Why Elon Musk Calls Apple A 'Tesla Graveyard'

"If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple. I’m not kidding."
Michael Kovac via Getty Images

For months, Apple has been hiring former Tesla engineers to work on an electric car. But Tesla CEO Elon Musk doesn't seem to feel threatened.

"They have hired people we’ve fired," he said in an interview published Thursday by the German business newspaper Handelsblatt. "We always jokingly call Apple the 'Tesla graveyard.' If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple. I’m not kidding."

Apple has tentative plans to release a car in four years. To help reach this goal, the company hired Doug Betts, formerly of Toyota, Nissan and the Chrysler Group, in July. It also poached Paul Furgale, a robotics specialist, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology earlier this year.

Still, Tesla -- which last month released its second consumer vehicle, the Model X sports-utility vehicle -- isn't concerned about the competition. Musk famously freed up most of Tesla's patents last year, outright inviting other corporations to join the electric auto industry by using the company's technology. Rising tides raise Tesla's ship, so to speak, and Musk wants to open the floodgates to electric cars.

But Apple's specialties, consumer technology such as its Watch and iPhone, don't translate to vehicles, Musk said.

"Did you ever take a look at the Apple Watch?" he asked, laughing. "No, seriously: It's good that Apple is moving and investing in this direction. But cars are very complex compared to phones or smartwatches. You can’t just go to a supplier like Foxconn and say, 'Build me a car.'"

He has a point. Last year, Apple bungled a mere software update. Building an entire line of cars from scratch is ambitious, to say the least.

Even so, Musk said Apple's move makes sense.

"[F]or Apple, the car is the next logical thing to finally offer a significant innovation," he said. "A new pencil or a bigger iPad alone were not relevant enough."

Google, too, has become a rival for Tesla. The company has made enormous strides recently in its self-driving car program, which Tesla competes against with its own driverless car ambitions.

But Musk is a close friend of Google, and often sleeps over at the home of Larry Page, the chief executive of Google's parent company, Alphabet.

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