Elon Musk: How billionaire entrepreneur took Tesla and SpaceX to dizzying new heights in 2020


Even for an entrepreneur intent on revolutionising transportation on earth and trailblazing in space, it has been an eventful year for Elon Musk.

For 2020 saw Tesla became the most valuable car company on the planet, SpaceX launched six astronauts to the International Space Station and the maverick businessman became the world’s second richest man.

And he has done all this before turning 50 next year.

Mr Musk’s year has been so successful that he has been compared to Apple founder Steve Jobs, and his groundbreaking electric car company is now worth more than nine other automakers combined.

“This man is selling technology, and he’s talking about fully assisted and then he’s talking about driverless. He’s thinking so much bigger,” said CNBC’S Jim Cramer.

“He’s a big thinker. He makes us look like Lilliputians.

“That’s why this younger generation is willing to give him money. They are saying, ‘Look. He’s Steve Jobs. Who knows what he comes up with next. I want a share of it’.”

The year got off to a fast start for Mr Musk, with Tesla surpassing the $100bn valuation for the first time after the share price began surging at the end of 2019.

But in March, Tesla was forced to shut down production at its San Francisco Bay Area factory, which had remained open for several days in defiance of local Covid restrictions.

Tesla was heavily criticised for continuing production of its cars despite officials in Alameda County issuing a pandemic shelter-at-home order.

Mr Musk repeatedly downplayed the Covid threat, calling panic over the virus “dumb” on Twitter after earlier predicting it would be “no worse than the common cold”.

After the company announced it was shutting down its factory in Fremont, California, Mr Musk predicted on Twitter that “based on current trends” new coronavirus infections would be “close to zero” by the end of April.

Later in the month, Mr Musk ranted on Twitter about stay-at-home orders and compared them to “forcibly imprisoning people in their home against all their constitutional rights”.

“If somebody wants to stay in their house, that’s great. They should be allowed to stay in their house, and they should not be compelled to leave,” he wrote.

“But to say that they cannot leave their house, and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist. This is not democratic. This is not freedom.”

In May, Mr Musk caused Tesla’s surging share price to fall sharply by 10.3 per cent after he said that in his view its value was “too high”.

His outburst came after Tesla became worth more than the combined value of Ford Motor, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, which make millions of more cars a year than the electric car firm.

Mr Musk then bizarrely announced that he was “selling almost all physical possessions”, including his $100m California real estate portfolio, as he did not need a house or money as he was “devoting” himself to Earth and Mars.

“I guess we’ll just rent a place somewhere? And yeah, in some ways, possessions weigh you down. And also, I just have all these houses but nobody is using them. I use them infrequently,” he explained to The New York Times.

May also saw Mr Musk’s girlfriend, singer Grimes, give birth to the couple’s first child together.

And typically for Mr Musk the naming the child was also an adventure.

Mr Musk announced the birth of his son on Twitter and revealed that his unusual name was “X Æ A-12 Musk.”

Speculation arose that the name might actually break California law, where names can only use the 26 alphabetical characters of the English language.

Canadian-born Grimes, whose real name is Claire Boucher, then confirmed that they had changed the baby’s name to “X Æ A-Xii.”

Mr Musk has five other children, twins Griffin and Xavier and triplets Damian, Saxon and Kai, from a previous marriage.

In May, Mr Musk foreshadowed leaving California after he clashed with state officials over the timing of reopening Tesla’s factory amid Covid fears.

In a string of tweets, Mr Musk said he would move Tesla’s headquarters out of California for Texas or Nevada.

His tweets came after health officials told Tesla they would have to wait to re-open the Fremont facility while manufacturers elsewhere in the state had been allowed to restart.

“Frankly, this is the final straw,” tweeted Mr Musk.

“Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will depend on how Tesla is treated in the future.”

At the end of the month Mr Musk annoyed his liberal fanbase when he urged his 34 million Twitter followers to “take the red pill”.

The comment, viewed as being pro-Republican, was embraced by first daughter Ivanka Trump, who said on social media that she had already taken it.

But the month ended on a high as SpaceX launched the first NASA crew to head to the space station from US soil since the space shuttles were retired in 2011.

In July, it was claimed in a London’s High Court that Mr Musk had had an affair with actress Amber Heard while she was married to Johnny Depp.

The claims were made in text messages sent by Mr Depp to his agent and read out during his libel case against News Group Newspapers.

“I definitely was not having an affair with Amber while she was married to Johnny, this is totally false,” Mr Musk later told The New York Times.

In July, hackers got into some of Twitter’s most high-profile accounts as part of a Bitcoin scam, with Mr Musk, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Kanye West and Bill Gates among those targeted.

Mr Musk revealed that he had personally called Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and that “probably within five minutes my account was locked”.

Then at his September “Battery Day” event in California, Mr Musk turned heads as promised that Tesla would make a “compelling” $25,000 electric car within three years

By November, with Tesla’s share price still rocketing, Mr Musk passed Microsoft founder Bill Gates as the world’s second richest man with his current wealth a staggering $155bn.

A month later, Mr Musk addressed a longstanding rumour and confirmed that he had left California and moved to Texas.

“If a team has been winning for too long, they tend to get complacent and then they don’t win the championship anymore. California has been winning for too long,” said Mr Musk.

Tesla is building its Gigafactory Texas car manufacturing plant near Austin, where the company will produce the Model Y and the Cybertruck.

Space X is testing its Starship, which Mr Musk hopes will carry humans to Mars, at a rocket-production site in Boca Chica, Texas, and has an engine-testing site in McGregor.

The move could also save Mr Musk billions of dollars as Texas has no personal state income tax.

Mr Musk’s year ended with a ban as SpaceX’s performed a test of its Starship spacecraft that he hopes will take human to Mars.

It was hailed by the company as an “awesome” success, despite ending in a fireball as the giant rocket exploded as it crash landed 6 minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff.

“Mars, here we come!!” he tweeted after the spectacular incident.

Whatever steps forward Mr Musk and his companies makes in 2021 it will be difficult for their founder to have a more eventful year than 2020.

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