If you look at the Tesla Reddit forum, it’s almost universal: Redditors love their Teslas. People who post there talk about the Tesla brand – the Supercharger network, Smart Summons, accessories and apps, 4680 batteries, adapters, range and other vehicle-specific topics. Sure, a few commentators talk about the health of the company or its stock, but the majority are dedicated to sharing their thoughts on the Tesla catalog and their findings on hidden touchscreen lagniappes.
More recently, however, Tesla stories seem to focus on the antics of the company’s mercurial CEO Elon Musk. Many former Tesla aficionados are appalled by revelations about his private life and other ways his often outrageous antics seep into the Tesla brand identity.
Why is there such a sharp line between fervor for the Tesla brand and grief for Musk as head of the world’s first all-electric car maker?
The answer to this question is complex and nuanced.
Early adopters loved not only the Tesla brand, but also CEO Elon Musk. His vision of a sustainable future resonated with a small but strong segment of the public. They found him innovative, curious, educated, driven, articulate and funny. Musk introduced us to a radical revolution in transportation and society and disrupted the dominance of internal combustion engines (ICEs) as a marker of congruence in the United States.
Competitors that have been chasing the company for a decade are likely still years away from catching up with Tesla in the electric vehicle sales rankings.
Rejecting traditional advertising, Musk took to social media to showcase Tesla’s lineup of vehicles. Additionally, and often sadly, he used social public platforms to happily express binary positions on issuessparking controversy.
His fame earned him more than 100 million followers on Twitter, many of whom scrutinize his every tweet. He regularly attacked his perceived enemies. His tone on other companies creates a signal advance — a type of indicator composed of optimism or pessimism that can guide the valuation of a company. Many institutional investors are frustrated with Musk but continue to support him due to the company’s strong overall performance. His frequent inability to connect with many followers causes angst among avowed fanboys and fangirls.
As Bloomberg Hyperdrive noted recently, numerous consumer surveys and market research reports confirm that Tesla enjoys high brand awareness, consideration and loyalty. Customers are mostly delighted with its all-electric cars. Musk, however, has been a common subject of criticism, “synonymous” with the Tesla brand at the same time as he delves into “delicate political disputes”. They add that pushing back on unflattering coverage of his personal life put the company’s increasingly valuable brand at risk.
Reuters describes Musk’s influence as making “a name for himself and Tesla by breaking the rules”. Business Intern says Tesla is one of the most controversial companies on Wall Street, with its “unfiltered tweets” being largely responsible. How bad was the hit?
What’s not to love about the Tesla brand?
Tesla owners love its add-ons and Easter eggs (a hidden, undocumented feature that developers leave for users to discover). The features reflect Musk’s unique sense of humor and have added to the admiration of Tesla fans – taken separately from his social media messaging.
Automatic pilot: The car can steer, accelerate and brake automatically in its lane.
Mode of defense against biological weapons: This HEPA filtration system prevents toxic chemicals from entering the car interior (only available on Model S and Model X).
Touchscreen: The 17″ screen houses standard features such as climate control and navigation, but also offers video games, connectivity, streaming services and live traffic updates, among hundreds of other features.
Sentinel Mode: This feature allows you to keep a close eye on your parked vehicle from anywhere in the world.
Advanced parking sensors: Drivers are warned when objects may be too close.
Supercharger Network: More than 35,000 fast chargers are available on major roads near convenient amenities around the world.
Telephone key: Instead of a metal key, Tesla owners access their vehicles through their phone (there’s also a valet key for those times when the owner wants to give someone else driving privileges).
The application: The app allows drivers to control their car from virtually anywhere. It sends real-time updates and allows owners to check the status of their vehicle while it’s charging, control air conditioning and heating, and lock and unlock the car, among other features.
Live updates: The company is sending new features to vehicles to make them safer and provide more features for Tesla owners.
Dog mode: The car’s interior temperature is regulated to prevent the animal from overheating. The touchscreen displays a message to alert unnecessarily worried passers-by to the feature.
Automatic cabin overheating protection: The car automatically cools itself if its interior temperature exceeds 105 degrees F.
Frunky: Without an engine to occupy the front space, a trunk in the front provides additional storage. This is a feature that was quickly copied by competitors.
Musk’s comments complicate the company’s disruptive automotive tech
While Musk’s personal opinions have complicated the appeal of the Tesla brand, his social media posts have also affected perceptions of the company’s manufacturing capabilities.
The highly anticipated unveiling of the Tesla Model 3, designed for a mass audience, is a good example. The first customers who were able to leave with the mainstream electric 4-door sedan at a private event were the ones who helped design and build the car. Considered an inspirational and coveted car, the limited range of 215 miles was an accepted compromise, and die-hard fans discussed Model 3 details and worried about delivery dates.
Afterwards, Musk tweeted confidently about the Model 3 targets.
Looks like we can hit 20,000 Model 3 cars a month in December
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 3, 2017
Initial Model 3 Production Rate didn’t quite deliver on Musk’s promises. Tesla only made 2,685 Model 3 vehicles in 2017. Musk had said the company would make 500,000 vehicles in 2018, but ended up making 254,530 vehicles instead.
Then in 2018 the The SEC has issued subpoenas to Tesla regarding 2 issues:
- Musk’s previous statement that he was considering taking Tesla private;
- certain projections we have made for Model 3 production rates in 2017 and other public statements relating to Model 3 production.
It took until 2019 for Tesla to be able to assure shareholders that “we launched, accelerated and stabilized the Model 3”, as relayed by Zachary Kirkhorn, chief financial officer of Tesla.
Final Thoughts on the Complicated Influence of the Tesla Brand and Musk
The Model Y was launched with great success and more success for the company. Yet Musk continues to confuse the market with his unfiltered social media messaging. It is a person who revealed that half of his tweets are created on the toilet, yet he is also a genius – albeit with flaws.
Consumers connect deeply with brands that share their values or represent who they aspire to be, said Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. CNN. “The intensity of the relationship for those who truly love Tesla is out of this world.”
As the Washington Post concluded of the Tesla brand, “Dissociation abounds. Love the car, not the tweeter.
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