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Elon Musk may be luring Apple into a fight with Republicans

Source image: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/29/elon-musk-may-be-luring-apple-into-a-fight-with-republicans.html

Tim Cook walks in the Paddock prior to the F1 Grand Prix of USA at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2022 in Austin, Texas.

Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Over the past week, Twitter owner Elon Musk has been poking Apple, the big bear of Silicon Valley, which controls app distribution to every iPhone.

Musk has been taking aim at the iPhone maker over a number of topics, including its reduced spending on Twitter advertising and its 30% cut of all digital sales made through apps. He also accused Apple of threatening to pull the Twitter app from the App Store.

In one deleted tweet, Musk suggested he was “going to war.” In another, he asked if Apple hates free speech. Over the weekend, he mused he’d make his own smartphone.

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Apple has remained a sleeping bear in the face of Musk’s provocations. It has not commented, nor has CEO Tim Cook, and while its app review moderation staffers may be talking to Twitter behind the scenes over questionable content, Apple hasn’t pulled the app. In fact, Twitter got an update through app review last week.

Twitter is not that important to Apple from a business perspective. It’s just one of a vast number of apps on the App Store, and it isn’t a huge moneymaker for Apple through in-app purchases.

But on Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance, both Republicans, made remarks about Apple’s situation that show how Musk could put Apple in a tough spot.

Here’s one way it could go:

  • Musk makes a change to Twitter in order to bypass Apple’s 30% fees, such as allowing users to plug their credit cards in to the app to subscribe to Twitter Blue or other new features.
  • Apple pulls the app because of these violations.
  • Musk frames the dispute with Apple as an issue over free speech and content moderation, and Republican politicians agree.
  • Apple gets caught up in a nationwide debate over free speech and monopoly power focusing on its App Store.

How things could play out

On Tuesday, DeSantis said at a press conference that if Apple were to kick Twitter off, it would show that Apple has monopolistic power and that Congress should look into it. DeSantis framed it as an issue of free speech — many conservatives believe that social networks, including Twitter, generally discriminate against conservative viewpoints.

“You also hear reports Apple is threatening to remove Twitter from the App Store because Elon Musk is actually opening it up for free speech, and is restoring a lot of accounts that were unfairly and illegitimately suspended for putting out accurate information about Covid,” DeSantis said.

“If Apple responds to that by nuking them from the app store, I think that would be a huge, huge mistake, and it would be a really raw exercise of monopolistic power,” he continued.

Vance framed the situation similarly in a tweet, saying that if Apple pulled Twitter, “This would be the most raw exercise of monopoly power in a century, and no civilized country should allow it.”

In fact, Apple’s app review department is unlikely to pull Twitter over content. While Apple regularly bans apps over questionable content, they are rarely big brand names such as Twitter — they’re usually smaller, lesser-known apps. Apple’s rules for apps with significant user-generated content, such as Twitter, focus less on specific kinds of infringing content and more on whether the app has a content filtering system or content moderation procedures. Twitter has both, although Musk’s recent cuts to Twitter’s staff could hurt its ability to flag problem posts.

But Apple would be much more likely to pull the Twitter app if Twitter tries to cut Apple out of its platform fees.

It’s happened before. In 2020, Fortnite added a system inside its iPhone app that allowed users to buy in-game coins directly from Epic Games, cutting out the 30% of sales that Apple typically takes. Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store the same day. The episode kicked off a legal battle, which Apple won on most counts but is currently in appeals.

Google takes a similar cut for Android apps sold through its Play Store but also allows other Android app stores to exist and allows people to “sideload” apps directly onto their phones, while Apple has an exclusive lock on all iPhone app distribution.

Musk has good business reasons to pick this fight.

In particular, Musk wants Twitter to make much more money from direct subscriptions and not advertising. But Apple’s 30% cut of purchases made inside apps is a major hurdle for a company that is slashing costs and has a significant debt load.

So Musk could pull an Epic Games move and enable direct billing, spurring Apple to take action, while at the same time framing the debate around free speech. If that happened, as DeSantis suggested, perhaps Congress would start asking questions. Apple would become a football in political debates. Executives could be forced to testify or provide written responses.

At the very least, you’d have lawmakers such as Vance using the words “monopoly” and “Apple” in the same sentence. That’s a risk to Apple’s brand. Debate over these topics could reenergize pending regulation such as the Open Markets Act which threatens its control over the App Store and its significant profits.

The last time Apple pulled an app that was popular with conservatives for lack of content moderation was Parler in January 2021. It was restored in April.

In the interim, Apple faced official inquiries from Republican Sens. Ken Buck and Mike Lee about why Parler was removed from the App Store. Cook appeared on Fox News to defend the company’s decision.

Twitter is a significantly more important and well-known social network than Parler was and would grab more attention.

It’s probably most valuable for Apple if Twitter remains on the platform. The controversy-averse iPhone maker would probably like this whole Elon Musk narrative to go away.

Indeed, it could play out this way: Apple remains silent, working with Twitter behind the scenes on its app, and Musk tweets about the 30% cut when it irks him. Nothing really changes.

But Musk is unpredictable, and if he does really want to “go to war” over 30% fees, Apple could be forced into a tough spot.

Apple and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/29/elon-musk-may-be-luring-apple-into-a-fight-with-republicans.html

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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.

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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.

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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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