Elon Musk
Getty Images Entertainment

25 Things Elon Musk Promised and Didn't Deliver

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Elon Musk
Getty Images Entertainment

You Musk Be Joking

Elon Musk has forged his way into the American consciousness with his bold vision for electric vehicles and his relentless pursuit of diverse, outrageous projects such as colonizing Mars, infusing the human brain with artificial intelligence, and creating driverless cars that are run with software. His latest claim: that he would take over Twitter and more than quadruple its revenue and user base by 2028. As Musk heads to court for trying to back out of the deal, it's worth keeping in mind all the things he has said over the years that simply haven't held water. Some are big, some small; some audacious predictions, others hurtful and mean-spirited trolling. Did we miss any? Remind us in the comments.


Related: Historic Failures by Successful Billionaires

Twitter
RomanOkopny/istockphoto

Saving Twitter From Spam Bots

Musk signed a deal to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share partially, he tweeted, because he wanted to “defeat the spam bots or die trying.” A few weeks later, he claimed that he couldn’t move forward with the deal unless Twitter proves that less than 5% of its users are bots — which company quarterly filings confirm. Musk says bots make up 20% of its users, albeit without proof.


Related: Surprising Things Tesla Makes That Aren't Electric Cars

work from home
Anchiy/istockphoto

Lower Productivity Working From Home

After the pandemic made remote work more common and desired, Musk issued an ultimatum on May 31 that employees had to return to the office. He said working from home had “tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard.” But economists agree Musk is wrong. Studies show that working from home is more productive than working at the office, in part because employees don’t have to spend time commuting.

Close-up of a Tesla Model Y, driving on autopilot, down a highway straightaway surrounded by a forest, and a man sitting with his hands on his legs.
Aranga87/istockphoto

Self-Driving Cars

Perhaps Musk’s most consistent whopper originated in 2014, when he said people could expect Tesla self-driving cars within months. The trick was to get the cars to “make it work 99.9% of the time.” The cars still aren’t autonomous, but Musk hasn’t given up. He’s moved the target date to 2023.


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Cybertruck
Tesla

The Cybertruck

Musk went public in 2019 with an electric pickup — a Cybertruck, shaped like a trapezoid and armored like a tank, retailing for $39,900 for an expected 2021 rollout. The vehicle drew more attention when a sledgehammer was used on it without causing a scratch, but the Cybertruck still isn’t in production. Tesla announced in May that it plans to start producing it next year.

The Hyperloop Fib
Elon Musk

The Hyperloop

Musk tweeted on July 20, 2017, that he had received “verbal govt. approval for the Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY to DC in 29 minutes.” A Hyperloop between the three cities never materialized and the Federal Highway Administration said there was never any indication from the company that it was going to happen. Musk said it could still happen "in the coming years."

Close-up of a Tesla Model 3, with a glass roof. driving down a highway on autopilot. And a man inside, resting, with one hand on his face and the other on his leg.
Aranga87/istockphoto

Robotaxis

One million Robotaxis would be on the road by the end of 2020, Musk promised in October 2019 — and even tweeted on April 12, 2020: “Functionality still looking good for this year. Regulatory approval is the big unknown. Robotaxis are driverless. It’s another great idea whose time has yet to come.” There aren’t any Robotaxis on the market; Musk now insists mass production will start in 2024.

Tesla Motors in Fremont
JasonDoiy/istockphoto

Taking Tesla Private

Musk actually got busted for lying after tweeting in 2018 that he was going to take Tesla private, rattling the company's stock price. After shareholders sued him, a judge ruled that Musk made the false tweet intentionally. Tesla and Musk were order to pay $40 million in penalties by the Securities and Exchange Commission this year.

Starship Super Heavy
Starship Super Heavy by Official SpaceX Photos (CC BY-NC)

A 2026 Mars Mission

Musk’s deadline for getting a human being on Mars has shifted like a swirling breeze. Though he once said landing a human on Mars would likely happen in the 2060s, in December 2020, Musk said his company SpaceX would get the job done by 2026. Musk has moved that date back to 2029. 

