June 10, 2013

Tesla CEO Elon Musk (Paul Sakuma/AP)

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is at it again. Earlier this year, he battled John Broder of the New York Times over every last clause and conjunction in an unfavorable review of Tesla’s otherwise-much-lauded Model S.

Now he’s tussling with Barron’s. A story by Bill Alpert takes a critical look at how prices for batteries in Tesla automobiles could dog the company’s stock price.

“I have no interest in an article that debates what we consider to be an obvious point — which is that there is a dramatic reduction in battery costs,” Musk said, after a few questions. “You clearly do not understand the business. My apologies. I am terminating the interview.”

In fact, the article in question does address the reduction in battery costs. Alpert writes that despite massive investments in battery progress, “few expect to trim electric-car battery costs by more than 20%-30% by the planned 2016 launch of Tesla’s car for the Everyman.” The Model S Performance is priced at around $90,000, and the company is looking to add another car in coming years that would be half the price of the Model S. The success of that initiative, writes Alpert, hinges on affordable battery power: “Perhaps Musk will confound the industry again, but if Tesla’s next-generation car can’t go the distance at half the price, its stock will head much lower.”

The Barron’s story apparently hasn’t offended Musk quite the way Broder’s New York Times piece did. The CEO’s blog, after all, has yet to address any alleged falsehoods or inadequacies in the piece, as did a furious post targeting the Broder story back in February. Perhaps he chilled out a bit after seeing several highly complimentary passages in the Barron’s story, including the lede:

Google “Iron Man, Tony Stark” and within the first few results you’ll find Websites likening that superhero to Elon Musk, 41, the entrepreneur behind PayPal, the rocket maker SpaceX, and the electric-car sensation Tesla Motors. The comparison’s apt. Musk is smart and stylish, and he fights planetary threats like global warming by creating spacecraft and zero-emissions cars that shame NASA and the auto giants.

Not to mention this passage:

TESLA’S MODEL S SEDAN has won every car award in sight, and test drives by several Barron’s staffers convinced us the Model S deserves the accolades. It has attracted 10,000 buyers in less than a year, and Musk told shareholders at last Tuesday’s annual meeting that North American sales for the electric luxury car look as if they’ll be 15,000 units this year.

And this one:

ELON MUSK IS NOT A GUY you like to bet against. He co-founded the Internet payment business PayPal, which eBay bought for $1.5 billion in 2002, after he had launched Space Exploration Technologies, the private company whose rockets began resupplying the International Space Station after NASA’s own shuttles became museum pieces. Since 2008, Musk has been CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, while chairing the board of the solar-power outfit SolarCity (SCTY).

We have reached out to Tesla and to Barron’s but haven’t yet heard back.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.