Bill Gates can buy any car he wants — but maybe Elon Musk should care it's a Porsche and not a Tesla (TSLA, MSFT)


Elon Musk

  • Bill Gates recently said he’d bought an all-electric Porsche Taycan, prompting Tesla CEO Elon Musk to characterize his billionaire-on-billionaire interactions with the Microsoft co-founder as “underwhelming.”
  • Gates can buy any car he wants — and he has a track record for favoring Porsches.
  • For now, Tesla is selling some high-performing versions of its vehicles, but it lacks a car that competes with Taycan on newness and sizzle.
  • Interestingly, if Tesla continues to grow, the company might find it more difficult to take on the Porsches of the world.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk started a minor fight with Microsoft co-founder and retired CEO Bill Gates recently when Gates said he’d bought a new Porsche Taycan, not a Tesla.

Musk tweeted that he’d found his interactions with Gates to be “underwhelming,” presumably rendering a verdict on Gates’ automotive choice.

Musk’s view, far from being merely petty, indicated that he might, just mightbe concerned about the Taycan, a $100,000-plus, all-electric four-door that’s taking aim at the high end of the EV market. That’s not because the Taycan is that much better than, say, a top-of-the-line Tesla Model S.

Rather, it’s because Tesla doesn’t currently have a brand-new, attention-getting performance machine for sale. The Model S has been around since 2012, and the forthcoming new Tesla Roadster remains … forthcoming. 

Meanwhile, who cares if Gates bought a Taycan? The guy is already a noted Porsche enthusiast, as are many successful folks of his generation (to quote Tom Cruise in “Risky Business”: “There is no substitute”), and the Taycan is definitely the go-fast electric vehicle to have right now. I’m wildly curious about the thing, and eagerly looking forward to testing it out in 2020.

The debates around Tesla get grouchy

Porsche Taycan Turbo S 4

The larger issue here is that every little darn thing about Tesla has become sort of grouchy at this point. You’d think Musk would be able to relax after printing, in the past three months, a market capitalization larger than General Motors and Ford combined. Tesla also just announced plans to raise $2 billion by issuing new shares. Ka-ching, right?

Perhaps Musk’s irritation could be traced to Gates, a tech pioneer, sticking with his brand rather than endorsing Tesla.

OK, sure, but Taycan ownership doesn’t preclude Tesla ownership. I think Gates is flush enough to stock his garage with several different EVs. That he pulled the trigger on the current coolest one was a personal decision.

Stated another way: It’s a free country, Elon.

That said, Gates’ Porsche enthusiasm does indicate a failure of imagination. The old saw about Microsoft being boring and Apple being interesting applies here, as choosing Porsches doesn’t entail a lot of risk taking. Gates has owned the manufacturer’s 911 sports car, arguably the greatest ever built by human hands on planet earth — not exactly a demanding decision. But wouldn’t you know it, the late Steve Jobs was also a fan.

(Gates also acquired a rare Porsche 959 in the 1980s and endured a lengthy saga before he was actually able to drive it.)

Tesla and Musk has crafted a reality-distortion field to rival Jobs’ legendary Jedi mind tricks. Tesla makes nice cars, but of late, its focus has been on an affordable four-door, the Model 3 — “affordable” meaning $40,000 for the least-expensive configuration, of course.

In that context, the Taycan naturally looks sexier. It’s a Porsche; you don’t buy one of those because you’re in the market for a daily driver.

Gates stumbled into something about the Tesla brand

bill gates

Gates might have stumbled into a not-wildly-discussed dynamic involving the Tesla brand. The unveiling of the new Roadster a few years back was intended to revive Tesla’s high-performance mojo in a properly flashy package; up to that point, Tesla has been content to engineer supercar-level specs into the Model S.

More recently, Tesla rolled out the over-the-top Cybertruck, alleging that it would combine of — you guessed it — Porsche performance with all-American pickup capability, with a design that appeared to have been borrowed from an unproduced Ridley Scott film. 

But Tesla is trying to grow, grow, and grow some more. Last year, it delivered 367,500 vehicles worldwide, outdoing Porsche’s 280,000. In the US, Porsche was quite happy to sell just over 61,000 cars and SUVs. But that’s how Porsche wants to roll: The German company isn’t really trying to save the world, while Tesla and Musk quite explicitly are.

In fact, even with the Taycan and its enviable carbon footprint, the objective at Porsche isn’t to sell a bunch of EVs but to prove that it’s possible to build an all-electric car worthy of the Porsche badge.

You could call that “underwhelming.” But if you step on the accelerator, you might change your mind.

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