Elon Musk and the Neuralink Future
Elon Musk and the Neuralink Future by Steve Jurvetson (CC BY)

Neuralink

Musk launched Neuralink in 2017 to help reverse brain damage by syncing computers with the human brain. The technology was supposed to be ready in 2021 but hasn’t materialized. Musk has said every year starting in 2019 that human trials would occur by year’s end.

UN World Food Programe
UN World Food Programe by UN Photo/Logan Abassi (CC BY-NC-ND)

Solving World Hunger

Responding to a CNN headline that said 2% of Elon Musk’s wealth could solve world hunger, Musk took the bait and tweeted on Oct. 31 that if the World Food Program could “describe on this Twitter thread how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it.” David Beasley, leader at the nonprofit, outlined a comprehensive plan for how $6.6 billion could save 42 million people “on the brink of starvation.” Musk made a donation of nearly $6 billion soon afterward, according to federal filings, but it wasn’t to the WFP.

Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model 3 by Automotive Rhythms (CC BY-NC-ND)

The $35,000 Tesla Model 3

The Tesla Model 3 would cost $35,000, Musk said in 2016, pitching an electric car inexpensive enough for a middle-class family. The Model 3 sold for $35,000 intermittently in its initial 2019 launch, but Tesla scrapped production months later; it went off the market in 2020. Currently the rear-wheel drive-model with standard driving range lists for $46,990.

COVID-19 Memorial Field of White Flags on the Mall 06 - Washington Monument
COVID-19 Memorial Field of White Flags on the Mall 06 - Washington Monument by Amaury Laporte (CC BY)

Coronavirus Disappearing

Musk used his Twitter podium to minimize COVID-19 in a way that turned out to be spectacularly false. On March 6, 2020, he tweeted that the “coronavirus panic was dumb" and followed with a tweet saying that based on trends he was seeing, there would probably be zero new cases in the United States by the end of April. More than a million people in the United States have died from COVID so far.

Group of ventilator machines
PhonlamaiPhoto/istockphoto

Ventilators for COVID Patients

Musk promised to help find and produce ventilators when COVID-19 started surging. On March 25, 2020, he vowed in a tweet to do “whatever is needed to help in these difficult times.” Musk said he sent 1,000 ventilators to California. The hospitals, however, received C-PAP machines that are used to treat sleep apnea.

Kid receiving covid vaccine at home
jacoblund/istockphoto

Children's Safety From COVID

Musk got skewered for a March 19, 2020, tweet saying, “Kids are essentially immune [to the virus] but elderly with existing conditions are vulnerable.” Playing a doctor isn’t a strong suit for Musk: More than a thousand children have died from COVID in the United States, and thousands have contracted the virus.

covid vaccine
Meyer & Meyer / istockphoto

COVID Vaccine Futility

Not only was Musk a coronavirus skeptic from the beginning, insisting that the virus wasn’t as dangerous as publicly portrayed and the lockdowns did more harm than good, he also said that he and his family wouldn’t get vaccinated. Musk caved and got the vaccine, saying “the science is unequivocal.” Musk said he’s had COVID twice.

Manufacturing my Model S
Manufacturing my Model S by Steve Jurvetson (CC BY)

Job Safety

An unprofitable Tesla laid off 9% of its workforce in 2018 after missing multiple production goals, with Musk saying in a companywide memo that “we are making this hard decision now so that we never have to do this again.” The no-layoff mandate lasted about six months: Tesla laid off 7% of its employees in January 2019 because of financial pressure and challenges with the Tesla Model 3.

Small submarine used tourist trips
Ceri Breeze/istockphoto

The Rescue Submarine

British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth, busy in 2018 trying to rescue Thai children trapped in a cave, dismissed Musk’s idea of using a small submarine to get to the children as an unworkable publicity stunt, saying Musk should stick his “submarine where it hurts.” Musk responded by calling Unsworth a “pedo guy” and Unsworth sued him for defamation. Musk countered that the term was an insult rather than an accusation, yet also tried to hire a private investigator to look into Unsworth and repeated the phrase to a reporter. Unsworth lost the suit anyway.

