The short list of what you can buy with bitcoin is about to get a tad longer, courtesy of Elon Musk.
Why it matters: Musk is going where other companies have failed — trying to transform bitcoin from a speculative investment to a form of payment. It hasn't taken off in the decade-plus that the digital currency has been around.
- What's different about Musk: He's been tapping into cryptocurrency enthusiasts — many of whom are part of his fandom.
Catch up quick: Tesla will start accepting bitcoin as a form of payment "later this year," Musk said in a a string of early-morning tweets.
- Musk said bitcoin payments will be retained by the company as bitcoin, not converted back to dollars.
- Tesla is also setting up its own "nodes," — which means it's contributing computing power to help validate transactions.
What they're saying: "This is quite possibly a gimmick, but it really could be Elon Musk pulling in more early adopters," Craig Irwin, an auto analyst at Roth Capital, tells Axios.
Between the lines: Bitcoin has been a better investment vehicle rather than an easy form of payment, because of its volatility.
- Buyer beware: Tesla warns (in all-caps) that if a customer makes a return, the refund in bitcoin "might be significantly less" than it was at the time of purchase.
- Plus, a tax hit: "If the bitcoin that you use to buy a Tesla has gone up tremendously in value, you're going to owe quite a lot in capital gains tax," on top of what you already paid for the bitcoin, Kristin Smith, executive director of the Blockchain Association, tells Axios.
The big picture: The overlap of bitcoin investorswho will use it to buy a Tesla would be very small on a Venn diagram, says Sam Abuelsamid, an auto research analyst at Guidehouse Insights.
- "Most of the people who are interested in buying a Tesla more than likely don't even know what bitcoin is," Abuelsamid says.
Remember: Musk and his company are a cultural phenomenon — but its product is still niche. Tesla sold 500,000 million cars out of the 64 million vehicles sold worldwide.
- Meanwhile, legacy automakers are biting at Tesla's heels as they foray deeper into electric vehicles.
The bottom line: Tesla hinted this was coming last month when the company announced it was putting $1.5 billion of its cash pile into bitcoin.
- Musk has also been engaging (trolling?) the crypto crowd for weeks on Twitter in the form of memes.