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Elon Musk has criticized Apple for years. Apple has mostly ignored him

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Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who is also the new owner and CEO of Twitter, bashed Apple this week after claiming the company has threatened to remove the Twitter app from its App Store, accusing the company of hating “free speech.”

The Twitter app is still available for iOS devices, and there’s no sign that the popular social media app is at real risk of getting booted by Apple.

The Tesla CEO’s furious tweets recall how Musk has long taken shots at Apple, and highlighted just how much power the tech juggernaut still has over the world’s richest person.

Meanwhile, Apple as a company never engages in public trash talk toward Musk or Tesla, and has even avoided taking veiled shots at them, as opposed to the frequent oblique criticisms aimed at Facebook.

Behind all the attacks, Musk has great admiration for Apple’s original founder, Steve Jobs. Musk has even begun working with Steve Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, on his own official biography.

A one-way war of words

Musk’s latest spate of Apple insults began last week. This week, Musk claimed in a tweet that Apple had mostly stopped advertising on the Twitter platform.

He tried to provoke Apple CEO Tim Cook into a public discussion about the reduction in advertising on Twitter, asking him if Apple hates “free speech in America” and “what’s going on here.” Cook did not respond.

Apple is not alone in reducing its campaigns on the social media platform since Musk took over.

After Musk closed a leveraged buyout deal on Oct. 28 and appointed himself CEO, a spike of anti-Black racist and antisemitic hate speech flooded the platform, partly because of raids that were coordinated by users on online chat platform 4chan.

Musk also began making steep cuts to Twitter’s workforce, gutting sales teams, teams responsible for measuring Twitter performance metrics and content moderation teams, among others.

Twitter has been losing advertisers and ad revenue ever since, with civil rights groups and previous advertisers on the platform pressuring Musk to prove that his much smaller team can responsibly manage content moderation, ad campaigns, cybersecurity and more.

Whether accurate or not, Musk’s allegation that Apple has “threatened to withhold” Twitter from its App Store may resonate with other developers.

Apple is notorious for providing few details when notifying app makers that their apps are at risk of suffering delayed updates or removal from the App Store. Responses inside Apple’s App Store Connect platform are terse, usually citing a rule, but not elaborating on what specifically an app maker should do to fix the problem — for example, Apple might say the app has a “metadata problem” or uses a banned application programming interface.

Musk also chafes under Apple’s platform fees, which are between 15% and 30% of total digital sales, like the $8 Twitter Blue subscription that Musk has said could be a major product for the company. Musk said it was a “de facto global tax” on the internet before he took over Twitter, but in his new role as an app owner, he has attacked it with increasing vigor.

This week, he tweeted and deleted a meme that suggested he would rather “go to war” than pay 30% to Apple.

Apple earlier this week declined to comment on the alleged threat of suspension or Apple’s ad spend with Twitter.

A long history of competition

Tesla and Apple are neighbors in the San Francisco Bay Area, which means that they have competed for talent for more than a decade. Now that competition has extended into Texas.

Both companies need mechanical engineers, industrial designers, materials science and battery experts, and skilled software engineers.

Apple has also invested heavily in developing its own electric autonomous vehicle technology. If the so-called “Apple Car” ever came to market, Tesla and Apple would be direct competitors.

In that context, early examples of Musk tweaking Apple could be seen as friendly rivalry.

When Tesla was still an underdog and upstart, Musk used to call Apple the “Tesla graveyard,” according to multiple former Tesla employees who spoke with CNBC. Internally, he would encourage unhappy Tesla workers to go apply for a cushy job at Apple.

He eventually brought this up in a public interview, saying that Apple hired people who were fired from Tesla.

In 2018, dozens of former Tesla employees landed at Apple, including some who were laid off and others who simply jumped ship from Tesla. At that time, the EV maker’s North American PR team told CNBC, “Tesla is the hard path. We have 100 times less money than Apple, so of course they can afford to pay more.”

One of the most notable people to switch sides was Doug Field, who started at Apple, joined Tesla and then rejoined Apple. Now he works for a more direct Tesla competitor, Ford.

Last summer, Musk laid out some of his problems with the way Apple does business on a Tesla earnings call, although he was careful not to name the company at first.

He started by criticizing the amount of cobalt, a mineral linked to human rights abuses, which Apple uses to make batteries in its devices. In 2018, Musk pledged to eliminate Tesla’s use of cobalt in its production entirely. Tesla has shifted a significant portion of its vehicles to a type of battery called an LFP, or lithium iron phosphate battery. However, it has not managed to eliminate need of cobalt completely yet.

In its most recent Impact Report, Tesla wrote, “we expect our absolute cobalt demand to increase over the coming years because our vehicle and cell production growth rate is forecasted to outpace the overall rate of cobalt reduction on a per cell basis.”

On the charging front, Tesla is experimenting with ways to give other EV drivers access to its network. But the company hasn’t opened up charging on a mainstream basis yet.

Later in the earnings call, Musk criticized Apple’s “walled garden” business model when answering a question about when Tesla chargers might be able to charge other vehicle makes.

“I think we do want to emphasize that our goal is to support the advent of sustainable energy,” Musk said. “It is not to create a walled garden and use that to bludgeon our competitors, which is used by some companies.”

In case anybody missed the reference to Apple’s App Store, which Apple maintains as the exclusive way to distribute apps to its devices, Musk then faked a cough and said, “Apple.”

Musk also has used Apple’s name to generate buzz. In September, when Apple announced satellite connectivity in its new iPhone 14 models (with satellites being operated by GlobalStar) Musk suggested that Apple had looked into using Starlink, which uses different technology.

“We’ve had some promising conversations with Apple about Starlink connectivity,” Musk tweeted, complimenting the iPhone team. Apple has never acknowledged any negotiations or even discussion with SpaceX.

Cook and Musk

Have Apple CEO Tim Cook and Musk ever spoken in depth?

According to Cook, the answer is no.

The Apple chief said in a 2021 podcast that he has “great admiration and respect” for Tesla, but that he had never spoken with Elon Musk. The two were photographed feet apart with other business leaders at a 2016 meeting with former President Donald Trump at Trump Tower.

But Musk claims that Apple declined his proposal to acquire Tesla years ago, when the EV maker’s market cap stood at a fraction of its current value.

“During the darkest days of the Model 3 program, I reached out to Tim Cook to discuss the possibility of Apple acquiring Tesla (for 1/10 of our current value). He refused to take the meeting,” Musk tweeted in 2020.

Another version of the story comes from “Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century,” a book by business journalist Tim Higgins.

Around 2016, according to the book, Musk and Cook spoke about Apple potentially acquiring Tesla. It was struggling with high costs and issues shipping its Model 3 car at the time. Apple, with its expertise in manufacturing and large amounts of cash, would have been a perfect acquirer.

Except, in Higgins’ telling, Musk had one condition: He wanted to become CEO of the combined Apple-Tesla.

“F— you,” Cook said, according to the book.


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Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

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Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

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According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Elon Musk needs to go back to Tesla and have others run Twitter, says Jim Cramer

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Why China is beating the U.S. in electric vehicles

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

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