In an 80-minute interview with Kara Swisher of Recode, Tesla CEO Elon Musk laid out his vision for the automaker's future in addition to talking about the toll the year has taken on him personally. An impressive number of subjects relating to Tesla and Musk were covered including Twitter, skirmishes with the press, Space Force, work/life balance and the Tesla pickup, making this interview one of the longest and most complete windows into Musk's thinking this year.

"It’s been a very difficult year. We had the Model 3 production ramp, which was excruciatingly difficult," Musk said when asked about 2018. "It is incredibly difficult to survive as a car company. Incredibly difficult. People have no idea how much pain people at Tesla went through, including myself. It was excruciating."

"Pretty sure I burnt out a bunch of neurons during this process," Musk told Recode, when asked about the toll that the events of the year have taken on him. "Running both SpaceX and Tesla is an incredibly difficult ... You realize we’re fighting the incredibly competitive car companies. They make very good cars. They’ve been doing this for a long time. They are entrenched. Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Lexus, you name it. All those car brands. And the history of car companies in America is terrible. The only ones that haven’t gone bankrupt are Tesla and Ford. That’s it. Everyone else has gone bankrupt."

Musk offered a curious prediction about the Big Three automakers, Ford in particular, when talking to Swisher about the pressures he faced in 2018.

"Making a car company successful is monumentally difficult," Musk told Recode. "There have been many attempts to create a car company and they have all failed, even the ones that have had a strong base of customers, thousands of dealers, thousands of service centers, they’ve already spent the capital for the factories, like GM and Chrysler, still went bankrupt in the last recession. Ford and Tesla made it barely through the last recession. There’s a good chance Ford doesn’t make it in the next recession. So, as a startup, a car company, it is far more difficult to be successful than if you’re an established, entrenched brand. It is absurd that Tesla is alive. Absurd! Absurd."

Musk indicated that Tesla had rounded a corner, and was no longer in the same position as it was at the start of the year when Model 3 production was moving very slowly.

"I think at Tesla we’re doing pretty well right now," Musk said. "Tesla’s not staring death in the face. We’re in, I think, a pretty good position. We don’t want to be complacent, but it’s not ... Up until around September, we were really faced with, like, 'We must solve this or we’re gonna die,' constantly. I feel like we’re no longer in the staring-death-in-the-face situation."

"We’re certainly over the hump on Model 3 production," Musk added. "For us, making 5,000 cars in a week for Model 3 is not a big deal. That’s just normal. Now we’re working on raising to 6,000 and then 7,000 Model 3s a week, while still keeping costs under control. We could probably do 6,000 or more, maybe 6,500 Model 3s a week right now, but it would have to stress people out and do tons of overtime."

Asked about future products, Musk mentioned the Roadster while also telling Recode that he's most excited about the pickup truck.

"Well I can’t talk about the details, but it’s gonna be like a really futuristic-like cyberpunk, 'Blade Runner' pickup truck," Musk told Recode. "It’s gonna be awesome, it’s gonna be amazing. This will be heart-stopping. It stops my heart. It’s like, oh, it’s great."

"It’s something I’ve been wanting to make for a long time," Musk added. "If there’s only a small number of people that like that truck, I guess we’ll make a more conventional truck in the future. But it’s the thing that I am personally most fired up about."

Musk's interview with Recode came on the tail end of a particularly eventful quarter that saw, among other things, a fizzled private bid better known in industry circles as the "Funding secured" controversy, which resulted in a combined $40 million dollar settlement between Musk, Tesla and the SEC, with Tesla and Musk agreeing to pay that amount to a fund for investors that suffered losses as a result of the tweets. Musk also agreed to give up his position of Chairman of Tesla while remaining CEO. The best bit of positive news for Tesla and Musk during this quarter was Model 3 production hitting a certain stride, with a rare profitable quarter for the automaker being the icing on the cake.

Even aside from the two-week-long "Funding secured" maelstrom Musk did not emerge from the third quarter of 2018 unscathed, with a series of skirmishes with critics on Twitter and a freewheeling appearance on Joe Rogan's radio show painting an troubling portrait of the Tesla leader in the eyes of Wall Street.

The transcript of the whole interview is available at Recode, along with the audio recording.

Source: Autoweek

November 5, 2018