Elon Musk insisted in court on Monday he does not control Tesla Inc and said he did not enjoy being the electric vehicle company’s chief executive as he took the stand to defend the company’s 2016 acquisition of SolarCity.
The lawsuit by union pension funds and asset managers alleges the celebrity CEO strong-armed Tesla’s board into wasting the company’s assets to buy SolarCity, which was running out of cash. Musk at the time owned a 22% stake in both Tesla and SolarCity, which was founded by his cousins.
Musk said in his testimony Monday that he’s tried “very hard not to be the CEO of Tesla, but I have to or frankly Tesla is going to die.”
The shareholders’ lawsuit accuses Musk of dominating deal discussions, pushing Tesla to pay more for SolarCity and misleading shareholders about the deteriorating financial health of the solar panel maker.
Kicking off a two-week trial in Wilmington, Delaware, Musk, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and a slightly askew dark tie, refused to agree he controlled board members and disagreed that recordings of interviews depicted him as a boss with unlimited power.
Shareholder attorney Randall Baron asked if the board vetted his two “master plans” for Tesla or his Technoking title, which he gave himself in March.
“It generated a whole bunch of free press and Tesla doesn’t advertise and it’s helpful to general sales,” he said of the unusual title, calling it a joke. “I think I’m funny.”
Tesla’s master plans outline the company’s long-term goal to create affordable vehicles with sustainable power sources.