Tesla chief: Next recession could claim Ford

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
In this Sept. 29, 2015, file photo, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., talks about the Model X car at the company's headquarters, in Fremont, Calif. Electric auto brand Tesla Inc. says it has secured land in Shanghai for its first factory outside the United States, pushing ahead despite mounting U.S.-Chinese trade tensions. The company said it signed an agreement on a 210-acre (84-hectare) site.

Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk has taken a shot at Ford Motor Co., telling a technology news website that the Dearborn automaker might not survive the next economic downturn.

"The only (automakers) that haven’t gone bankrupt are Tesla and Ford," Musk said in an interview with Recode released Friday.  "That’s it. Everyone else has gone bankrupt...

"Ford and Tesla made it barely through the last recession," he continued. "There’s a good chance Ford doesn’t make it in the next recession. So as a start-up, a car company, it is far more difficult to be successful than if you’re an established, entrenched brand. It is absurd that Tesla is alive. Absurd! Absurd."

Ford is flush with cash. It reported at the end of the third quarter 2018 that it had $34 billion in liquidity — which included more than $18 billion in cash and cash equivalents. The carmaker has made $3.8 billion in the first nine months of 2018, and plans to cut $25.5 billion in operating expenses over the next few years.

Ford's chief financial officer, Bob Shanks, has said that Ford would remain profitable even in the case of a "severe recession." 

Tesla, meantime, reported $3.4 billion in cash in the third quarter, which reversed a years-long cash burn. It posted its first-ever profit — $311.5 million on $6.8 billion in revenue  — in the third quarter of 2018.

Ford did not reply to requests for comment Friday on Musk's comments, but it's not the first time the 115-year-old automaker has found itself being dismissed by the Silicon Valley start-up. In June, Musk told the Wall Street Journal that Ford was "like a morgue."

Ford's chief spokesman, Mark Truby, fired back on Twitter then: "No doubt the vibe is funky in that 'makeshift tent,' but it’s not bad either across the street at the #FordRouge plant where a high-quality, high-tech F-150 rolls off the line every 53 seconds like clockwork. Come check it out @elonmusk."

Musk also questioned in the Recode interview whether Apple Inc. had lost its mojo.

“Apple used to really bring out products that would blow people’s minds,” he said.“They still make great products, but there’s less of that. Like, I don’t think people are necessarily running to the store for the iPhone 11."


Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau