Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Trump, Twitter, Job Cuts, Recession Risks

Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk discusses his planned acquisition of Twitter Inc., his view that a US recession is likely, and the outlook for job cuts at Tesla. In an interview with Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief┬áJohn Micklethwait at the Qatar Economic Forum, he also comments on supply constraints and whether he would support Donald Trump in the next US presidential election. Qatar’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Qatar Investment Authority and Investment Promotion Agency Qatar are the underwriters of the Qatar Economic Forum, Powered by Bloomberg. Media City Qatar is the host organization.

We now have a man who by many measures at least as the world’s greatest capitalist at the moment um elon musk thank you very much for coming and talking to us you could argue at the moment that us in the media we have at least three elon musks to deal with we have the proposed buyer of twitter we have the ceo of tesla spacex and much else and we have musk the

Emerging political force and that’s before we discover or discuss all the different provocations and tweets and so on but maybe we can run through those three and let’s begin with twitter and i suppose my question for you is what is the status of the 44 billion deal 44 billion deal to buy the company if you look at the deal spreads at the moment the investors seem

To be betting that it won’t happen i suppose and right here you have the qataris who are amongst your backers um what are you going to say to them and to us first of all i’d like to say um your highness your excellencies and distinguished guests thank you very much for hosting me virtually um it’s an honor to be here or be there virtually um and um i actually wish

I could be there in person so with respect to the twitter transaction there’s a limit to what i can say publicly given that is somewhat of a sensitive matter so i i will actually be measured in my responses here um such as not to generate incremental lawsuits unfortunately that seems to be a risk you sometimes manage to overcome yes a deposition minimization

Is i think important um have you have twitter given you enough information well there are still um a few unresolved matters uh you’ve you’ve probably read about the the question as to whether the number of um fake and spam users on the system is less than five percent as twitter claims um which i think is probably not most people’s experience uh on when using

Twitter um so we’re still awaiting resolution on that matter um and that that is a very significant matter um so uh we’re awaiting resolution on that um and then of course uh there is the question of uh will the uh the debt portion of the uh round uh come together and then will the shareholders vote in favor so i think those are the three things that um uh stand

In the uh you know if that need to be resolved before uh the transaction can complete what about the general state of the economy does that weigh on you when you think about this i mean you just described it you have a super bad feeling about the economy are you still in that position i just said to you earlier joe biden has just come out and said that a recession

In america is not inevitable how do you feel about the economy well i think a recession is inevitable at some point as to whether there is a recession in the near term i think that is more likely than not uh it certainly isn’t it’s not a certainty but um it appears more likely than not um and what do you think i’m i’m i’m i’m with you i agree with you i think

It’s more likely can i ask you one particular thing to do with the twitter bid which is you know you are one of the biggest and fastest growing um investors in china tesla you’ve talked about it being a third of your sales going forward you’re now buying twitter the kind of public forum for free speech the chinese historically don’t tend to be very enthusiastic

About free speech are you worried about whether you can keep those two particular horses running is is buying twitter gonna get you in trouble with the chinese well uh twitter does not uh operate in china i think uh china does not uh attempt to if you interfere with the uh free speech of the work of the press in the us uh as far as i know i i assume you’re not

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Under pressure to at bloomberg to uh from china so i think there’s um i don’t think this is gonna be an issue and in terms generally of that issue of freedom of speech and twitter you’ve talked about twitter being making it even freer and letting more people onto it um is there a limit at all to who you think should be allowed onto twitter well i my aspiration

For twitter or in general for the digital town square would be that it is as inclusive uh in the broader sense of the word as possible that is it is an appealing system to use um so i mean ideally i’d like to get like 80 of uh that’s in north america and perhaps i don’t know half the world or something ultimately on on twitter in one form or another and that

Needs that means it must be something that is appealing to people it obviously cannot be a place where they feel uncomfortable or harassed or they’ll simply not use it so it um and i think there’s there’s this big difference between freedom of speech and freedom of reach um in that one can obviously let’s say in the united states go in the middle of times square

