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Martin Vander Weyer Trade US Politics

Elon Musk: Genius or jerk?

Tesla has not turned a profit in 15 years, but its market capitalisation is bigger than Ford’s.

Elon Musk, the California-based entrepreneur behind the Tesla electric car, the SpaceX commercial rocket venture and several other wacky start-ups, made a fool of himself with his attempt to intervene in the Thai cave rescue and subsequent Twitter spat, but there’s no doubt he’s an original thinker and a remarkable businessman.

If the futuristic Tesla is a fine feat of technology, what’s more impressive is that the company is not only still in business after 15 years without turning a profit and having lost at least $3.5 billion since 2015, but that its market capitalisation, at $52 billion, is bigger than Ford’s at $42 billion. Tesla built more than 100,000 cars last year compared with 6.6 million by Ford worldwide.

My man in California with a close eye on the tech scene says the deal that really showed Musk’s mettle was his purchase for Tesla in 2010 of the huge former General Motors-Toyota factory at Fremont. GM thought it was worth half a billion but Musk snapped it up, with government support, for just $42 million. ‘So yes, he’s probably an asshole,’ says my man, ‘but a brilliant one.’

This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s Any Other Business, which appears in this week’s magazine.

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