Yale Management Professor Calls Out Elon Musk’s ‘Shell Game’ With Tesla Investors

Elon Musk

Tesla is set to report second-quarter earnings on July 30. Lily Lawrence/Getty Images for Oceanic Preservation Society

As everyone at Tesla scrambled to make as many electric cars as possible in the days leading up to June 30, the last day of Tesla’s second fiscal quarter, CEO Elon Musk was already thinking about things much bigger—such as electric planes.

In a Twitter exchange with YouTube gaming star, Ninja, over the weekend, Musk predicted that electric planes could become a reality in as little as five years given the current progress of battery technology.

To those familiar with Musk, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the future-minded entrepreneur has touted ideas no less sci-fi-esque in the past, including submarine cars and robo-taxis. But in the eyes of professional CEO mind readers, these sexy new product pitches are all part of Musk’s trick to distract people from noticing the real important things happening at Tesla.

SEE ALSO: Is Elon Musk a Broke Billionaire?

“There’s a ‘shell game’ that Elon Musk has going on,” Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a prominent management professor at Yale University, said on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Tuesday. “These diversionary moves—that he said he’s gonna come out with a ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ type of submarine car, the insurance company, and the one million robo-taxis that he said we would have this time next year when there’s no evidence to support it—are the shell game here.”

Sonnenfeld said these futuristic discussions are to divert people’s attention from Tesla’s demand crisis, executive departures and deteriorating debt issues. “Every one of those ‘D-terms’ is a whole saga in itself,” the professor said.

Tesla is expected to report second-quarter results on July 30 and can release quarterly production numbers any day between now and then. It will be a crucial quarter for the electric carmaker to restore investor confidence, after Tesla stock tumbled more than a third since the beginning of the year.

“Obviously he is a genius and this is a board that considers him to be a genius. Yes, he can land a satellite on a small device in the ocean. He can take a rocket ship back in there. And yet, we see he’s disappointing on so many fronts,” Sonnenfeld said of Musk’s performance as a CEO.

In the first quarter, Musk disappointed Tesla investors by delivering only 63,000 cars compared to the expected 76,000 and posting a loss of $702 million instead of a profit he’d promised.

“It isn’t just that he’s dramatically failed expectations. It’s that he’d set these expectations himself,” Sonnenfeld said on CNBC in April shortly after the first-quarter earnings release. “He talks about how crazy or manic running a public company can be. It depends on who’s at the helm. There are public companies that are well managed. Sure, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were wild self-promotors, but they didn’t promote beyond what they could deliver.”

“When is the board going to wake up?” he added. “You know what they are? They do understand cruise control better than anybody else. The board is on ‘cruise control.'” Yale Management Professor Calls Out Elon Musk’s ‘Shell Game’ With Tesla Investors