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Tesla Embraces Bitcoin With $1.5 Billion Investment

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Tesla, the buzzy car company with skyrocketing stock, is embracing Bitcoin, the buzzy currency with skyrocketing prices. The electric automaker has invested 1.5 billion in the cryptocurrency and says it will accept Bitcoin for car purchases soon. NPR's Camila Domonoske reports.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Tesla and Bitcoin have a lot in common - soaring values, idealistic fans and skeptics warning a crash could be coming.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Now, does Tesla deserve to be the world's biggest automobile manufacturer?

FRANK HOLLAND: But I think the question everybody wants to know is, what is the true worth of Bitcoin?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's in a massive bubble.

DOMONOSKE: Still, some mainstream companies are starting to take Bitcoin seriously - asset manager BlackRock, payment company Square. And then there's MicroStrategy. Its CEO Michael Saylor is a Bitcoin evangelist. Last year he took pretty much all the company's cash and put it into Bitcoin.

MICHAEL SAYLOR: You know, people that didn't like Bitcoin - they thought we were crazy. But the people that like Bitcoin thought that was brilliant, and the shareholders liked it.

DOMONOSKE: Then Saylor publicly discussed this strategy with Elon Musk. He wouldn't say whether they talked privately, but he argues that any company holding a lot of cash should think about Bitcoin because of the Federal Reserve.

SAYLOR: The interest rates got pegged to zero, and they'll probably be zero for the foreseeable two, three, four years. And so...

DOMONOSKE: That means a company holding on to its cash isn't getting any returns for it. And Tesla seems to have been persuaded. Meanwhile, the company didn't just announce it was buying Bitcoin. It also says it will start accepting it - welcome news to Bitcoin enthusiast David Gokhshtein, who's been tweeting at Elon Musk and asking for just that. He doesn't really want a Tesla.

DAVID GOKHSHTEIN: I'm a BMW guy. I like German cars.

DOMONOSKE: But he says if Tesla actually does take Bitcoin, he's going to feel obligated to follow through.

GOKHSHTEIN: I will be ordering either a Roadster or a Cybertruck. I'll do eeny, meeny, miney, moe (ph).

DOMONOSKE: Whether or not he puts his money where his mouth is, Gokhshtein is clearly excited that this will be an option because it means treating Bitcoin as a real-world currency instead of just an investment, which is the world Bitcoin believers want to live in.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MAR-KEYS' "POP-EYE STROLL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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