Elon Musk’s Boring Company receives criticism from tunneling veteran: ‘Something like that doesn’t work’

Elon Musk’s businesses have a history of receiving their fair share of detractors, including some in influential roles in their respective industries. This was the case with Tesla’s electric vehicles, and it was also the case with SpaceX’s reusable orbital-class rockets. Another of Elon Musk’s companies, The Boring Company, is attracting its own critics, with Martin Herrenknecht, the founder of Herrenknecht AG, one of the world’s leading tunnel boring machine (TBM) manufacturers, recently voicing his reservations about the tunneling startup.

Herrenknecht was recently interviewed by Manager Magazin, a German business publication. When asked about Elon Musk’s plans for The Boring Company, the Herrenknecht AG founder dismissed them, saying that the Tesla and SpaceX CEO is overrated, at least when it comes to tunnel construction. The executive went on to say that his company’s TBMs are much more advanced than the tunneling devices used by the Boring Company today.

“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. 

Further, Herrenknecht claimed that Elon Musk’s ability to become proficient in the tunneling industry would be extremely difficult. Due to the difficulty of the tunneling market, the executive claims The Boring Company will not hit the same heights as Musk’s other projects like Tesla and SpaceX in the next ten years or so. Herrenknecht remarked, “I think the degree of difficulty and complexity in tunneling are higher.”

Surprisingly, the executive also shared a personal anecdote about Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Musk had previously approached Herrenknecht AG about buying a tunnel boring machine for The Boring Company, according to Herrenknecht. During the talks, however, Elon Musk is said to have shown “strange business behavior,” including leaving the room for lengthy periods of time and proposing various ideas. Musk was also adamant about lowering the TBM price 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)

The Boring Company, of course, did not purchase a TBM from Herrenknecht AG. The tunneling startup was able to procure its tunneling machines from another firm, with the first one being used to complete a test tunnel in Hawthorne, California. Elon Musk also revealed that The Boring Company is working on an all-electric TBM called Prufrock, which has the ability to dig tunnels much faster than the best in the industry today.

Elon Musk’s ill-fated meeting with Herrenknecht AG has shades of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s 2001 meeting with Russians. Musk was preparing to buy intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be used to fire payloads into space at the time. The negotiations finally broke down over the cost of the missiles, and Musk agreed that building rockets would be feasible on the way back to the United States. The following year, SpaceX was founded, and the rest is history.

It remains to be seen if Elon Musk’s Boring Company would be the disruptor he envisions. However, today’s opponents of the tunneling startup tend to be following in the footsteps of Tesla and SpaceX detractors, the majority of whom have been proved wrong over time. If any references to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s aggressive cost-cutting demands and out-of-the-box ideas are made, they are classic Elon Musk. And, like previous critics, the executive responded negatively to the CEO.

It will be fascinating to see if The Boring Company, like its fellow Elon Musk-led companies Tesla and SpaceX, will rise to challenge the titans of the TBM industry in the coming years. For the time being, history tends to favor Elon Musk and his bold enterprises, both of which are known and admired for their unconventional nature and aggressive strategies.

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