Updated with Musk’s responses from Friday morning.
Maybe he was tired. Maybe he was hangry. Or maybe the stress of trying to revolutionize the way the world produces cars is finally getting to Elon Musk.
Whatever the reason, Tesla’s billionaire chief executive lashed out at analysts during a wide-ranging earnings call Wednesday, turning the session into what Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas called “the most unusual call I have experienced in 20 years on the sell-side.”
Tesla’s stock closed down 5.55 percent Thursday to $284.45.
The call started out normal enough before taking an unexpected turn after half an hour of questioning. Here are the moments that made it a most unusual earnings call.
1. “Bonehead questions are not cool.”
After answering dense, dry questions from Wall Street analysts, Musk appeared to reach his limit midway through the call. During an exchange between an analyst and Deepak Ahuja, Tesla’s chief financial officer, about capital expenditures, Musk interrupted suddenly.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Next. Boring, bonehead questions are not cool. Next?”
Friday morning, Musk defended portions of his behavior on Twitter, arguing that the analyst’s question was “boneheaded” because it had been covered by a quarterly newsletter published on Tesla’s website ahead of the call. Musk also said he dismissed some questioners because of differences in business philosophy.
2. “They’re killing me!”
Minutes later, when another analyst asked Musk about Model 3 reservations, the CEO paused — injecting an awkward situation with even more tension — before snapping back again.
“We’re going to go to YouTube,” Musk retorted. “Sorry. These questions are so dry. They’re killing me!”
The Q&A was handed over to Galileo Russell, host of HyperChange TV, a YouTube platform with more than 9,000 subscribers and videos with titles such as “Why I Bought Tesla Today At $255/Share.”
Over the next 20 minutes (an eternity in earnings call time) Musk repeatedly praised Russell and thanked him for asking interesting questions. By the end of their lengthy exchange, Russell had asked 12 questions.
Musk also on Friday defended his dismissal of the Model 3 question on Twitter, pointing out that even when Tesla reaches peak production it will take several years to satisfy customer demand.
3. “It’s really outrageous!”
Musk has railed against the media before, even during earnings calls. This time he was more forceful, launching into an unexpected tirade in which he accused journalists of putting drivers’ lives at risk by unfairly reporting on autonomous-vehicle crashes.
So they write inflammatory headlines that are fundamentally misleading to the readers. It’s really outrageous. And this will be true, even if electric cars were — sorry — if autonomous cars were 10 times safer, so if instead of 1 million deaths you had 100,000 deaths. There is still going to be people who will still sue and say, “Hey, you’re responsible for the death here.” And it’s like, well, the 90 percent of people who didn’t die are not suing. They’re not dead. They’re still alive. They just don’t know it.
And, yeah, it’s really incredibly irresponsible of any journalists with integrity to write an article that would lead people to believe that autonomy is less safe. Because people might actually turn it off and then die. So anyway, I’m really upset by this.
4. “I think moats are lame.”
Asked why Musk would want to allow other car brands to use Tesla’s Supercharger stations across the country instead of creating a “moat” around their infrastructure, Musk answered like a battle-hardened general from a live-action role-playing game.
“I think moats are lame,” he said, adding, “If your only defense against invading armies is a moat, you will not last long.”
5. “Please sell our stock.”
It’s not every day you hear a CEO goading someone into selling their company’s stock. But that’s exactly Musk did Wednesday after telling an analyst he had “no interest in satisfying the desires of day traders.”
“I couldn’t care less,” he added. “Please sell our stock and don’t buy it.”
Musk continued: “I mean, I think that if people are concerned about volatility, they should definitely not buy our stock. I’m not here to convince you to buy our stock. Do not buy it if volatility is scary. There you go.”