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Elon Musk Is Overloaded

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Elon Musk has a lot going on right now. In the week since he bought Twitter for $44 billion, he fired its upper management and laid off thousands of employees, declared himself CEO and sole director, and used tweets and memes to publicly thrash out a dubious business plan that involves charging users $8 a month for benefits that include a blue check mark.

All that is just Musk’s new side gig. The world’s richest man is perhaps now its busiest, revamping Twitter while also serving as CEO of electric-auto maker Tesla; rocket maker SpaceX; the Boring Company, which digs tunnels for transit; and Neuralink, which is testing brain implants meant to eventually connect humans with computers.

How does Musk manage and lead all those complex projects at the same time? His performance is probably patchy—and at risk of getting more so. “It’s not possible for a CEO to run four or five companies equally effectively,” says David Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied Musk and his businesses. “That’s not the expectation we should have.” Taking on a new CEO role at a company in an unfamiliar industry at a time when Musk’s other ventures face complex challenges will only make juggling them all more difficult.

It’s not a good time for Musk to be distracted from Tesla, his most valuable company. Under his management it has made strides in battery technology, production, and automated driving, and has rapidly ramped up sales. The company delivered an impressive 343,000 vehicles worldwide in the third quarter of 2022, an increase of more than a third over the same period a year earlier. But Tesla faces pressure from other automakers producing competitive electric vehicles of their own, and it has a deepening and potentially difficult dependency on China.

More than a dozen new EVs from various brands will debut in the US alone in the next couple of years. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch report published in June estimated that Tesla’s share of the EV market could decline from over 70 percent in 2021 to the low teens by 2025. The company is also facing several lawsuits over accidents involving Tesla’s Autopilot automated driving system and, according to a recent report from Reuters, a criminal investigation by the US Department of Justice into Tesla’s “full self-driving” software package that cannot fully self-drive.

Tesla’s dependence on China brings competitive and political risks. The company sources crucial raw materials from Chinese mines, and almost half its manufacturing capacity is now in a vast factory in Shanghai. But China’s automakers are rapidly electrifying, and its government has shown willingness to pressure Musk politically. In October, Musk told the Financial Times that China had told him it disapproved of the rollout of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service in Ukraine. The entrepreneur went on to parrot Chinese policy on Taiwan, saying that the country should become a “special administrative zone” of China.

Operating in China could get more difficult for Musk if the country’s leaders dislike how he operates Twitter. Government news sources there have complained that the platform labels its staff on the platform as “China state-affiliated media,” and Twitter recently disrupted China-based operations said to be using the site to influence the US midterm elections.

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