Elon Musk Rants About `Fascist’ COVID-19 Closures As Another Tesla Call Veers Off Course

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Alan Ohnsman   Forbes U.S. Staff

Elon Musk

Photo: Tesla Twitter

Elon Musk used Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call as an opportunity to angrily vent about extended stay-at-home efforts that are curbing the spread of COVID-19 but which he labels “fascist,” amping up frustration he’d expressed earlier on Twitter. The billionaire CEO’s unexpected rant was reminiscent of his attack on “boring” analyst questions two years ago. 

The outburst was surprising given that the electric-car maker beat expectations for the quarter that ended March 31 and remained profitable for the longest stretch in company history, three consecutive quarters. And given that he’s likely to soon qualify for the largest payday of his life, Musk’s mood might have been brighter. News that the San Francisco Bay Area is extending its shelter in place rules through the end of May, likely keeping his main plant idled longer, may have set him off. 

“The extension of the shelter in place or–frankly I would call it forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights in my opinion–is breaking people's freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why people came to America or built this country,” Musk said in response to a question from Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas about Tesla’s cash position. “What the f–ck. Excuse me.”

Six Bay Area counties—San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin—along with the city of Berkeley, said Wednesday that they’re extending shelter-in-place orders through the end of May. In March, Musk initially balked at halting auto production at Tesla’s Fremont plant in Alameda county before sending most factory workers home from March 23. The company doesn’t know yet when work there will resume. 

The outburst brought back memories of a May 2018 results call, when Tesla was struggling to boost production of Model 3 electric sedans at Fremont. On that occasion an audibly annoyed Musk dismissed "boring" questions from analysts and instead gave an impromptu interview to a Tesla fan. "Excuse me. Next. Boring bonehead questions are not cool," he said curtly to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Antonio Sacconaghi after he asked about Tesla’s capital needs. Musk later apologized to him for the outburst.

The extension “will cause great harm to many companies, not just to Tesla,” Musk said on the call. “If somebody wants to stay in the house, that's great. They should be allowed to stay in their house and they should not be compelled to leave. But to say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do? This is fascist. This is not democratic. This is not freedom. Give people back their goddam freedom.”

While the Bay Area rules are strict, residents aren’t being arrested when they leave their homes. Shortly after the call ended California Governor Gavin Newsom appeared to respond to Musk. 

“Going to REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT: CA is flattening the curve because folks are staying home. Practicing physical distancing. We aren’t out of the woods yet,” Newsom tweeted. “We must continue to take this seriously and allow our re-opening to be guided by science and public health.”

Tesla investors seemed unfazed by Musk’s rant. The shares rose 9% in after-market trading to $874.23. 

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Alan Ohnsman   Forbes U.S. Staff

From Los Angeles, the U.S. capital of cars and congestion, I try to make sense of technology-driven changes reshaping transportation, cities and how we get around. I've tracked global automakers, advanced vehicle tech and environmental policy for more than two decades, including 15 years at Bloomberg, and squeezed in stints in the financial and corporate worlds.