Elon Musk sweetens the pitch for his tunnel vision with space travel (and candy)

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Tunnel podTunnel pod
An artist’s conception shows a pod heading for Los Angeles International Airport through a Boring Company transit tunnel. (Boring Company Illustration)

Billionaire Elon Musk is talking up his tunnel-boring vision at a public forum in Los Angeles tonight, and hinting that the Boring Company’s Hyperloop system could eventually whisk travelers to sea-based spaceports.

But first, the Boring Company has to clear away logistical, legal and regulatory roadblocks — which is part of Musk’s agenda for his 7 p.m. PT presentation at Leo Baeck Temple in L.A. The Boring Company says the forum will be live-streamed via its website.

The Boring Company has already gone through a $112.5 million funding round, with nearly all the money coming from Musk, and it’s already built a short test tunnel that starts in a converted parking lot next door to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

The venture is also working on a project in Maryland, and has made a pitch to build a transit tunnel between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport.

Those projects have encountered little opposition so far, but the Boring Company’s proposal to extend a tunnel 2.7 miles beneath L.A. itself hasn’t been as well received. Two neighborhood groups have filed suit to block the plan, contending that it’s an attempt to get around the city’s requirements for transit system construction.

So Musk is mounting something of a charm offensive: Last week, he promised to provide free rides through the Hawthorne tunnel, “pending final regulatory approvals,” and he noted that “strong support from public, elected officials and regulators is critical to success.”

Although the year-old Boring Company venture isn’t Musk’s top priority, it does connect up with his better-known businesses. Videos laying out his vision for underground travel consistently feature electric-powered vehicles of the sort that Tesla could make. And on Wednesday, Musk said that the Boring Company’s rapid-transit Hyperloop could someday carry passengers to offshore SpaceX spaceports:

That transportation system meshes with SpaceX’s plan to use its BFR (“Big Frickin’ Rocket”) spaceship for point-to-point suborbital trips. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell touted that part of the company’s future roadmap last month during a TED talk in Vancouver, B.C., which Musk linked to in his tweet.

The BFR is expected to start short-hop testing next year, with operations eventually centered at a facility that SpaceX is building on the South Texas coast. But the plan for building offshore launch pads hasn’t yet been laid out in detail.

Musk isn’t the only billionaire who’s targeting Hyperloop technology as well as suborbital point-to-point space travel. Those two tech sectors are also on Virgin Group founder Richard Branson’s list of favorites.

Branson is the executive chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, which is already working on projects to send cargo and people through Hyperloop tubes in Dubai and India. And as the founder of Virgin Galactic, he has his eye on point-to-point applications for the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket planes or their successors.

But does Branson have candy?

Last month, Musk got into a long-distance debate with yet another billionaire, Warren Buffett, over candy competition. Basically, Buffett said that successful companies could build “moats” around their business models to dissuade potential rivals (like Musk) from entering their markets. He cited Berkshire Hathaway’s candy company, See’s Candies, as an example.

“Elon may turn things upside down in some areas,” Buffett said. “I don’t think he’d want to take us on in candy.”

Musk took that as a challenge. “I’m starting a candy company, and it’s going to be amazing,” he tweeted.

Today on Instagram, Musk showed off a candy box bearing the Boring brand:

The Boring Company seems to have become Musk’s catch-all venture for offbeat ideas that aren’t necessarily related to tunnels, ranging from hats to flamethrowers to bricks. (OK, that last one is related.)

Will Boring Candy be a hit? Thanks to Musk’s huge fan base, it could well find a niche — especially if you wash it down with a shot of Teslaquila. But will the Boring Company’s L.A. tunnel meet with success, considering all the financial and regulatory hurdles it’s facing? That’s a deeper question.

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