Elon Musk Says He Wanted to Sell Tesla to Apple But Tim Cook Wouldn't Take the Meeting

Elon Musk arrives on the red carpet for the Axel Springer Awards ceremony, in Berlin, Germany on December 1, 2020.
Elon Musk arrives on the red carpet for the Axel Springer Awards ceremony, in Berlin, Germany on December 1, 2020.
Photo: Britta Pedersen/AFP (Getty Images)

Electric car maker Tesla is soaring high, with a $606.9 billion market cap and a stock price that’s up 813% this year. But Elon Musk really wanted to sell the company to Apple back in the days when Tesla was struggling. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple since 2011, wouldn’t even sit down for a meeting with Musk to discuss the possibility—at least that’s the story according to Musk.

“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 on Tuesday.

Those “darkest days” are likely sometime in 2018 when Musk’s company struggled to meet production goals for the Model 3. It was a difficult time for Musk and Tesla, with terrible reports of Autopilot failures, investigations into unsafe working conditions, and some old-fashioned union-busting for good measure.

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And Musk’s troubles that year weren’t limited to the Model 3. He risked his security clearance with SpaceX and the Air Force after he was seen smoking weed on Joe Rogan’s podcast, randomly called some poor guy a pedophile, got hit with class action lawsuits over his weird tweets, announced a high-speed tunnel in Chicago that went nowhere, and was even sued by the SEC.

Musk was desperate for cash to float Tesla several times over the past decade, and turned to a number of different sources when he needed money. And Apple was far from the first big-name tech company that didn’t have any real interest in buying Tesla.

As the Guardian notes, Google cofounder Larry Page almost bought Tesla during a “handshake deal” back in April of 2013, according to the 2015 biography of Musk, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest For a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance. The asking price was $6 billion, according to the book, but Musk wanted to remain head of the company for at least eight years and get $5 billion to expand Tesla factories, something that apparently didn’t appeal to Google’s lawyers.

Musk didn’t actually create Tesla, despite the popular perception that he did. The company was founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, and Musk first invested in the company in 2004, though the billionaire still calls himself a co-founder. Eberhard and Tarpenning were pushed out of the company by Musk in the late 2000s and Eberhard sued the SpaceX co-founder (Musk did actually create that one) for libel and breach of contract. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount.

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Tesla is currently doing very well financially, becoming the latest company to enter the S&P 500. But we think Apple will survive without Tesla. Yes, Apple is still working on an autonomous car set for 2024 according to a new report out this week, but even without a car, Apple is raking in historic profits.

Apple posted revenue of $64.7 billion in the last quarter alone, even during an economic downturn and a horrific pandemic. Apple will probably be just fine for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean Tim Cook isn’t kicking himself.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

Hindsight is 20/20. Back in 2018, we all should have invested every spare dollar we had in Tesla. Shit, I’d be able to retire now if I had just put all of my 401k into an arguably shakey company with questionable quality and an unstable CEO. Silly us.