WASHINGTON • Tesla shares took a pounding on Friday amid fresh fears over the future of the electric carmaker after a wide-ranging interview with chief executive Elon Musk, in which he revealed his struggles with exhaustion and a lengthy but unsuccessful effort to find a No. 2 executive.
In closing trade, Tesla shares skidded 8.9 per cent to US$305.50 following the publication of the interview with The New York Times.
Mr Musk opened up to the newspaper about the personal toll he said he has endured, working marathon hours trying to ensure that deadlines are met, with Tesla ramping up production of its crucial Model 3 sedan.
"There were times when I didn't leave the factory for three or four days - days when I didn't go outside," he said.
"This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career. It was excruciating."
Mr Musk also revealed he needed to take prescription medication to sleep during the latest ordeals, and disclosed that he had approached Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg about becoming his No. 2 at Tesla.
The brash South African-born entrepreneur also sought to explain his tweet earlier this month about taking Tesla private, which has drawn scrutiny from regulators.
He explained that the Aug 7 tweet claiming assurance that funding for going private was secured was an attempt to be transparent, even though it provoked questions from analysts about whether it violated stock market regulations.
He and other board members are preparing to meet Securities and Exchange Commission officials as early as this week, said The New York Times.
Mr Musk, who envisions sending tourists to the moon with his private firm SpaceX and has unveiled ambitious plans for high-speed trains and other projects, is recognised as one of the most influential innovators in the United States.
But he has appeared to fray under the pressure in recent months.
"Part of the issue from my perspective is focus," said Mr Roger Kay, an analyst and consultant with Endpoint Technologies Associates. "He is one guy and he has multiple companies. Any one of those requires the full attention of the CEO."
Mr Kay said the comments on Mr Musk's personal issues "is not going to get him any sympathy", but added: "It's not a question of whether he is likeable, what matters is whether he can function."
The analyst noted that "there isn't anyone currently who can pick up the slack for him (as a No. 2). But he needs to get that person in place pretty quick".
Mr Art Hogan, chief market strategist for B. Riley FBR, said the interview "did not improve the image of the company or the CEO" while adding to uncertainty about Tesla's future. "If we say we simply remove Elon Musk from the situation, I don't know if that does much good. I don't know what the bench looks like behind him," he said.
Tesla produced slightly more than 100,000 vehicles last year and has been struggling to boost production of its Model 3, which is less expensive than its first models and could help expand Tesla's base.
On Monday, Mr Musk said in a blog post that his much-scrutinised statements about financing were based on his conversations with Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund and other investors.
If delisted, Tesla could operate without requirements for financial reports and other pressures of a publicly traded firm.