The head of electric car maker Tesla pushed back aggressively against claims that the company’s vehicles are a fire danger, saying that only 3 in 25,000 Teslas have caught fire and that those incidents were the result of high speed impacts.
“It hurts to see articles that the car is unsafe… nothing could be further from truth,” said Elon Musk, noting that Teslas are five times less likely to catch fire than gas-powered cars, which produce hundreds of fire-related injuries every year.
Musk spoke Tuesday afternoon at a Business Insider event in New York City, where he described future models of Tesla’s cars and shared insights about what led him to build not only a viable electric car company, but also his SpaceX rocket ship venture.
He acknowledged that he thought his space and electric car ventures would probably fail when he launched them, but that he believed it was important to try anyways. And, as host Henry Blodget noted, “a lot of people are very good at betting other people’s money” — but Musk bet his own.
Musk’s worldview is rooted in a fascination with outer space and a disappointment that the U.S. has discontinued the Apollo missions and put aside its quest to colonize Mars. In response, he set about doing it himself.
“History is going to bifurcate in two directions. We’re going to be a mono-planet species until an extinction event … or a multi-planet species,” he said, expressing a preference for the latter.
So far, Musk’s SpaceX company has already pulled off the rare feat (for a private company, anyway) of launching a rocket into space and bringing it back to earth. He explained that the success came from experimenting with “supersonic retro-propulsion burn,” which allowed for re-entry since there’s a “big difference between coming in at Mach 7 vs Mach 3.”
As for speculation that he might one day compete with Boeing in a future market for supersonic travel, Musk demurred, saying he has a lot on his plate at the moment.
Too shy to ask for a job at Netscape
Speaking on stage, Musk appeared modest and didn’t display the bluster and bravado evinced by many CEOs. He described how after finishing a dual degree in physics and business at Penn, he struggled to find a job.
Musk explained that he didn’t receive a reply to an application from browser company, Netscape, and so he decided to hang out in the lobby. The plan didn’t work, though, since he was “too shy to talk to anyone.”
This experience in part led him to decide the only thing he was fit to do was run his own company — a realization that led him to build Paypal. Now, he told Blodget, his “core competence is email” but that he spends most of his time on design and engineering.
His shyness is gone,too too. Despite his humble on-stage demeanor, he arrived in a leather vest to the sounds of AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”