Can Saudi Arabia Afford a Bigger Tesla Stake?

August 14, 2018

Carlo Versano

Saudi Arabia's interest in funding a buyout of Tesla shareholders is far from certain, said Maureen Farrell of the Wall Street Journal, and it's unclear if the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund would have the capital to secure such a deal for the electric carmaker's CEO, Elon Musk.

The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia has made a handful of big bets on Silicon Valley ー most notably, a $3.5 billion cash infusion in Uber in 2016.

"They've been very public about wanting to be a leader in tech," Farrell said Tuesday in an interview on Cheddar.

However, much of the capital earmarked for investment was predicated on the successful IPO of the state oil company, Saudi Aramco, which has stalled. Without the cash from the public offering ー as much as $100 billion for a 5 percent stake, according to estimates ー the sovereign wealth fund may not be inclined to finance a deal with Tesla, no matter what the royal family may have told Musk in the past.

"They've promised a lot of money to a lot of different people," Farrell said, including a planned mega-city to be built in the Saudi desert.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been vocal about his desire to diversify the country's investments from its oil and gas holdings. Elon Musk needs an investor of Salman's stature and wealth to help take Tesla private.

As it stands, Musk's vision for a zero-emissions future seems dependent on an investment arm built on an oil fortune.