By Carlo Versano
Friday was perhaps a fitting cap to weeks of intrigue and drama for Tesla and Elon Musk, starting with the CEO's bombastic tweet on Aug. 7 that he had "secured" funding to take his company private.
For almost three hours late Thursday and early Friday, Musk sat for an extended podcast interview with comedian Joe Rogan and smoked weed, shared theories about tech, and questioned the future of humanity itself.
Then came the reports that two top Tesla executives were leaving: first, its chief accountant, David Morton, who left with no notice after a month on the job, saying the public scrutiny was too much to handle. Then, the top HR exec, Gabrielle Toledano, told Bloomberg she would not be returning from her leave of absence.
"It's icing on the cake for what's a really bad business, even if it was run legitimately, which it's not," Tesla short-seller Mark Spiegel said Friday in an interview on Cheddar.
Tesla stock was down over 7 percent Friday amid the chaos.
After the close, Tesla announced several internal and external candidates would fill the roles, including the top HR job. The note made no mention of a new chief of accounting.
Morton, who stepped down as Tesla's chief accounting officer Tuesday, though his resignation wasn't disclosed until a filing Friday, reportedly felt Musk was not listening to him during the weeks since the CEO publicized his desire to take the company private ー which he did via a tweet that not only sparked a media blitz but an SEC investigation before Musk changed course.
It's a sign of how poorly the company is managed, Spiegel said.
Spiegel, whose firm Stanphyl Capital, has a 20 percent short position on Tesla, said that the turmoil would be concerning even if the company weren't about to face its first wave of real competition.
Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Porsche are all in production mode on luxury electric vehicles that may squeeze Tesla in a market that up until now it pretty much had cornered. Mercedes announced on Tuesday that its electric SUV, the EQC, would debut in 2020 with a range of over 200 miles and a price sticker that Speigel said would undercut Tesla's Model X.
Meanwhile, Jaguar's I-PACE will hit showrooms in October and has already garnered rave reviews. Audi and Porsche also have electric SUVs in production.
That competition, from legacy automakers that have perfected their manufacturing and supply chains over decades, "is going to put [Tesla] out of business," Spiegel said.
"It's a financially horrible company when it had no competition," he said. "And now there's a massive amount of superior competition rolling out within the next 12 months."
Spiegel's firm, with its large short position, benefits from Tesla's latest bad fortune and sinking stock. Still, he said, he doesn't want the company to go under. Instead, he thinks Tesla should file Chapter 11, restructure, and hire a more experienced, less erratic chief executive.
Though Spiegel admitted that's not likely.
"Elon Musk is going to destroy this company," he said. "I don't know if anybody's dumb enough to step into his shoes."
For full interview click here.