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Why, Exactly, Is Elon Musk Selling Flamethrowers? (or: An Investigation In Hot Theories)

The Boring Company just sold 20,000 flamethrowers to the public. Here's why.

Brad JonesFebruary 7th 2018

It started out as a joke, or at least something in the neighborhood of a joke, but quickly turned into yet another scheme to make a very rich person even richer. The Boring Company, Elon Musk’s business venture (ostensibly) created to dig tunnels for future modes of transportation, now sells flamethrowers.

Yes: Flamethrowers. Just weapons so destructive that the only military to ever drop a nuclear bomb on another nation voluntarily banned itself from using them in 1978.

A lot of people are asking, quite reasonably: Why’s Elon Musk hawking flamethrowers anyway? Doesn’t he have anything better to do?

A few theories:

  • To make a lot of money quickly, or at least show that he can. In the span of four days, pre-orders of the $500 flamethrower were completely sold out. That’s $10 million right off the bat. Most of that will go right into the company’s pocket — the gadgets probably don’t cost much to make (they are “quite literally roof torches strapped to Airsoft rifles,” according to The Verge) and the only marketing to speak of was a few Tweets and Instagram posts. And if you suspect that you might not be the safest flamethrower user out there, The Boring Company sells fire extinguishers separately, of course. Much of the skepticism around Musk is that Tesla is a company with a lot of ideas and not nearly enough product to show for it. With the flamethrower, Musk is demonstrating to the world that he can sell something barely seen, that nobody in the public has ever actually used, and do it in style. Loudly.
  • Because he can. Musk has spent years building up his reputation as a madman-cum-genius, taking on audacious projects others have attempted and failed, from self-driving electric vehicles to sending humans to Mars. And he knows how to get some good press, like the time he used Tesla batteries to restore power to hospitals in hurricane-struck Puerto Rico. While the flamethrower project isn’t quite so altruistic, Musk again shows he knows how to get people going.
  • To prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Or some kind of doomsday. “When the zombie apocalypse happens, you’ll be glad you bought a flamethrower,” Musk tweeted shortly before The Boring Company opened up pre-orders. That’s one of several comments he’s made about the item’s capacity to destroy zombies. Even if your bunker isn’t exactly ready for the uprising of the flesh-eating undead, you can admit that Musk is tapping into a sense of wish fulfillment (or paranoia) for those of us raised on films like Aliens and The Thing. Some of us have whiled away our free moments fantasizing about how cool it would be to own a flamethrower of our own. In his replies to the earlier tweet, Musk responded to suggestions that The Boring Company might also offer a jetpack or a portal gun. No word yet on whether those kind-of jokes will also turn into real products (or real sales pitches for products-to-maybe-be).
  • Musk isn’t like your usual billionaire — he’s FUN. You know how you know Elon Musk is fun? He told you so. On Twitter, Musk warned potential customers not to buy the product unless they “like fun” (turns out, not everyone does). By emphasizing FUN, Musk is attempting to distance himself from other risk-taking entrepreneur-geniuses — it’s difficult to imagine Jeff Bezos posting an Instagram video of himself wielding a flamethrower, for example. It’s worth noting, however, that when Musk does something “fun,” he ends up tens of millions of dollars richer as a result.

Which, let’s be real, probably makes it pretty fun to be Elon Musk.

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