The uninterrupted string of verbal or tweeted gaffes committed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk is leading to louder and louder calls for his removal from this key post at the electric car company he founded.
Only last week, Musk again incurred the ire – and a contempt charge filed in court – of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This time the SEC charged Musk with contempt for a tweet where he bragged Tesla will produce "around" 500,000 vehicles this year.
In charging Musk in federal court, the SEC said Musk violated a deal last fall in the wake of Musk's failed bid to take his company public.
Apparently realizing the inaccuracy of his original claim, Musk later tweeted he "meant to say" the company's annualized production rate at the end of 2019 could be around 500,000 vehicles. The SEC asked Musk to explain his tweet, and said in its court filing it took Musk two full days to do so.
The SEC forced Musk to step down as Tesla chairman last year as punishment for Musk erroneously tweeting he had the financing to take Tesla public when the contrary was true. It also ordered Tesla to pay a $20 million fine.
As part of the settlement, Musk was ordered to secure pre-approval for future tweets.
Musk's latest blunder, which he committed only last week, is fueling rumors the SEC might seek Musk's ouster as CEO this time in exchange for not exacting painful legal vengeance on Tesla. This scenario opens the question as to who will lead Tesla post-Musk.
Sources within Musk's companies cited Jeffrey Straubel, Chief Technical Officer at Tesla, and SpaceX President and CTO Gwynne Shotwell as probable successors to Musk at CEO. But it remains doubtful if either of these C-suite execs will leave behind posts where they've enjoyed much success for the incredibly much tougher job of leading Tesla.
Straubel is one of Tesla's oldtimers, having joined Tesla only a year after the company was formed in 2003. A smart engineer, Straubel is widely considered the most important employee at Tesla after Musk and is a close friend of the current CEO.
Despite never having been involved in Tesla, Shotwell remains a top candidate for Tesla CEO given Musk's immense respect for her. She's routinely made the list of the best candidates to assist or replace Musk. Shotwell is an engineer and a mathematician, a combination of smarts Musk seems to love.
Despite Musk's history of combativeness, which some psychologists attribute to his unchecked narcissism, Musk still retains the full confidence of Tesla's board of directors.
That's probably because Musk still owns about 22 percent of voting and equity rights in Tesla, and has the allegiance of Tesla's largest investors and officers. The SEC might change this dynamic, however.
This article was first published in IBTimes US. Permission required for reproduction.