Elon Musk is synonymous with Tesla—and with slightly wacky inventions like his new flamethrower, a mass-produced and mass-marketed actual flamethrower that's selling by the thousands. An inventor, businessman, and 56th richest person in the world (according to Forbes), Musk does a whole lot more than just make electric cars. That said, there’s no denying that those cars are a huge part of his fame and fortune—and with good reason. The Tesla is probably the world’s best-known car, and the Model S has been the world’s best-selling plug-in electric car for multiple years, as well as being something of a status symbol in certain circles. Teslas have built a solid customer base (even a fanatically devoted one) on their promises of anti-dealership sales, forward-thinking technology, a sleek design, and the feel-good factor that comes with the planet-saving electric car.
Despite this stellar reputation, though, the Tesla brand has had a few controversies over the years. Lawsuits have been filed concerning everything from working conditions to failure to disclose crash data to the founders of the company itself. Its cars have also been criticized by Top Gear and the New York Times, with these bad reviews aggressively attacked by Tesla and Elon Musk but still remaining in the public eye. Mr. Musk would no doubt want to keep most of these controversies under wraps, but they aren’t the only things that Musk doesn’t want you to know about Tesla.
18 There’s A Secret Camera In The Model 3
The idea of secret cameras is one that makes most people shudder. There's a very basic human aversion to the idea of being watched… especially if you don’t know that it's happening! So, when it was revealed that the Tesla Model 3 included a driver-facing camera above the rearview mirror, Tesla drivers weren't impressed! The camera wasn't made a major part of the reveal for this model either, which made people even less impressed when they discovered it was there... although Tesla immediately responded to say that the camera wasn't yet operational. They said that it existed so that with future software updates, it could become a vital part of autonomous driving. Despite the reassurances, though, more than one Tesla driver undoubtedly put tape over the lens to protect his or her privacy!
17 He’s Not Actually The Founder Of Tesla
Many people believe that Elon Musk is the founder of Tesla because he's so clearly the face of the brand. However, Musk has actually only been with the automotive company since 2004, when he became the controlling investor in the company.
Tesla was actually initially founded by Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard in 2003, when the pair wanted to create a car that wasn't reliant on oil.
The common assumption that Musk is one of the founders even resulted in a lawsuit in 2009, when the (now-fired) Eberhard sued for the recognition that there were only two founders of Tesla. He lost, however, when the court found that the ‘founders’ were a team of multiple investors, including Elon Musk, and Eberhard ended up withdrawing his suit.
16 Teslas In Cold Weather
Teslas have a lot going for them and might be the perfect car if you live in California like Musk does. However, if you live further North, the Tesla will start having some problems when the temperature drops a little too low.
Many Tesla drivers know that when dealing with temperatures around or below freezing, the electric battery starts to die a little more quickly than expected.
Teslas have a ‘range meter,’ that shows drivers how far they can drive on the current battery charge. However, in cold weather, the range meter becomes shockingly inaccurate, leaving drivers to have to guess and hope that they can get the car recharged (or simply warmed up) in enough time to finish their trips.
15 He Nearly Went Bankrupt
Musk certainly stands by his companies and his ideas and has often bankrolled his businesses out of his own pocket—which is fantastic when it comes to showing that the founder is fully committed to his vision… but less wonderful when it leaves him nearly bankrupt.
In 2008 and 2009, Musk described himself as being broke and was even allegedly borrowing money from friends and family in order to make rent.
Tesla, as a company, was going broke at the same time and nearly shuttered in 2009 before being saved by Daimler with an emergency cash injection. Around that same time, SpaceX also nearly went under until NASA did for the rocket company what Daimler later did for Tesla. Luckily, both recovered well and are now raking it in again.
14 He Fired His Assistant For Asking For A Raise
Musk has become infamous for his treatment of employees and workers, specifically, for putting an intense amount of pressure on them, allegedly even breaking the law to make sure that they perform to his exacting standards. One story, in particular, stands out. It involves his long-time assistant Mary Beth Brown, who started at Space X with him. Despite working the same long hours as her boss, and presumably working hard enough to impress him, Musk became unhappy when she dared to ask for a raise. He first told her to take two weeks off while he considered her future at the company and then fired her, which seems like a complete overreaction to a simple request for a raise. Of course, there may be more to this story than is revealed in Ashlee Vance’s biography of Musk, but if the story's true, you have to feel for Mary Beth.
