Elon Musk can usually rely on a pretty warm response from shareholders in Tesla (TSLA) .
The company’s CEO spoke for about 90 minutes at the company’s annual meeting, held Aug. 4 at the recently opened gigafactory in Austin, Texas.
Musk drew cheers and applause for many comments: on selling the company’s 3 millionth vehicle, plans for full self-driving beta availability, a new futuristic diner planned for an LA supercharger station, and on and on.
Musk clearly fed off of the crowd’s energy, at one point stopping to tell them “this is the best crowd.” There was plenty of back and forth, with shareholders offering suggestions on where to locate Tesla’s next gigafactory, and new supercharger stations.
At one point, members of the audience were even rhythmically shouting “Elon! Elon!”
The love fest continued almost unblemished, until Musk slipped up.
What You Can't Say in Texas
It wasn’t a big mistake, to be sure. Certainly not something that will cause the company any harm.
In fact, it was apparently something of a peace offering.
Musk famously moved Tesla’s HQ from Silicon Valley to Austin last year, complaining bitterly about California’s regulatory environment. He said earlier this year that getting the latest gigafactory built in Texas took only 18 months, while it would have still been in the permitting stage in California.
Tesla’s move also followed a sharp conflict between Musk and local health officials during the early stages of the covid pandemic in which he demanded that his Fremont, Calif. factory be allowed to stay open in spite of health department lockdowns.
In addition, Musk’s recent moves into political discourse, attacking Democrats, have also struck a chord in California, a deep blue state.
And with the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court and the imposition of draconian limits on women in Texas, Tesla and many other companies have had to vow to cover transportation costs for employees seeking reproductive healthcare.
Still, several of Musk’s other ventures remain based in California, including SpaceX, the Boring Company, and Neuralink.
So when a member of the audience at the shareholder meeting shouted “Welcome to Texas,” Musk responded “Thank you. Yeah, it’s great here.”
But then the CEO went a step further. “I love California too, to be frank. I want to be clear.”
A chorus of boos erupted from the boisterous crowd.
Anxious, perhaps, to return to the rock star tone that had been lost, Musk laughed almost maniacally and said “Oh come on! We have great teams in California, and a great team in China, in Shanghai, and a great team in Germany and Europe.”
Mollified, the audience began clapping and returned to its state of rapture for another hour or so.