It’s not an exaggeration to say that Elon Musk and Donald Trump have the most diametric brains on the planet.
They also differ widely in their views on a hot-button political issue: climate change. The Tesla CEO is the world’s most prominent proponent of using innovation to do something about global warming, while the president-elect has said climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
But with the opening on Wednesday of Tesla’s battery manufacturing factory in Nevada, Musk has suddenly wound up with a “surprising alignment of interests with the new presidential administration,” says Adam Jonas, Morgan Stanley’s lead auto analyst.
Jonas, one of the most strident Tesla bulls on Wall Street, made the comment in a research note in which he assessed the Gigafactory’s opening and reiterated his view that the company’s Model 3 mass-market vehicle won’t launch on schedule at the end of 2017.
But the alignment “really seemed to sneak up on people,” he added.
Of course it did – until you think about where the two line up. Tesla’s a high-tech domestic hiring machine.
Here’s Jonas, writing about the Nevada plant:
“As the bus drove up to the massive plant yesterday morning, one could not help but notice the hundreds of cars in the parking lot from the construction crew (yes, roughly 1/2 of the vehicles were pickup trucks), part of 2,100 construction workers running two shifts per day.
“To the extent that the creation of high-tech manufacturing jobs in the United States is a priority of the incoming administration, we believe Mr. Musk might have some interests that could be very much in alignment with those of President-elect Trump.”
Old versus new manufacturing
It’s worth pointing out that the Obama administration was also supportive of high-tech manufacturing and that it’s unclear whether all US manufacturing jobs are equal in the eyes of Trump and the GOP. And don’t forget that constructing Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory involved old-school labor, while the manufacturing of battery cells inside could eventually be almost completely automated.
But Jonas is onto something by highlighting what could be an unexpected and potentially awkward shared interest of Trump and Musk. The Tesla CEO did, after all, make the pilgrimage to Trump Tower along with the rest of the Silicon Valley tech elite.
However, all of Musk’s companies require a type of government support that’s futuristic rather than retro. Electric cars are a threat to the oil business. Solar power – Tesla just acquired SolarCity – has benefitted from government subsidies to gain a foothold against traditional grid electricity provided by burning coal and natural gas. SpaceX has NASA as its biggest customer.
Musk is a shining example of a businessperson who’s making America great now. It remains to be seen if Trump can digest that reality and come to terms with how that reality has been achieved.