13 Roadtrip In A Tesla? No
It’s not just the inability to deal with a flat without sending the car to a service center that makes the Tesla a terrible car for road tripping; it’s the simple fact that some parts of the country are simply not equipped to charge the thing. Tesla may claim that you can drive from NYC to LA, but any road trip is severely limited by the route and the requirement to find charging stations… and while an NYC to LA trip may be doable, wandering around states like Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Dakota is essentially impossible due to a lack of charging stations. It’s also worth noting that when road tripping, hotels and motels don’t often offer the kind of garage needed to charge the car overnight, translating to sitting around at charging stations instead of enjoying the drive.
12 He Has No Experience In The Car Business
One would assume that the face of a car company would have some level of experience with cars… or, at the very least, wouldn’t announce his ignorance to the world. Not Elon Musk, though. He’s openly admitted that he doesn’t have experience with several aspects of the industry, including high-volume production lines, and he's said that ‘making a car is hard’—not exactly the reassuring confidence that we've come to expect from industry leaders, although certainly a more realistic approach to taking on a new company (as few people start a massive venture like this with experience in every single level of the business). Besides, after over a decade with Tesla, Musk certainly has some experience now!
11 Musk And Mars
Yes, you read that right—a man famed for his eco-friendly principles has previously suggested dropping nukes on Mars. The comments came during an interview on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, where Musk answered questions about his belief that humans should try to colonize Mars. Colbert pointed out that Mars was currently uninhabitable, to which Musk replied that he would just 'warm it up.' How? By dropping nuclear weapons on the poles, which, all things considered, would actually potentially work. And of course, Musk wants to nuke Mars in order to make it an Earth-like planet so that humanity could expand to living there and give the Earth a bit of a break in terms of population… but still. Colbert is right when he says that this plan makes Musk sound like a supervillain.
10 He’s A College Dropout
Musk might not actually mind this particular snippet being known, as he would presumably brush it off as a result of him being too intelligent to need to finish his schooling… and given his successes, he might just be right! Musk started his college education at Queens in Ontario, Canada, before transferring to Penn. He did attain his Bachelor of Science degree there (and paid his way by throwing house parties and charging admission!) and actually managed two degrees: one in physics and one in business.
After that, Musk went to Stanford to start his Ph.D.… but dropped out after an incredible 48 hours.
His decision to ditch Stanford didn’t slow him down, though, as he quickly moved on to launch Zip2, his first successful software company.
9 Nervous Breakdown
It shouldn’t be too surprising that someone who puts such high demands on others would put similar demands on himself, to the point that he nearly had a nervous breakdown. At the time when his companies were struggling, he was still working 80-100 hours a week, and the stress started to take its toll. In a Q&A session, Musk talked about how he nearly had a nervous breakdown, saying, “I never thought of myself as someone who could have a nervous breakdown, like, 'what kind of p---y has a nervous breakdown?' ... but I came damn close”. Clearly, he's just as hard on himself as he is on others… and isn't particularly sympathetic to people dealing with mental illness.
8 Tesla Drivers Can’t Change Their Own Tires
Tesla may make wonderful cars in many ways, but these aren't rides for anyone who likes to get under the hood… or even just change his or her own tires. Teslas don't come with a spare tire, and customers can’t even buy one, because the company fears that car owners will damage the extremely expensive (and dangerous) battery in an attempt to change their own. Instead, if a driver gets a flat, they have to bring the car to a service center to get it dealt with—not a major issue if you get a flat near a service center, of course, but a much bigger issue for drivers who want to head out on the open road without fear that a flat will totally derail a simple road trip.
