Elon Musk’s Record of Overpromising and Underdelivering

Elon Musk is a popular and controversial South African-born American entrepreneur who is also one of the three wealthiest people in the world. Musk is best known for his role as an early investor in electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc. (ticker: TSLA), where he has served as CEO since 2008. Musk also co-founded electronic payment platform X.com, which later merged with competitor Confinity and was renamed PayPal Holdings Inc. (PYPL), and is the founder and CEO of spacecraft company SpaceX. In addition, Musk is the majority owner of social media platform X (formerly Twitter), which he acquired in 2022.

Elon Musk is unquestionably one of the most successful entrepreneurs and marketers in Wall Street history. Tesla alone went public in 2010 at an initial public offering valuation of about $1.7 billion. Today, Tesla’s market cap stands at $570 billion. Musk reportedly owns about 13% of Tesla, excluding options. SpaceX, which he owns a much larger chunk of, was also valued at nearly $180 billion based on a December 2023 tender offer.

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But for all of Musk’s major financial successes, he has also made some high-profile financial blunders as well. Musk paid $44 billion for Twitter in 2022 and owns an estimated 74% of the company. Forbes estimates Musk’s stake in the re-named X platform has lost about 70% of its value since he acquired the company.

Musk has also drawn criticism for his eccentric behavior and controversial public statements. He has butted heads with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulators and government officials numerous times over his corporate governance and his use of social media. Critics on the political left have blasted Musk for failing to remove antisemitism and other offensive language from X, which Musk has defended as preserving free speech. At the same time, free speech advocates have pointed out Musk’s hypocrisy when it comes to censoring critics and whistleblowers speaking out against Musk and his companies.

While opinions on Musk vary widely, there are plenty of concrete examples of times Musk made promises, projections and predictions that missed the mark badly, leaving his supporters and investors puzzled and disappointed. Here are several of the most notorious examples of Musk overpromising and underdelivering:

Elon Musk’s Biggest Misfires

February 12, 2012: “Tesla does not need to ever raise another funding round. We may want to do so, but we are in a strong cash position, and we don’t need to.”

Musk gave this answer in response to a question about the company’s liquidity and cash burn. Musk is often very careful with his language to qualify his bold statements and predictions, but the implication here seems to be that Tesla no longer needed to raise capital and dilute its shares. Since Musk made those statements, Tesla has completed 14 fundraising rounds, raising an additional $5 billion in funding as recently as December 2020.

August 12, 2013: “Hyperloop could transport people, vehicles, and freight between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 35 minutes. Transporting 7.4 million people each way every year and amortizing the cost of $6 billion over 20 years gives a ticket price of $20 for a one-way trip for the passenger version of Hyperloop.”

Hyperloop was Elon Musk’s design to build an affordable, high-speed transportation system that involved capsules traveling through low-pressure tubes. From 2014 to 2023, Hyperloop One raised around $450 million and achieved a maximum test speed with human subjects of 100 miles per hour, well below the original promise of a 700 mph travel speed. Hyperloop One officially shut down in 2023.

June 17, 2014: “I’m hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it’s certainly possible for that to occur.”

Again, Musk tends to qualify his statements so he isn’t pinned down to definitive predictions. But his claims that humans could be on Mars between 2024 and 2026 seem way off base. As of 2024, NASA is currently planning to make the first manned expedition to Mars “potentially in the 2030s.” By March 2022, Musk had also bumped back his prediction to 2029.

September 23, 2015: “The record right now for the Model S is 800 kilometers (497 miles). That is the furthest that anyone has driven a Model S…My guess is probably we could break 1,000 kilometers within a year or two. I’d say 2017 for sure.”

Again, Musk’s predictions for Tesla battery range missed the mark by a country mile. Even under ideal driving conditions in 2024, the record for the longest distance ever driven on a single charge in a Tesla is 901 kilometers, or about 560 miles.

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January 10, 2016: “In ~2 years, summon should work anywhere connected by land & not blocked by borders, eg you’re in LA and the car is in NY.”

One of the most often-cited examples of Musk misleading Tesla users and investors involves the company’s autonomous vehicle technology, or lack thereof. In 2016, Musk promised Level 5 autonomous Tesla vehicles that could travel unmanned from Los Angeles to New York by 2018. In 2024, Tesla has only managed to deliver a Level 3 autonomous system that “requires a fully attentive driver who is ready to take immediate action at all times.”

August 7, 2018: “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.”

The notorious “funding secured” tweet is one of the few instances in which Musk did not leave himself enough wiggle room to avoid regulatory fallout. When the SEC investigated Musk’s tweets, they found Musk’s tweet about a potential Tesla buyout “lacked an adequate basis in fact.” Musk and Tesla ultimately agreed to pay $40 million in penalties tied to the SEC fraud charges.

April 12, 2019: “Buying a car today is an investment into the future. I think the most profound thing is that if you buy a Tesla today, I believe you are buying an appreciating asset, not a depreciating asset.”

To say Musk missed the mark on this prediction is quite the understatement. As of April 2024, the average price of a used Tesla vehicle had declined 20 months in a row to $31,568. That current price represents about a 40% overall drop in value since Musk claimed Tesla vehicles appreciate in value.

April 22, 2019: “From our standpoint, if you fast forward a year, maybe a year and three months, but next year for sure, we’ll have over a million robotaxis on the road.”

After years of underwhelming progress on AV technology, Musk whipped the Tesla community into a frenzy with the promise of a massive fleet of unmanned Tesla robotaxis on the roads sometime in 2020. In 2024, there are still zero Tesla robotaxis, making this one of the more egregious falsehoods from the revered CEO. Musk recently said Tesla plans to finally unveil its robotaxi at a special event in August 2024, but long-time Musk followers know a Tesla product “unveiling” often means the product launch is still several years away.

March 19, 2020: “Based on current trends, probably close to zero new cases in US too by end of April.”

Some Musk supporters argue the U.S. government overreacted to the COVID-19 pandemic with its economic shutdowns, school closures and quarantine measures, which is a topic that will likely continue to be debated for years to come. However, regardless of whether or not the government overreacted, there’s no question Musk’s prediction of no new cases by May 2020 was completely absurd. Not only have there been millions of COVID-19 infections since April 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported excessive U.S. deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic persisted through at least the end of 2022.

April 29, 2022: “No further Tesla sales planned after today.”

Musk tweeted this pledge after he dumped $8.5 billion worth of his Tesla stock in a week’s time during his takeover of Twitter. At the time, his tweet put Tesla investors at ease that the stock price pressure from Musk’s selling was finally over. Musk went on to sell another $6.9 billion of Tesla stock in August, $3.9 billion of Tesla stock in November and another $3.6 billion of Tesla stock in December 2022. Tesla investors who took Musk at his word suffered a 60% loss from a high of $311.47 on April 29, 2022 to a close of $123.18 on Dec. 30, 2022.


Elon Musk is unquestionably one of the most influential and financially successful entrepreneurs and businessmen of all time. However, when it comes to business and technology achievements, history suggests his projections, promises and claims should be taken with a grain of salt.

Musk has used a combination of tech savvy, business acumen and carefully worded projections to gain a massive following of investors and fans eager to support his goals of a greener Earth, freedom of expression, human colonization of Mars and a range of other ambitious objectives. While the list above highlights Musk’s track record on technological achievement is mixed at best, Tesla’s stock price and Musk’s personal net worth suggests investors who bet against him and his companies do so at their own risk.

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Elon Musk’s Record of Overpromising and Underdelivering originally appeared on usnews.com

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