Elon Musk is unpredictable.
Few would anticipate the actions and reactions of the serial and whimsical entrepreneur.
Take the latest example: On Jan. 13 the electric-vehicle-market leader Tesla (TSLA) – Get Free Report, of which he is co-founder and chief executive, took everyone by surprise by starting a price war.
The company sharply cut the prices of its two flagship models, the Model 3 sedan and the Model Y SUV, which together accounted for 95% of Tesla deliveries last year. The goal was to enable buyers of these vehicles to benefit from the new U.S. federal tax credit of $7,500.
For Tesla the move was unprecedented; it had never discounted its cars so sharply. The company now offers EVs at prices well below what its two key rivals, GM (GM) – Get Free Report and Ford (F) – Get Free Report, for example, offer in the same car categories.
Elon Musk Always Fights Back
Besides shaking up the competition, the move has unsettled investors and financial analysts, who are struggling to understand why Musk and Tesla sacrificed profit margins for sales volumes. It was its wide profit margins compared with the competition that had set Tesla apart.
A week later, the price cuts are still being discussed and the rivals are still assessing how to respond. For some observers, GM and Ford will have to react if they do not want to see Tesla strengthen its market position in EVs.
Musk did manage to shift the conversation about Tesla away from its 2022 rout on the stock market, which shareholders say stems from Musk’s involvement in the microblogging platform Twitter.
In one area, however, the Techno King, as he’s known at Tesla, is predictable. That’s when he is attacked. The billionaire never takes criticism without responding. And he doesn’t shy away from using language that few CEOs would use.
In late December, Musk didn’t, for instance, appreciate a Twitter user calling him a “toddler.” In response, the mogul had not hesitated to mock the anatomy of his detractor.
“And you have tiny testicles!” Musk shot back.
Richard Edelman, CEO of the eponymous communication agency that advises companies worldwide, has just learned the hard way that the billionaire should not be attacked head-on.
Edelman this week participated in a roundtable at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The king of communication was asked his opinion about social networks and the spread of disinformation:
“So I think the first thing, because I mostly work with business, that business needs to do is deprive platforms that spread this information of oxygen,” Edelman said. “Stop advertising, pull your promotion money, make sure that they understand that they have a consequential impact on society.
“And the boycott of Twitter for several months has had a modest, modest impact but I think the Facebook one failed,” he added. “But the necessity of getting it right in the platforms that are probably primary source information for a third to 40% of people is urgent.”
The clip of Edelman’s response was posted on Twitter and Musk did not hold back.
“Edelman is a despicable human being,” the entrepreneur, who owns almost 80% of Twitter, said. “His job is literally being a professional liar!”
Edelman was referring to the decision by many advertisers to pause promotion of their products and services on Twitter when Musk on Oct. 27 took over the platform in exchange for a $44 billion check.
The billionaire, who defines himself as a free-speech absolutist, had reactivated most of the accounts that Twitter 1.0 had banned for violations of internal safeguards against xenophobia, racism, antisemitism and the spread of disinformation.
Musk has made free speech the principle when it comes to content moderation, which means that any tweet is acceptable on the platform as long as it doesn’t violate the law.
This lax approach caused an exodus of advertisers, to the point where Musk said Twitter was facing bankruptcy because it was losing more than $4 million a day.
Ad revenue made up 91% of the firm’s revenue in the second quarter, the latest period for which data were available.
Edelman’s firm, founded in 1952, is one of the largest communications firms in the world. It advises companies in different sectors.