SAN FRANCISCO — The very attributes that have fueled a mania around Elon Musk — his vision, brash personality, and willingness to take risks — could prove to be his downfall.
The Tesla CEO who made his fortune and his renegade-genius reputation by bursting through the barriers of conventional thinking faces a humiliating comedown as government regulators try to oust him from the company in a lawsuit accusing him of duping the electric car maker’s stockholders.
But extracting Musk from the company he has become synonymous with could devastate Tesla.
Musk’s fans maintain that Tesla would be insane to get rid of him, arguing it would go down as a huge mistake similar to the one Apple made in 1985 when it ousted its own visionary founder, Steve Jobs, only to bring him back with the company on the brink of bankruptcy 12 years later.
The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against Musk on Thursday, alleging he falsely claimed in an Aug. 7 tweet that he had secured financing to buy out Tesla and take it private at $420 per share, a substantial premium over the stock price at the time.
The SEC is asking a federal court in New York to bar Musk from serving as an officer or director of any public company.
The case is not expected to go to trial until early next year.
The fraud case comes amid a squall of disquieting tweets and other troubling disclosures that have raised questions about whether Musk should remain at the helm of Tesla, a company valued at $46 billion.
The challenges already facing Tesla might become even more daunting without Musk as CEO because its fortunes are inextricably tied to those of its leader.
Given that Tesla has mostly lost money throughout its history and has had trouble meeting its own production targets while burning through cash, tThe company’s stock could be in danger of cratering without Musk’s aura.
The company’s stock plunged nearly $43 on Friday, or almost 14 percent, to $264.77, erasing $7 billion in shareholder wealth.