7 He’s Terrible In Relationships
Musk might be hugely successful in the world of business, but he’s not quite so capable when it comes to his personal life. In college, he reportedly ‘bored’ his dates by dominating the conversation with talk of electric cars and his plans. He obviously managed to find a few dates who weren’t quite so bored by this, though, as Musk has been married… more than once. When he married his first wife, Justine Wilson, while still in college, he allegedly whispered to her that he was the ‘alpha’ of their relationship—on their wedding day. The two divorced in 2008, and Musk moved on to actress Talulah Riley, whom he married in 2010 and then divorced in 2012... and then re-married in 2013 before divorcing Riley a second time in 2016.
6 His Tweets
Elon Musk is active on Twitter and has a lot of fun with the social media account… a little too much fun, sometimes. Only last year, Musk caused controversy when he tweeted about combining Ambien and wine—a dangerous mix that he was seen as promoting. It’s not the first time that he’s tweeted while on some pretty strong medication either.
Back in 2013, Musk tweeted that he was at home on painkillers after a minor operation on his septum.
Followers took advantage to ask some pressing (and hilarious) questions, including his thoughts on a Tesla Pickup… which he was pretty enthusiastic about! We’ll just put that down to the meds, though…
5 The Tesla Name Is Thanks To A Girlfriend
Most people are well aware that the Tesla name is an homage to the famed scientist Nikola Tesla, but what people don’t know is that it was none of the founders who decided on the name, but the then-girlfriend of Eberhard. After struggling to come up with a name for some time and pitching them all to Carolyn for feedback, he finally suggested Tesla Motors while the couple was out at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney. Carolyn approved, and that was the push that Eberhard needed to go out and incorporate the name for the company. Of course, he arguably came up with the pitch, but if she’d put it down, Musk could be the head of a company with a completely different name.
4 The Car Names Are A Dirty Joke
Tesla may be a very serious money-making company with a mission to save the world, but that doesn’t mean that Elon Musk is above cracking dirty jokes.
At the moment, there are three Teslas on the market: the Model S, the Model X, and the Model 3.
The upcoming Tesla SUV is planned to be called the "Model Y"… and if you put those together in the correct order, the Tesla models spell out ‘SEXY.’ Or, more accurately, ‘S3XY’, as Musk discovered that he couldn’t trademark the Model E, and had to pick another name that would still allow him to make his juvenile joke with the names of his cars. Beyond the Model Y, there’s no telling what will happen… will Musk eventually spell out a full sentence?
3 His Fuel Cells May Become The Betamax Of Batteries
The Tesla—and lots of Musk’s other products—are all about the batteries. Tesla uses Lithium-Ion batteries, and it's becoming increasingly accepted that the cars of the future will not be those that run on gasoline. However, there's another option for drivers looking to move away from gasoline: hydrogen fuel cells. Lexus, Honda, and Toyota are already choosing hydrogen fuel cells over lithium batteries, largely because they charge faster (and hold that charge longer), as well as see a much better performance in extremely cold weather. What this could mean is that in the race to build the best chargeable car and dump gas guzzlers, the Tesla Lithium Ion car batteries could become the Betamax of the industry.
2 The Customer Perks Are Being Dropped
When Tesla was a very new company and not dealing with the kind of demand that it is now, there were a whole lot of perks that came with being a Tesla owner. One of the big perks was the pickup and drop-off services offered to customers when it came to servicing the car—something that went by the wayside when the company became too big to make this practical. Customers have complained that this isn’t the only thing suffering as the company grows too big to keep all its customer-focused promises, as perks like the unlimited ranger service are also no more. Of course, this doesn’t make them worse than any other car manufacturer, but new drivers expecting the same level of service that was originally offered will be disappointed.
1 He Puts Easter Eggs In His Cars
The only reason that Musk might not want everyone to know about the fun Easter Eggs that he puts in the Teslas is that part of the fun of these is that they are ‘secrets.’
He's included multiple Easter Eggs in the software for the cars, including a James Bond and a Mario Kart Easter Egg.
In the Model S, inputting "0-0-7" in the diagnostics mode will lead to an animation showing the car making ‘nautically themed adjustments’ and transforming into an underwater car. Both the Model S and the Model X also have the Rainbow Road option through which activating autopilot mode four times in succession will lead to a rainbow road on the display—just like in Mario Kart.