Apple CEO Tim Cook is not known for losing his cool. He’s had stern words for Facebook, and people trying to make a TV show based on Gawker for Apple TV+, but generally speaking? Cook comes off as a genial, if surprisingly swole, gent—your wholesome tech grandpa. At least, until you put him on the phone with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
The story goes that in 2016, Tesla was in some dire financial straits. Cook got on the phone with Musk and proposed that Apple buy Tesla. An intrigued Musk laid down one condition—that he’s CEO. Cook agreed, thinking he meant CEO of Tesla. And then Elon Musk, being Elon Musk, said no, Cook didn’t understand. He wanted to be the CEO of Apple. It’s at that point that Cook reportedly said, “Fuck you,” and hung up.
It’s a spicy meatball of a story and comes courtesy of an LA Times review of Power Play, a book by Wall Street Journal reporter Tim Higgins about the history of Tesla. It also contradicts a yarn Musk spun in late 2020. At the time, Musk tweeted, “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.”
That alone would make for tantalizing tech CEO he-said, he-said. However, the plot thickens. Ashlee Vance, Bloomberg journalist and author of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, tweeted that Musk had told him “I have never met, spoken to or even had written correspondence with Tim Cook.” Musk also tweeted himself, saying “Cook & I have never spoken or written to each other ever” before relaying the same story he tweeted back in December. In a dig, Musk also tweeted that “Higgins managed to make his book both false *and* boring.”
However, it does appear that both men were present at a meeting with former President Donald Trump in New York in December 2016. Whether they spoke to each other at that meeting, only a handful of people really know.
Meanwhile, Cook himself said in a New York Times interview earlier this year that he had “never spoken to Elon, although [he had] great admiration and respect for the company he’s built.”
Amidst all this, Higgins also took to Twitter, writing that Musk and Apple had been given the chance to comment on the story and didn’t. “This anecdote comes from Musk’s own account of the conversation, according to people who heard the retelling at the time,” Higgins wrote.
Clearly, somebody somewhere is lying about something—though frankly speaking, the fact that this story is at all plausible says a lot about everyone involved. Neither Cook nor Musk is likely to stray from the official line, but it’s not unreasonable to think there might be some tension between the two companies. In recent months, rumors have ramped up that Apple is still working on its own electric car. In 2015, the two companies were rumored to be in “poaching war”, so much so that Musk talked smack to a German newspaper. “Important engineers? They have hired people we’ve fired,” Musk reportedly told Handelsblatt. “We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple. I’m not kidding.” Musk also took his fair share of potshots at Apple during an earnings call earlier this week and shortly after denying he’d ever met Cook, tweeted in support of Epic Games.
I dunno, Elon. You’re not exactly making it easy for everyone to believe none of this happened.