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TheStreet Open House

When I Apologized to Elon Musk

Stocks in this article: TSLA F GM

He claimed that if he did not do the financing, Tesla would not have been able to sell 20,000 sedans in North America. I hadn't heard that before. Everything I read had a quote similar to the one in this Forbes article: "We do have plenty of demand for the car even without a finance product, but as much as possible I'd like to expand the affordability of the car."

That's much different than we would not have hit our number if we did not offer this financing scheme.

Musk told me he had mentioned this point in interviews that coincided with last month's announcement, but nobody "picked up on it."

Not earth shattering, but interesting nevertheless. Given what I see every day here in Santa Monica and what TheStreet's Anton Wahlman reports seeing in Silicon Valley, I didn't think Tesla required any additional bells and whistles to sell cars to the upper crust.


Otherwise, the big thing I learned from our conversation: Don't allow the media to shape your perception of another person, particularly a celebrity. I have learned this dozens of times over in my 38 years.

The media treats Musk as a spectacle. As the second coming of Steve Jobs. As a superhero. When I asked him about his celebrity, he was reluctant. Musk claimed that outside of Southern and Northern California, most of the rest of the country doesn't know who he is . . . or at least doesn't care quite as much.

Talking to Musk is no different than talking to the baker or shoe cobbler down the street who is hyper-passionate about what he does. He's unassuming. Not even close to pretentious. He speaks about helping electrify motor vehicle transportation like the baker talks about making the perfect donut or the shoesmith discusses replacing the sole on a worn out pair of boots.

Musk thinks Tesla can be the No. 1 electric vehicle maker, even when it enters the mass market and, presumably, competes with the likes of Ford (F - Get Report) or General Motors (GM - Get Report). But I do believe him when he tells me Tesla doesn't have to be No. 1 to be successful. And that he would be thrilled to see another automaker produce a better electric vehicle if that took the sector closer to mass adoption.

I can't claim to have come away from my conversation with Musk knowing whether or not he's the next Steve Jobs. But I can confidently say this -- based on a mere 45 minutes of interaction -- I don't think he really cares.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.
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