Tesla Factory
Tesla Factory by Steve Jurvetson (CC BY)

Factory Automation

In an attempt to ramp up efficiency and production at his plants, Musk went all-in on automation in 2016, partnering with Grohmann Engineering in Germany to form a company called Tesla Grohmann Automation and claiming automation could become so prevalent that a basic universal income might be required. The company repeatedly failed to hit its production goals, and two years later Musk admitted he was wrong. “Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake, my mistake. Humans are underrated,” he tweeted.


Related: Jobs That'll Soon Be Lost to Automation

The Boring Company
The Boring Company by Steve Jurvetson (CC BY)

Housing From Interlocking Bricks

It sounded like a genius construction and Hyperloop-waste solution all at once in 2018: "Lifesize Lego-like interlocking bricks made from tunneling rock that you can use to create sculptures & buildings. Rated for California seismic loads, so super strong, but bored in the middle, like an aircraft wing spar, so not heavy," Musk proclaimed in tweets. “New Boring Company merch coming soon [so] two people could build the outer walls of a small house in a day or so." Company information promoting the idea has since been disappeared from the internet.

Black TESLA Model X car moving on the street.
YuriyVlasenko/istockphoto

Tesla Safety Standards

Musk was admonished by federal safety regulators in 2018 for claiming that the Tesla Model 3 had the lowest probability of injury ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Regulators called Musk’s statement misleading. The NHTSA said it’s impossible to make that statement because cars have different sizes, making comparisons useless. Tesla was sent a cease-and-desist letter.

Tesla Roadster 2.0
Tesla Roadster 2.0 by Steve Jurvetson (CC BY)

The Tesla Roadster

Tesla was supposed to break into the high-end-sports-car market with a turbo-charged Tesla Roadster that Musk announced in 2017. The car was to go from zero to 60 mph in less than 2 seconds and retail for $250,000 — but still hasn’t made it to market.

Tesla Semi Truck
Tesla Semi Truck by Steve Jurvetson (CC BY)

The Tesla Semi Truck

Tesla unveiled its Roadster and semi truck back to back in 2017, setting up Musk for a double fib. The truck, shaped like a big train, was touted as having an 80,000-pound load capacity and a 400-mile range with just 30 minutes of charging time (but a total 500 miles of range if charged longer). The semi was supposed to be on the market by 2019. In May, the company announced it would be ready in 2023.

Lorie ShaullFollow A damaged field of solar panels in the eastern part of Puerto Rico
Lorie ShaullFollow A damaged field of solar panels in the eastern part of Puerto Rico by Lorie Shaull (CC BY)

The Puerto Rico Power Grid

After Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017, Musk reached out to the island's government with promises to rebuild its power grid with solar power and giant batteries. “When workers attached the panels and batteries to the old electrical wiring in the former schoolhouse, the batteries blew out,” HuffPo reported. Technicians didn't stick with the project to figure out the problem, leaving Puerto Rico power back where it started.

Game over
Peopleimages/istockphoto

The 100-Hour Workweek

To be a successful entrepreneur requires an 80- to 100-hour workweek, Musk said in 2010, reasoning that it would take someone four months to finish a project at that rate but a year while working a 40-hour week. There is no evidence to suggest this is true, but plenty that shows how damaging a 100-hour week can be to your health. Burned-out workers also tend to have higher error rates.

PayPal Headquarters San Jose
JasonDoiy/istockphoto

Co-founding PayPal

Elon Musk isn’t the co-founder of PayPal, though he has perpetuated the myth, including in his Tesla bio. PayPal was started by Peter Thiel and Max Levchin in 1999 out of a company called Confinity. Musk’s company, X-Com, merged into the company the following year. Musk’s business was an internet banking service, while Confinity was what PayPal is today: a company that processes payments for consumers and businesses. Musk was the first CEO of PayPal, but he was fired a year after he took the job.