Elon Musk’s Boring Company gets stern dismissal from tunneling veteran: ‘Something like that doesn’t work’


Elon Musk’s companies have a pretty strong tendency to attract their own fair share of critics, including those in notable positions in their respective industries. This was the case with Tesla and its electric vehicles, and the same was true with SpaceX and its reusable orbital-class rockets. The Boring Company, another one of Elon Musk’s ventures, is now gathering its own skeptics as well, with Martin Herrenknecht, the founder of Herrenknecht AG, one of the world’s premier tunnel boring machine (TBM) makers, recently expressing his doubts about the tunneling startup. 

German business publication Manager Magazin recently interviewed Herrenknecht. When asked about Elon Musk’s tunneling aspirations with The Boring Company, the Herrenknecht AG founder was dismissive, noting that he believes the Tesla and SpaceX CEO is overrated, at least when it comes to tunnel construction. The executive added that his company’s TBMs are far more advanced than the Boring Company’s tunneling machines today.  

(Credit: The Boring Company)

“For my industry, I see Musk above all as a skillful whisker. He claims that he can build tunnels faster and cheaper than others and is causing a stir. On his reference project in Las Vegas, Musk drilled 20 meters in one week. We can do the same route in one day,” he said. 

Explaining further, Herrenknecht noted that it would be very challenging for Elon Musk to become competent in the tunneling industry. The executive noted that he believes The Boring Company will not reach the same heights as Musk’s other ventures like Tesla and SpaceX in the next ten years or so due to the complexity of the tunneling segment. “I think the degree of difficulty and complexity in tunneling are higher,” Herrenknecht remarked. 

Interestingly enough, the executive also shared a personal anecdote about Elon Musk himself. As per Herrenknecht, Musk actually approached Herrenknecht AG for the potential purchase of a tunnel boring machine for The Boring Company in the past. However, during the negotiations, Elon Musk reportedly exhibited “strange business behavior,” leaving the room for long periods and suggesting numerous ideas. Musk was also adamant in reducing the price of TBMs from $10 million to just $2 million. 

“It was pretty chaotic because he left the room several times for a long time and kept coming up with different ideas… Something like that doesn’t work,” Herrenknecht said. 

Workers from the Boring Company guide the third of three parts of the drill which will make the tunnel for the People Mover which will connect convention halls as part of the LVCCD Phase 2 construction in the Red Lot east of the south Hall at the Las Vegas Convention center Tuesday, October 29, 2019. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

Needless to say, The Boring Company did not purchase a TBM from Herrenknecht AG. The tunneling startup did manage to purchase its tunneling machines from another company, the first of which was used to complete a test tunnel in Hawthorne, CA. Elon Musk has also announced that The Boring Company is working on developing an all-electric TBM called Prufrock, which has the potential to dig tunnels significantly faster than the industry’s best today. 

Elon Musk’s ill-fated meeting with Herrenknecht AG echoes some elements of the Tesla CEO’s meeting with the Russians in 2001. Back then, Musk was aiming to purchase intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be used to launch some payloads to space. The discussions ultimately broke down because of the missiles’ cost, and on the trip back to the United States, Musk figured that building rockets would be feasible. SpaceX was founded the year later, and the rest is history. 

It remains to be seen if The Boring Company would be the disruptor that Elon Musk plans it to be. That being said, skeptics of the tunneling startup today seem to be following the same patterns as Tesla and SpaceX’s critics, most of whom have been proven wrong over the years. If any, Herrenknecht’s references to the Tesla CEO’s aggressive cost-cutting demands and out-of-the-box ideas are classic Elon Musk. And just like critics before him, the executive reacted adversely to the CEO. 

It would then be interesting to see if The Boring Company, at least in the coming years, could rise enough to challenge the titans of the TBM industry, just like its fellow Elon Musk-led companies Tesla and SpaceX. At least for now, history seems to favor Elon Musk and his bold companies, all of which are noted and respected for their unorthodox nature and aggressive strategies. 

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Elon Musk’s Boring Company gets stern dismissal from tunneling veteran: ‘Something like that doesn’t work’

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