On Wednesday Tesla CEO Elon Musk was rambling and rude to analysts and journalists on an epic and combative earnings call. The electric car company's stock has since dropped sharply and is currently down by over seven percent as of mid-day Thursday.
Elon's response? Well, as he told everyone on the call:
"If people are concerned about volatility, they should not buy our stock."
But really, what gives here? At one point, Musk cut off a legitimate question from an analyst, saying: "These questions are so dry--they're killing me."
He then took a long series of questions instead from a 25-year-old YouTuber with a Tesla-focused channel who won the invite to the call by tweeting at Musk.
Musk's performance on the call is being roundly panned and the hit to Tesla's stock price can't make his job easier amid the company's struggles to meet production targets and deal with criticism on multiple fronts.
Any number of things could be going on with Musk to lead to this behavior. So I compiled what I'd guess to be the most likely explanations as a long-time Musk watcher myself. The truth probably involves a combination or all of the below, which I've listed in order of likelihood starting with the most likely explanation first:
1. This is just Musk being Musk: When times get tough and Musk faces criticism or feels threatened, he tends to get defensive or lash out. Remember this snarky retort when his tunneling and Hyperloop visions were compared to Uber's flying autonomous transit plans?
If you love drones above your house, you'll really love vast numbers of "cars" flying over your head that are 1000 times bigger and noisier and blow away anything that isn't nailed down when they land-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 22, 2018
2. Musk prizes loyalty: And he's not feeling much of it from the press and analysts covering Tesla Motors lately, which must be a little disorienting given how much praise and admiration his other company, SpaceX, has earned since launching its huge Falcon Heavy rocket this year. By many accounts, Tesla owners love their cars and are loyal to the brand; in Musk's mind it might be maddening to face critical questions from third-parties in the media while at the same time being showered with praise from actual customers like Kanye West.
I really love my Tesla. I'm in the future. Thank you Elon.-- KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 23, 2018
3. He's a trickster with an offbeat sense of humor: Honestly, trolling reporters and analysts while handing the floor to a young retail investor from YouTube is just the latest in a long line of quirky, edgy Muskian moves. I mean, this is a guy who celebrated the founding of SpaceX with a mariachi band and actually raised money for the Boring Company by selling custom flamethrowers. Then there's whatever this is, from just before the earnings call Wednesday:
4. He's not a natural extrovert: Musk has said that he's actually not crazy about all his fame, in particular he "doesn't like it when people think wrong things... about me." In a particularly poignant moment in the final minutes of a 90-minute on-stage interview he says:
"I used to be horrendous in public. I mean, I'm not that great as it is, but... I used to... just sort of shake and be unable to speak, but I learned not to do that."
He says he'd rather be working on design and engineering tasks than the other parts of his job, presumably that includes doing earnings calls.
5. He's not getting enough sleep: With all the troubles at Tesla, Musk recently revealed that he's taken to sleeping at the office. Perhaps he was just bleary-eyed and grumpy during that call? The situation is so dire that a joke-y crowdfunding campaign successfully raised thousands of dollars to purportedly buy Musk a more comfortable couch. The money will actually go to charity instead.
6. He's isolated on top and losing it, Howard Hughes-style: I personally am not that worried about Elon's mental health, although it sure seems like he could use a vacation. Still, there have been an increasing number of suggestions in recent months that Musk's behavior is becoming more bizarre. Musk is often called eccentric, but he hasn't yet locked himself away in a fortress of solitude as the world passes him by.
Then again, the Port of Los Angeles property where SpaceX hopes to build its huge Mars rockets is the same place where Hughes launched his famously huge "Spruce Goose" flying ship. It was a short flight, and also the only time it ever flew.
For Elon's sake, let's hope there's no parallels between the Spruce Goose and the upcoming Tesla Model Y.