And pretty much yell anything you you want and you you know you’ll you’ll annoy the people around you but but you’re you’re kind of allowed to just sort of yell whatever you want in in in you know a crowded public place more or less apart from this is this is a robbery probably that would get you in trouble um so uh but but then that that whatever you say

However controversial does not need to then be broadcast to the whole country so i think generally the approach of twitter should be to let people say what they want to do within the balanced law but then limit the you know who sees that based on the any given twitter user’s preferences so if your preferences are to see anything uh or read anything then well

You’ll get that and if but if your preferences are well you prefer not to see uh you know comments that you find offensive in one form or another then you you can have that as a setting and not see it and uh but i think one way or another it one needs to take the steps that uh and that that entice most people to to want to be on twitter and enjoy it and find

It informative and entertaining and funny you know and just something and useful as usual as possible it sounds like you want to be involved is your plan to be ceo of twitter and if you do that would you still keep being ceo of tesla and spacex um well i i would drive the product which is what i do at spacex and and tesla um so i drive the product of technology

Uh whether i am that when i’m called the ceo or something else is much less important than my ability to drive the product in the right direction can i jump towards tesla though not you know most people it’s very obvious you have changed the car industry in a in a dramatic way i’m quite intrigued by one thing which is your competitors where do you see competition

Coming from do you see it coming from the old car makers coming back at you i just saw a forecast that maybe in a couple of years time volkswagen would be bigger than you in electric cars or do you see it coming from new place do you believe that why not i believe that forecast was was from you yes it was yeah and do you agree with that i would not agree with that

Forecast no but do you see people like volkswagen and general motors and people like that as the opponents or do you see people like china the new chinese companies where do you see the most vibrant competition in electric cars i’d say that i am very impressed with the the companies and the car companies in china and just in general uh with companies in china

I think they’re um extremely competitive um hard-working and smart and and i think there’s gonna be just a massive wave of chinese products going out into the world um there already are but um you know for example i think almost all the iphones are made in china um uh by contract manufacturers for apple um but i think we’ll see just a large wave of products

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Being exported from china in many industries um you know in electric cars do they have an advantage at all yeah yeah no i i do think well i should say from tesla perspective we don’t really think about other competitors our constraints are much more in raw materials and and being able to scale up production um so our constraints are not um imposed upon us

By competitors but rather uh the just imposed upon us by the realities of of the supply chain um and building up uh manufacturing capacity so um i mean as anyone knows who has tried to order that order at tesla the demand for our cars is extremely high and the wait list is long so our and and this is not intentional it we are increasing production capacity as

Fast as humanly possible so uh that’s so relaxed we really don’t think about competition at all we just think about how how do we address the uh limiting factors in the supply chain um and in our own industrial capacity basically we need to build the factories faster and then we need to look ahead to whatever the chokepoints are in the whole lithium-ion battery

Supply chain from mining and refining to catheter nanoproduction and cell formation so can you can you can you set the record straight on one thing which is this issue about the layoffs i think you said initially that tesla 10 of the workforce would be cut then 10 percent of salary would be cut then salaried would stay flat flat and overall head count would go

Up what is the number i know there’s already i think been a lawsuit about the 10 is is 10 the goal to reduce the workforce or what is the number that we should think about or that you’re planning yes so tesla is reducing the salaried workforce by roughly 10 over the next probably three months or so the uh we expect to grow out our um hourly workforce uh it’s

Quite clear that we expect to grow our hourly workforce but we we grew very fast with on this on the salary side um and we grew a little too fast in some areas and so it requires uh reduction in the salaried workforce and we’re about two-thirds uh hourly and one-third salary so i guess technically a ten percent reduction in the salary workforce is only roughly

A three three and a half percent reduction in total head count um now i think that number is important legally isn’t it because i think people are trying to say if you if you’re going to lay off 10 of your workforce you have even in america to make an announcement about that we did make an announcement um yes um let’s not read too much into a a preemptive

Lawsuit that has no standing um that that that is a small lawsuit of minor consequence that just anything that related to tesla gets big headlines but it is whether it is um you know a bicycle accident or something much more serious uh it’s still it and it seems like anything else related tesla gets a lot of clicks whether for whether it is trivial or significant

