the interview. “Every night, I can there’s maybe 10 minutes of meditation.”

But the effort paid off. With production having resumed, the company met its goal of making 5,000 Model 3s in a seven-day period for the first time.

July 7

Shifting his attention, Musk sends help to trapped children in a Thai cave

This photo, tweeted by Elon Musk, showed efforts underway to rescue trapped members of a youth soccer team from a flooded cave in northern Thailand.

Engineers from companies led by Mr. Musk went to Thailand to help rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach who had been trapped in a cave in northern Thailand. A plan emerged to build a submarine using a part from a SpaceX rocket. SpaceX is another one of Mr. Musk’s companies.

But the offer of help was taken by some as a sign of a God complex. After the rescue, a diver involved in the operation called Mr. Musk’s plan a “P.R. stunt” and told him to “stick his submarine where it hurts.” Mr. Musk lashed back at the diver, implying in one tweet that he was a pedophile. Mr. Musk later deleted the tweets and apologized.

July 31

Musk meets with Saudi fund to discuss privatization

Mr. Musk met with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, a managing director of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, at a Tesla factory.

Mr. Musk came away with impression that the Saudi fund would provide financing for a Tesla privatization. But the Saudi fund had not committed to provide any cash, two people briefed on the discussions said.

Aug. 7

A tweet starts a storm

Mr. Musk sent his fateful tweet suggesting that he would take Tesla private at $420 a share. The stock soared, trading on the Nasdaq was halted and the Tesla board, blindsided by Mr. Musk’s announcement, went into damage control mode.

In his interview with The Times, Mr. Musk gave a detailed timeline of the day. He says he woke up at his home in Los Angeles, worked out at his private gym, then got in a Tesla Model S and drove himself to the airport, where a private plane was waiting to fly him to Nevada. On the drive, he sent the tweet.

“In the time between when I woke up on Tuesday morning and when I sent that tweet, I literally did not speak to or see another person apart from my girlfriend, who was asleep in bed,” Mr. Musk said.

Explaining why he sent the tweet, Mr. Musk said: “It was not possible for me to talk to our current institutional investors unless all our investors were aware of what was going on.”

Aug. 12

Azealia Banks wades in

As efforts to take Tesla private begin in earnest, Mr. Musk is drawn into a bizarre news cycle with a rapper who claimed she spent a lonely weekend at Mr. Musk’s house.


“I waited around all weekend while Grimes coddled her boyfriend for being too stupid to know not to go on Twitter while on acid.”

— Azealia Banks


Mr. Musk told Gizmodo that he had never met Ms. Banks. And in his interview with The Times, he denied that he was on drugs at the time of the privatization tweet: “Absolutely not.”

But the two did lay eyes on each other: Ms. Banks, at Grimes’s invitation, came to his house in the predawn hours one morning earlier this month, people familiar with the sequence of events say.

Tesla board members have grown concerned about Mr. Musk’s use of Twitter, but Mr. Musk said in the interview that he had no plans to stop.

“It is a good avenue for communicating directly with the public, especially as it relates to product stuff,” he said. “I have a habit of making dumb jokes, but nobody needs to follow me.”

Aug. 16

Musk opens up

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Musk talks about his personal struggles, his work at Tesla and his erratic behavior.

“The worst is over from a Tesla operational standpoint,” he said, continuing: “But from a personal pain standpoint, the worst is yet to come.”


“I thought the worst of it was over — I thought it was.”

— Elon Musk


Kate Kelly covers Wall Street, its political influence and inner workings. She previously worked at The Wall Street Journal and as an on-air reporter at CNBC. She is the author of the best-selling book “Street Fighters.” @katekelly

Jessica Silver-Greenberg writes about finance and its impact on consumers, businesses and the legal system. She was previously a reporter at The Wall Street Journal where she wrote about debt collectors, and at Businessweek where she wrote about consumer finance. @jbsgreenberg Facebook





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