Elon Musk on Tesla Merger Prospects: Apple Has ‘a Lot of Cash’

Photograph by Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Tesla Motors.

(Updates Tesla’s year-to-date stock price change in lead and Musk’s estimated net worth in 10th paragraph.)

Tesla Motors is on a pretty good run this year with the stock up 105 percent and a first-ever quarterly profit posted yesterday. That’s led many investors to wonder whether acquirers might come knocking soon.

“That’s one of the possible outcomes, I suppose,” Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. There have been “occasional discussions” with companies, though Musk declined to identify which ones.

Musk is what some in Silicon Valley might call a serial entrepreneur. He sold PayPal to EBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion, which made him a multimillionaire. In addition to his Tesla duties, he’s also the chairman of SolarCity and the CEO of Space Exploration, the Hawthorne, California-based rocket maker known as SpaceX where we conducted our interview last week.

While Musk said an acquisition isn’t expected to happen soon, he was willing to spitball some hypotheticals with an editor and me. What about another car company? Daimler and Toyota Motor are already Tesla investors.

“From the perspective of a large [automaker], Tesla just seems very expensive,” Musk said. “How many cars do we make? What’s our market cap? It seems nutty to them.”

OK, how about Apple?

“They do have a lot of cash,” Musk said coyly. “I’d guess it would come from outside the auto industry. It would be a buyer with a very large cash position.”

Musk won’t be able to sell Tesla until the company repays its debt to the U.S. Energy Department, which it expects to complete by December 2017. Rather than seeking a sale, Musk’s priorities for Tesla over the next few years are to increase sales of Model S sedans, start mass production of the Model X and bring out an electric car priced close to $30,000 that most families could afford.

“I’ve said from the very beginning, from the creation of Tesla, that our goal is to create a compelling mass-market car,” Musk said. “I would not consider stepping away from Tesla until we’re there. We’re several years away, obviously.”

Musk is worth $4.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and has been building cred on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. He told me his company has been talking with Google about teaming up on driverless cars. Investors seem to believe that Musk is the person to accomplish the company’s lofty goals — despite the occasional gaffe on Twitter or baffling declaration of war with the New York Times.

“Every now and then I sort of stick my foot in my mouth,” Musk said. “Given some of my crazy tweets, I’m not sure you could tell if my account was hacked or not.”

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