Tesla (TSLA) - Get Report founder and CEO Elon Musk purportedly misled the company's investors in suggesting that buying solar panel producer and distributor SolarCity for $2 billion almost three years ago was a good long-term move for the electric car company.
Almost every promise Musk made about the acquisition of the solar company to investors and the public ahead of and following the May 2016 deal was either misleading or false, Bloomberg Businessweek said, after reviewing thousands of pages of internal emails, board minutes and presentations, and executive testimony.
"At the time I thought it made strategic sense for Tesla and SolarCity to combine. Hindsight is 20-20," Musk said in a June deposition related to a class-action suit against the company and viewed by Bloomberg Businessweek. "If I could wind back the clock, you know, I would say [I] probably would have let SolarCity execute by itself."
The theory was that customers would drive a Tesla electric car, harvest energy from Tesla solar panels to charge it, and tie the ecosystem together with Tesla's Powerwall home battery. In practice, that combination never gained traction, leaving Tesla saddled with $2 billion in debt from a company owned by Musk as well as immediate and extended family members.
Indeed, the concept of a "Solar Roof" that resembled a traditional rooftop shingle but could capture power from the sun has never panned out either technologically or sales-wise - something Tesla's leadership, including Musk himself, was aware of all along, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
In a previously unreported internal memo from 2017 viewed by the magazine, Tesla executives shared public talking points, including stressing that the merger "wasn't a bailout" and that family-run businesses can lead to long-term success ("the Kochs, for example"). They also discussed framing the Solar Roof's technology development as "going extremely well" and its manufacturing on schedule.
The SolarCity brand is now defunct. The class-action suit, started by pension funds alleging that the board breached its fiduciary duties by going along with Musk's SolarCity plan and grossly overpaying for it, is expected to go to trial in March 2020.
"I certainly didn't feel 'misled' and anyone could have sold their stock in Tesla if they didn't like it," Ross Gerber, CEO with wealth management advisory firm Gerber Kawasaki and a known Tesla bull, said in a tweet. "It was quite clear Elon's conflicts."
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment by TheStreet.
To be sure, investors appeared to be taking the news in stride. Shares of Tesla closed down a little more than 1% at $346.11 on Wednesday.