Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk attacked Silicon Valley neighbor Apple twice during a conference call to discuss Tesla’s earnings on Monday.
Although the companies are not in direct competition today, Apple is reportedly building an autonomous electric vehicle under a project codenamed Titan, and has attracted several engineers and executives outside of Tesla. The Titan project is reportedly led by Doug Field, who returned to Apple in 2018 after five years at Tesla.
When asked about Tesla’s supply chain, Musk said there is a misperception that Tesla uses a lot of cobalt, a key material in the production of lithium-ion cells that are used in both smartphones and electric cars.
“I think Apple uses almost 100% cobalt in its batteries, cell phones, and laptops, but Tesla uses no cobalt in iron-phosphate packages, and almost nothing in nickel-based chemicals,” Musk said. “On a weighted average basis, we could use 2% cobalt compared to, say, Apple’s 100% cobalt. Anyway, it’s not really a factor. “
Some of the cobalt mined in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been linked to human rights abuses, such as child labor. In 2019, Apple, in addition to Tesla and other major tech companies, was named a defendant in a human rights lawsuit, according to The Guardian.
In a conflict minerals report released earlier this year, Apple said it publishes a list of all conflict minerals and cobalt smelters and refineries, and that all of Apple’s cobalt suppliers participated in audits in 2020. A representative Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Later in the call, Musk scoffed at Apple’s so-called “walled garden,” which is so named because Apple strictly controls what software can be installed on the iPhone through its App Store. Apple’s walled garden faces scrutiny from lawmakers and other companies, including in an antitrust lawsuit that took place earlier this year after Epic Games sued it over App Store fees and policies.
“I think we want to emphasize that our goal is to support the advent of sustainable energy,” Musk said in response to a question about allowing competitors to use its charger network. “It’s not about creating a walled garden and using it to beat up our competitors, which some companies use.”
Musk then pretended to cough and said, “Apple.”
During the call, Musk said he probably wouldn’t appear on future Tesla earnings calls unless he has “something really important” he needs to say.