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Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his electric car startup was close to death over the last year — within "single-digit weeks," he told "Axios on HBO" — during the troubled ramp-up of the mass market Model 3.

Driving the news: Musk has previously said that the company nearly went bankrupt in 2008, the year he took over as CEO, and that at the time Tesla had "less than a 10% likelihood to succeed." Over the past year, he has called the Model 3 buildout "production hell," and watched as his own erratic behavior — including an ongoing scrape with federal authorities — contributed to a plunge in Tesla’s share price. 

But after months of waving away critics who described him as a slipshod manager, Musk admitted that Tesla "faced a severe threat of death."

  • "Essentially the company was bleeding money like crazy," Musk said. "And just if we didn't solve these problems in a very short period time, we would die. And it was extremely difficult to solve them."
  • During the summer, Musk called the 230-mile range, $35,000 Model 3 a "bet the company" project. 
  • Asked how close to death Tesla came, Musk replied: "I would say within single-digit weeks."

Why it matters, from Axios future editor Steve LeVine: Musk’s admission shows just how dire conditions became at a company that is synonymous with him, and that many regard as the key to a future electric car revolution.

  • Thought bubble from Axios' Felix Salmon: At worst, Tesla was single-digit weeks away from having to do a dilutive equity capital raise.

Musk said he spends about 70% of his time on Tesla — sometimes seven days a week, and sleeping in the factory.

  • "I was in the paint shop, body shop ... end of [the] line where we do final check out of vehicles," he said. "I personally redesigned the whole battery pack production line and ran it for three weeks. Pretty intense."
  • "I think what a lot of people don't understand is that I'm like the chief engineer like that. I actually do lead engineering of the rockets and lead the engineering of the vehicles and production. ... Ninety percent of my day is spent on engineering and production.

Asked what he does that no one should do, Musk answered: "No one should put this many hours into your work. This is not good. People should not work this hard."

  • "This is very painful," he said. "It hurts, it hurts my brain and my heart. It hurts. ... There were times when I was working literally 120 hours. This is not recommended for anyone."
  • "I just did it because if I didn't do it, then [there was a] good chance Tesla would die."
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Go deeper

5 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

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Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.

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As supply-chain kinks drive up prices and disrupt holiday shopping, Democrats are scrambling to show action and deflect blame.

Why it matters: With their party controlling both the White House and Capitol, vulnerable Democrats worry supply-chain snafus will hurt them in next year's midterms.

7 hours ago - World

Scoop: Germany urges Congress not to sanction Putin’s pipeline

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The German government has urged members of Congress not to sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, arguing that doing so will "weaken" U.S. credibility and "ultimately damage transatlantic unity," according to documents obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: At a time when roughly 100,000 Russian troops are massing at its border, Ukraine views Nord Stream 2 as an existential threat to its security. The pipeline would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, eliminating one of the last deterrents Ukraine has against an invasion.