The Industry

A Somber Elon Musk Kept His Job at Tesla’s Shareholder Meeting

A Tesla Model S.
Musk gave a solemn, toned-down update on his company. Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday featured an uncharacteristically muted and solemn Elon Musk. The CEO and chairman recently stirred controversy by picking fights with journalists and federal investigators. He also raised eyebrows during an earnings call in May with bizarre behavior like telling an investor to sell his Tesla stock and taking nearly a dozen questions from a YouTube vlogger. Yet he toned down his approach for the meeting with investors to deliver a somber update on the company. Musk seemed to be on the verge of tears when he began his speech by noting, “We’re not perfect, but we pour our heart and soul into it, and we really care.” He also graciously answered investor questions later on during the event, rather than writing them off as “boring, bonehead questions,” as he did during the May call.

Musk assured shareholders that various snags in the production for the Model 3, Tesla’s more affordable sedan, had been largely sorted out. The company has been consistently missing production goals for roughly the past year. Musk had previously claimed that Tesla would be making 500,000 Model 3s per year by 2018, and then revised that goal to make 100,000 to 200,000 in the second half of 2017. He subsequently lowered the bar again and said that the company would make 20,000 per month by December.

This time around, Musk informed investors that they had addressed the crux of the problem by rejiggering the assembly line to more efficiently distribute labor between humans and robots. “One of the biggest mistakes we made was trying to automate things that are super easy for a person to do, but really hard for a robot to do,” Musk said. He further claimed that by the end of the month the factory would be able to produce 500 cars per day, and 3,500 cars per week, adding that this rate should make the company profitable by Q3. He told an investor who was skeptical about the promise, “I think I do have an issue with time,” but then added that he is “trying to recalibrate these estimates.”

The Tesla head and other executives also made a variety of other announcements. Musk claimed that the company is aiming to start production on its semitruck, remodeled roadster, and Model Y in 2020. There are also plans to improve SuperCharger plug times by three- or fourfold and to make the autopilot feature more adept at changing lanes and driving onto ramps. Robin Ren, head of worldwide sales, further informed investors that Tesla will be building its first overseas factory in Shanghai.

Investors voted to let Musk keep his position as chairman and to let other heads remain on the board as well. There were rumblings before the meeting suggesting a coming upheaval. The CtW Group, an activist investor, had mounted a campaign in May to oust media mogul Rupert Murdoch; Elon’s younger brother, Kimbal Musk; and venture capitalist Antonio Gracias to make room for board members with more experience in manufacturing and utilities. Investor Jing Zhao had also proposed to remove Musk as chairman. Neither of these efforts came to fruition, however.