Why Tesla is the spark that Apple needs

by Vivek Wadhwa Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University. His past appointments include Harvard Law School, University of California Berkeley, and Emory University. 03.05.2016
Apple’s dismal earnings announcement shows why it badly needs to rethink its innovation model and leadership. Its last breakthrough innovation was the iPhone — which was released in 2007. Since then, Apple has simply been tweaking its componentry, adding faster processors and more advanced sensors, and playing with its size — making it bigger in the iPad and smaller in the Apple Watch. Chief executive Tim Cook is probably one of the most competent operations executives in the industry but is clearly not a technology visionary. Apple needs another Steve Jobs to reinvent itself otherwise it will join the ranks of HP and Compaq.

That Steve Jobs may be Elon Musk—who has proven to be the greatest visionary of our times.

In the same period that Apple released the iPhone and successors, Musk developed two generations of world-changing electric vehicles; perfected a new generation of battery technologies; and released first-generation autonomous driving capabilities. And that was in Tesla Motors. In his other company, SpaceX, Musk developed a spacaecraft, docked it with the International Space Station, and returned with cargo. He’s launched two rockets to space that have made vertical landings back on Earth — one on a helicopter-like pad and another on a ship in the ocean. Musk is also developing the Hyperloop, a high-speed transportation system in which pressurized capsules ride on an air cushion driven by linear induction motors and air compressors. In discussions that I had with him in 2012, Musk told me that his ambition was to build a space station and retire on Mars. He wasn’t joking, I expect he will do this.

Apple has reportedly been developing an electric vehicle because it sees a car as an iPhone on wheels. It is conceivable that it will demonstrate something like this in the next five to 10 years. But Tesla already has this technology — and it is amazing. I have likened my Tesla Model S to a spaceship that travels on land. I consider it to be better than any Apple product — because it is more complex, elegant, and better designed than anything that Apple offers.

Apple should buy Tesla and appoint Musk as CEO.

Would Musk be interested in being part of Apple when Tesla is on top of the world? Tesla just received nearly $20 billion in orders for its Model 3 — a record for any product in history. Musk reportedly turned down an acquisition offer from Google in 2013 when it was on the verge of bankruptcy.  Why would he consider such an offer now, from Apple?

My guess is that he would do this — if he were offered the chief executive role. A combination of an operations executive such as Cook and a visionary such as Musk would be formidable. Apple’s vast resources would allow Tesla to scale up his operations to deliver the nearly 400,000 orders it has received for the Model 3. Tesla would be able to leverage Apple’s global distribution network and incorporate many new technologies. Musk would be able to pursue his dream projects while Cook worried about delivery and detail.

And Cook would get the visionary that Apple badly needs, someone who is even a cut above Steve Jobs. The markets would rejoice and take Apple stock to a level higher than anything it has seen before.  Consider that Tesla’s market cap of $33 billion is eminently affordable by Apple, which has reserves of more than $200 billion. And Apple lost $47 billion in valuation with its earnings announcement Tuesday, which is more than it would likely cost to acquire Tesla.

This could be a marriage made in heaven. We would get world changing innovations as well as our space colonies.

Below is an interview I Vivek Wadhwa with Tyler Mathisen of CNBC Power Lunch about this.

Vivek Wadhwa: Apple should buy Tesla and make Elon Musk CEO

For Vivek Wadhwa's site, please click here.

To follow Vivek Wadhwa on Twitter, please click here.


Vivek Wadhwa is a Fellow at Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Stanford University; Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering,  Duke University; and Distinguished Fellow at Singularity University. He is author of  “The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent”—which was named by The Economist as a Book of the Year of 2012, and ” Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology”—which documents the struggles and triumphs of women.  In 2012, the U.S. Government awarded Wadhwa distinguished recognition as an  “Outstanding American by Choice”— for his “commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans”. He was also named by Foreign Policy Magazine as Top 100 Global Thinker in 2012. In 2013, TIME Magazine listed him as one of The 40 Most Influential Minds in Tech.

Wadhwa oversees research at Singularity University, which educates a select group of leaders about the exponentially advancing technologies that are soon going to change our world.  These advances—in fields such as robotics, A.I., computing, synthetic biology, 3D printing, medicine, and nanomaterials—are making it possible for small teams to do what was once possible only for governments and large corporations to do: solve the grand challenges in education, water, food, shelter, health, and security.

In his roles at Stanford and  Duke, Wadhwa lectures in class on subjects such as entrepreneurship and public policy, helps prepare students for the real world, and leads groundbreaking research projects.  He is an advisor to several governments; mentors entrepreneurs; and is a regular columnist for The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal Accelerators, LinkedIn Influencers blog, Forbes, and the American Society of Engineering Education’s Prism magazine.  Prior to joining academia in 2005, Wadhwa founded two software companies.

Rate this essay

Click the stars to rate

Recent Essays