When one of the world’s richest men and investment gurus says something about any company, you stop and listen. So when Buffett recently said in an interview that it would be a “poor idea” for Apple to invest in Tesla, the world stopped. But did it listen?
Most of the reports pushed the idea that Warren Buffett warned Apple about not investing in Tesla. But Buffett said nothing to that effect. He did not refer to Tesla when he made that statement; he was talking about the entire automobile industry.
The bulk of media reports appear to have missed that nuance. Here are some headlines/excerpts from several reports that underline my point:
“Apple should not buy Tesla, according to Warren Buffett” – Fox Business
“Warren Buffett doesn’t think it would be smart for Apple to buy Tesla.” – Business Insider
“Apple Investing in Tesla Is a ‘Poor Idea’: Buffett” – Investopedia
“Legendary investor Warren Buffett warns Apple that buying Tesla would be a bad idea.” BGR
“Warren Buffett: Apple investing in Tesla is a ‘very poor idea’” – MarketWatch
Report after report headlined it the same way, save a few like 9to5Mac. Even though the question was about Apple potentially buying Tesla, Buffett’s answer was very calculated. He used the phrase “auto business”, not Tesla. In fact, he never mentions Tesla by name in that segment.
So why report that Buffett warned Apple about not investing in Tesla? In one word, inference. That’s the defense in this case. The majority of reports inferred that since the interviewer was talking about Apple buying Tesla, Buffett must have been warning the company against making a bid for Tesla.
The problem is, Buffett didn’t say that at all. He put a blanket over the entire auto industry and made comments about its competitiveness and how it was extremely hard for any one company to keep the edge. If you watch the interview and listen to Buffett carefully, he’s very smart with his answer:
Tesla already has the edge, and while it may be extremely hard to keep that edge in the long run, the company is already far, far ahead of the world’s biggest automakers in terms of EV battery technology and global sales. That edge won’t last forever, as we’ve said before, but knowing Elon Musk, Tesla is going to keep gaining the lead by attacking the auto market in different segments: Crossovers and sedans first, then light commercial trucks and semis. Who knows what next?
We could make an inference of our own and say that the media is biased against Tesla and jumped on the opportunity to drop a big name like Buffett to drive home a point that was not made in the first place. But then we’d be no different.
And for the record, we’ve said recently that it wouldn’t be a good fit for Apple to invest in or buy Tesla, but for entirely different reasons. After all, we’re not Buffett.