Elon Musk's typical bravado was on full display Wednesday during Tesla's first quarter earnings call.
The Tesla CEO answered questions boldly and even defiantly at times, at one point going on an anti-media rant and at another point challenging the head of a major competitor. Musk, who tends to respond to criticism with bombast and address missed goals by setting an even more ambitious one, didn't disappoint.
Tesla has been in a precarious position of late: In March, the National Transportation Safety Board revealed it was investigating a fatal California crash involving the driver of a Tesla vehicle; the company's stock subsequently tumbled to a 14-month low. In early April, Tesla announced that it had again fallen short of its Model 3 production targets. The company had been striving to make 2,500 cars per week by the end of the first quarter, but came in at just over 2,000.
When asked about the timeline for bringing fully autonomous vehicles to market, Musk used it as an opportunity to sound off on the press. "There are 1.2 million auto deaths per year and how many do you read about? Basically none of them," he said. "But if it's an autonomous situation then it's headline news. They shouldn't really be writing a story, they should be writing about how autonomous cars are actually safe. But that's not the story that people want to click on. It's really outrageous."
Musk blamed the negative media coverage for slowing down regulatory approval of self-driving cars. "Regulators respond to public pressure and the press," he said. "If the public is laboring under the misapprehension that autonomy is less safe because of misleading press, this is where I find things to be very difficult. It's really incredibly irresponsible of any journalist with integrity to write any article that would lead people to believe autonomy is less safe, because people might turn it off and then die. I'm very upset by this."
Musk later turned his attention to Daimler global head of trucks Martin Daum, who recently implied that Tesla's electric trucks, which the company claims will be able to travel 500 miles on a single charge, would have to defy the laws of physics to be real.
"He doesn't know much about physics. I know him," Musk said with a laugh. "I'd be happy to engage in a public discussion with him. I actually studied physics in college." Musk added that Tesla could already achieve a 500-mile range on its trucks, which it says will roll out in 2019, with the technology it currently has.
Musk wasn't asked on the call about an investigation into Tesla's Fremont, Calif. auto plant opened by California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health in April. The announcement of that investigation followed an earlier report from the Center for Investigative Reporting in which former Tesla workers claimed that serious injuries were going unreported. Nor was he asked about an April 26 Bloomberg report that shareholders will vote in June on whether to replace him with an independent director as chairman of the company's board.
As promised, Musk took questions from an everyday citizen who tweeted at him earlier this week. After several questions from investors about gross margins and run rates, Musk interrupted with, "These questions are so dry--they're killing me," before turning the floor to Gali Russell, a 25-year-old self-described financial nerd with a YouTube channel about Tesla.
The earnings call came a few weeks after Musk wrote a strongly worded email to Tesla employees upping the company's internal goals. In it, he vowed to make the Model 3 the most precisely manufactured vehicle in the world by a factor of 10, and to produce 6,000 cars per week by the end of June. "Any Tesla department or supplier that is unable to do this," he wrote, "will need to have a very good explanation why not, along with a plan for fixing the problem and present that to me directly."