I would put that lawsuit referring to in the trivial category so a year from now i think our head count will be higher in both salaried and obviously in hourly but in the short term of the next few months uh we expect to see like i said roughly a 10 reduction in salary salaried workforce which is actually just really only a three three and a half percent reduction

In total head count and uh not a super material should we jump to that la that that third elon musk the the uncontroversial one in politics uh you you’ve indicated that the florida governor ron desantis is someone you could get behind if he ran for president i wonder if you’re still in that position and whether you would for instance think about supporting donald

Trump if he were to run well i was simply asked um if there was um if i had decided on on who i would be supporting in the next presidential race and i said uh i had not decided uh who i would support then i was asked well who might you be leaning towards i said possibly desantis and now now i’m asking you about trump whether you would consider him um i think uh

I’m undecided at this point on that election i wanted you you talked about putting your money behind a super moderate super pac in the u.s yes and i wondered how much money do you think you’re going to put into that what kind of support would you push i have not decided on an amount but it would be some some non-trivial figure i think um i mean at least sort of on

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The order of non-trivial words sorry non-trivial could mean a lot of money with you i i was guessing well uh i don’t know i have not decided on the exact amount but um fafsa would be 20 or 25 million dollars just on that issue i mean again you look at the santa what desantis says you look at what trump says um and those sort of politicians they again are people

Who make a large noise about china and i wondered whether you thought that was also an issue for you in terms of business in china um well no i don’t think so you’re a brave man is it can i can i ask you over the weekend you you tweeted your support of one cryptocurrency you’ve seen the kind of carnage that has been happening in cryptocurrencies at the moment

Um what is happening and do you still think people should should invest or is it a more selective approach well i i have never said that people should invest in crypto um in the case of uh tesla spacex myself um uh you know spacex and tesla myself all did buy some bitcoin um but it’s a small percentage of our total uh cash and near cash assets uh so uh you

Know not all that significant um i also uh bought some dogecoin and tesla accepts dogecoin for some um merchandise and spacex will do the same and um and i intend to personally support dogecoin because i just know a lot of people who are not that wealthy who you know have encouraged me to buy and support dogecoin so i’m responding to those people just people

That would have walked around the factory at spacex or tesla they’ve asked me to support dogecoin so i’m doing so because dogecoin i think has come down a lot it’s down about 80 90 percent or it’s down a lot and that’s the reason why you you came out and said that you still thought there was value there i said i support altcoin and i’m doing that can i ask you

One last question is i noticed that you you’re going to um unleash a humanoid robot to be unveiled on september 30th um i wonder if there’s anything more you could tell us about that well i hope that we will have an interesting prototype to show people um but we’re a very challenging team at tesla that i’m working with closely to have a prototype humanoid robot

Ready by the end of september and i think we are tracking to that point so that and there’ll be a few other exciting things that we talk about at the tesla ai day um but i i really want to you know we have these sort of ai day events to just emphasize that tesla is a lot more than a car company and that we are in my view the the leading real world ai company

That exists well you were you did you see at all the the drama about the um the the at google where tweet where people at least one engineer thought that what was happening in terms of their ai machinery was closer to human thought than had been seen before and quite worry had a personality is that something that you think about at all and or you worry about um

I think i think we should be concerned about uh ai and and i’ve said for a long time that i think there should be ought to be an ai regulatory agency that oversees um artificial intelligence uh for the public good um and i think uh just as there’s anything that for anything that where there is a risk to the public whether that’s a the food and drug administration

Or federal aviation administration federal communications commission whether it’s a public risk or public good at stake uh there it’s good to have sort of a government referee um and a regulatory body and i think we should have that for ai and we don’t currently and um that would be my recommendation elon musk you’ve been incredibly kind with your time not least

Because i think it’s three a.m and then in the in the morning new year um it’s been a heroic performance thank you very much for talking to the qatar economic forum and talking to bloomberg thank you you’re most welcome thanks for having me

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Trump, Twitter, Job Cuts, Recession Risks By Bloomberg Markets and Finance