Elon Musk Almost Sold Tesla To Google
It’s the big buzz all over the internet in the last day or two, that sometime around March, 2013, Musk was close to inking a deal with Google.
This all came from the new, long-awaited book arriving May 19th, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (Ashlee Vance), which, though due out in May, the Bloomburg Business site posted this excerpt from: (edited)
On May 8, 2013, Tesla Motors shocked just about everyone by posting its first-ever quarterly profit, …The 2013 profit announcement was fortuitous. Just weeks before, Tesla had been on the verge of bankruptcy.
Earlier in 2013 (Musk) … began negotiating a deal to sell the company to Google through his friend Larry Page, the search giant’s co-founder and chief executive officer…
A big part of the problem was a lack of resources, says former Tesla engineer Ali Javidan. “It was either hire a team of 50 people right away to make one of these things happen, or implement things as best and as fast as you could.” Musk chose the latter, Javidan says. …
In the first week of March 2013, Musk reached out to Page, say the two people familiar with the talks. By that point, so many customers were deferring orders that Musk had quietly shut down Tesla’s factory. Considering his straits, Musk drove a hard bargain. He proposed that Google buy Tesla outright — with a healthy premium, the company would have cost about $6 billion at the time — and pony up another $5 billion in capital for factory expansions. He also wanted guarantees that Google wouldn’t break up or shut down his company before it produced a third-generation electric car aimed at the mainstream auto market. He insisted that Page let him run a Google-owned Tesla for eight years, or until it began pumping out such a car. Page accepted the overall proposal and shook on the deal.
In the weeks that followed, Musk, Page, and Google’s lawyers negotiated the specific terms of the deal. There were a couple of sticking points around Musk’s financial demands that complicated the talks and kept the two sides apart.
While the two companies were negotiating, Tesla’s frenzy of sales calls began to pay off, and a lot more people started buying the Model S. With its quarter drawing to a close and two weeks worth of cash in its coffers, Tesla began selling thousands of cars, enough to post an $11 million quarterly profit on $562 million in revenue.
Within two weeks of that announcement, the company’s shares had doubled, and Tesla had repaid its $465 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy early, with interest. Musk broke off his negotiations with Google. He no longer needed a savior.
Tesla is better off
While a $6 billion price tag on Tesla may have made sense at the time, Musk and Tesla shareholders have seen a far better return as an independently operated company than would have been the case if the Google and Tesla deal panned out. Today, Tesla’s market cap is $26 billion.
The near-Google deal highlights the risk of investing in companies like Tesla who spend every dollar of gross profit on expansion. Even amid sales growth, cash can be tight. Of course, the risk of bankruptcy today is far lower, if not nonexistent. Tesla’s premium stock price, paired with a much better track record of demand for its vehicles, gives the company much easier access to capital today — whether it’s through debt or equity.
What’s really interesting is that Bloomberg posted this post-Tesla turnaround story in June of 2013, still talking about a Google purchase: