Does Elon Musk miss Tesla?

Everyone has been talking about Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter – even people who rarely or never use the platform. But the acquisition has another implication. Will Elon Musk be distracted by his new toy and lose interest in his old toy – Tesla? After all, most of us have had attention difficulties because of social media at some point. Think how much worse it could be if you actually owned the social media platform, rather than just being a participant.

Another consideration is how Musk will pay for Twitter. He is one of the richest people in the world. Forbes and Investopedia now put him at the top of the list, having passed Jeff Bezos since 2021. But he’s still worth “only” $219 billion (Forbes) or $273 billion (Investopedia), and the Twitter deal is 44 billion dollars, which is a significant part of his fortune. He sold Tesla shares last week for $8.4 billion, followed by another $4.4 billion on Thursday. But it would pay $21 billion in cash for Twitter, and it would only have $5.7 billion in circulation before those sales.

There will be a $12.5 billion margin loan secured against an additional $62 billion in Tesla stock, and then the rest will come from various other loans and credits. As of this month, Tesla had a market capitalization of over $900 billion, and Musk is still the largest shareholder with around 15.6% of the $147 billion company. It will therefore always be the controlling financial force. But his goal is to make Twitter private, becoming the sole owner with no shareholders to appease. Considering his claims of being a “free speech absolutist”, there have been wild theories about how he plans to change the culture of Twitter. To what extent will this distract him from the original plan to make electric vehicles the dominant form of car?

Musk’s ownership of Twitter has Tesla’s competitors worried. Henrik Fisker, designer of the beautiful Karma GT electric car and now the force behind the Ocean SUV, reportedly quit Twitter and directed his followers to Instagram instead. He is clearly worried about being on a platform controlled by the competition. Musk also recently lost a bid to back out of a deal with regulators requiring his tweets about Tesla to be monitored. His tweets have regularly caused tectonic shifts in the prices of the stocks and cryptocurrencies he mentioned. It is debatable whether he should be allowed to influence the market in this way.

If Musk really takes the speech protections off of Twitter, it’s been argued he’ll also come up against the EU’s Digital Services Act, which requires online systems to protect users against misinformation, hate speech and other harmful content, or risk facing billions of dollars in fines. Of course, Musk could afford it. But he’s unlikely to want to waste money that way. There are indications that Tesla built its largest plant to date in Austin, Texas – which opened in April – to avoid California’s tougher labor laws. But he’s not going to move Gigafactory Berlin out of the EU just so Twitter users can say what they want.

Assuming Twitter ends up in Musk’s portfolio, that will be another business to manage. It’s worth bearing in mind that Musk wasn’t just the CEO of Tesla before the Twitter incursion. He also runs SpaceX, Boring and Neuralink. He is almost the living epitome of the adage, “if you want something done, ask a busy person”. But he’s proven himself by taking an existing business — perhaps even bankrupt — and pushing it to realize its true potential. Even Tesla falls into this category. Musk didn’t find it, but invested in it for a year, then grew it to the position it holds today – the world’s most valuable automaker.

It’s possible that Musk is injecting technology from other companies into Twitter. Tesla is developing the most sophisticated AI supercomputer to drive its self-driving cars and the TeslaBot. Connected to both will be sophisticated natural language processing (though admittedly voice control on Teslas isn’t great). Musk talked about getting rid of fake accounts and bots on Twitter. All social platforms now use AI as the first step in their moderation strategy, and most users will tell you that they universally do a poor job, failing to tell the difference between jokes and really damaging speech. Better AI could really help here, just as it is essential for safe autonomous vehicles.

It is still far from certain that the Twitter deal will eventually materialize. But even if that’s the case, Musk probably won’t leave the ball with Tesla. It can even take advantage of some existing technologies to make Twitter a better place to be, not a worse one. You never know, in the future you might be DMing your Model S Plaid the place you choose, or it might be tweeting about instances of misbehavior it automatically encounters on the road. Whatever happens, since Elon Musk is involved, it might come as a bit of a surprise.

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