By Hyunjoo Jin and Eva Mathews
(Reuters) -Tesla Inc Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said on Tuesday that he will stay at the electric car company as long as he is useful amid investor concerns that buying Twitter would distract him from his job at Tesla.
He also said China’s COVID-19 lockdown measures would not be “a significant issue in the coming weeks” at a time when its Shanghai factory is struggling to ramp up production following a suspension last month.
When asked about how long he expects to stay at Tesla, he said: “As long as I can be useful.”
He was speaking at the FT Future of the Car 2022 conference.
In late April, Musk clinched a deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion cash in a transaction that sparked concerns that the social media platform would divert Musk’s attention from Tesla, SpaceX and other companies.
He recently sold $8.5 billion worth of his Tesla shares and plans to borrow against some Tesla stock to help finance the Twitter deal.
Musk is expected to become Twitter’s temporary CEO after closing the deal, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Musk tweeted in December that he was “thinking of” leaving his jobs and becoming an influencer full-time, although it was not clear whether he was being serious about quitting his roles.
He also said last July that he has tried “very hard not to be the CEO of Tesla, but I have to or frankly Tesla is going to die.”
Musk also said he does not see “a ton of merit in combining” Tesla, SpaceX and other affiliates under one umbrella, saying they have different objectives and shareholder bases.
CHINA LOCKDOWN “BEING LIFTED RAPIDLY”
Reuters reported that Tesla operated its Shanghai plant well below capacity early this week, after reopening it in late April after a 22-day closure. [nL2N2X22CT]
“I had conversations with the Chinese government in recent days and it’s clear that the lockdowns are being lifted rapidly,” he said.
The automaker’s sales in China had already slumped by 98% in April from a month earlier, data released by the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) showed, underscoring the hit from China’s hard COVID-19 lockdowns.
He said Tesla does not expect to open additional factories in China in the near future, adding that it will expand its Shanghai factory.
He said China is a significant market, but expected China to account for about 30% of Tesla’s total market in the long term.
Asked if China would interfere and block Tesla’s operations in the country due to Musk owning Twitter, the billionaire said, “I’ve seen no indication of that effect.”
He also said Tesla is open to buying a mining company if necessary.
He expected constraints in lithium production in about three years, adding that raw materials are one of the problems to reaching its goal of selling 20 million vehicles by 2030, from fewer than 1 million last year.
He said that target is “an aspiration” not a “promise.”
Musk believes the biggest constraints to raw materials is equipment necessary to convert raw materials like lithium, nickel and iron into battery-grade materials, adding that Tesla is working with suppliers to address the issue.
(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Eva Mathews and Ben Klayman Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Cynthia Osterman, Nick Zieminski and Bernard Orr)