Elon Musk’s antics are turning owners and potential buyers against Tesla

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(Bloomberg) — Dennis Levitt got his first Tesla, a blue Model S, in 2013, and he loved it. “It was so much better than any car I’ve ever driven,” says the self-storage company’s 73-year-old manager.

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He bought the brand and Elon Musk, the charismatic chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., bought another Model S the following year and drove the first across the country. In 2016, he queued at a showroom near his suburban Los Angeles home to be one of the first to order two Model 3s — one for himself and the other for his wife.

“I was a total Musk fanboy,” Levitt says.

Was, because while Levitt still loves his Teslas, he’s soured by Musk. “Over time, his public statements have really started to bother me,” Levitt said, citing the CEO’s feuds with US President Joe Biden, among others. “He acts like a seven-year-old.”

Before it was reported that Musk was having an affair with Sergey Brin’s wife, which he denied; for his shoddy deal, then no-deal, to Twitter Inc. to take over; before the reveal, he fathered twins with an executive at his brain interface startup Neuralink; before SpaceX fired employees who called him “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment”; before his daughter changed her name and legal gender after his history of mocking pronouns; before an article said that SpaceX paid an employee $250,000 to settle a claim he sexually harassed her, allegations he called false; Musk’s behavior scared off potential customers and bothered some Tesla owners.

The trends emerge in one consumer survey and market research report after another: Tesla has high brand awareness, attention and loyalty, and customers are especially happy with its cars. Musk’s antics, on the other hand? They could do without.

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Creative Strategies, a California-based customer experience measurement tool, cited owner frustration with Musk in a survey published in April. A year earlier, research firm Escalent found that Musk was the most negative aspect of the Tesla brand among electric vehicle owners surveyed.

“We’re hearing from Tesla owners who will say, ‘Look, I love my car, but I really wish I didn’t have to respond to my friends and family about his latest tweet,'” said Mike Dovorany, who works with thousands. people spoke. EV owners and potential buyers during his two years working in Escalent’s automotive and mobility group.

Tesla has so far had no trouble working its way through Musk’s many controversies. The drop in vehicle deliveries the company reported last quarter was its first consecutive drop since early 2020 and was largely related to Covid lockdowns in Shanghai, which forced the most productive factory to close for weeks. Competitors chasing the company for a decade may still be years away from catching up in the EV sales ranks.

Musk’s star power, built in no small part through his activity on Twitter — the same forum where he’s become such a lightning rod — has contributed immensely to Tesla, largely because it eschews traditional advertising. His steady stream of online chatter, interspersed with the occasional grandiose announcement or stunt (see: shooting a Roadster into space) keeps Tesla in the headlines. In the early days of the company, the troll and glib comments were a feature, not a bug. They let Musk shape media coverage and made him the leader of Tesla’s legion of highly online fans.

But after Tesla and himself became so synonymous with each other, Musk has found himself in political conflict, trying to buy one of the world’s most influential social media platforms, and struggling to cut back on the unflattering coverage of his personal life. , putting the company’s increasingly valuable brand at risk.

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Jerry James Stone, a 48-year-old chef in Sacramento, California, who teaches his 219,000 YouTube channel subscribers to cook vegan and vegetarian meals, drives a Volkswagen Beetle convertible and plans to go electric in his next car . He does not know which model yet, but it is certain that it will not be a Tesla.

“Elon just so polluted that brand for me that I don’t even think I’d take one if I won one,” Stone says. “You’ve got this guy who’s the richest guy in the world, who has this huge megaphone, and he’s using it to call someone a pedophile who isn’t, or to make people fat, all these things that’s just kinda disgusting .”

According to Strategic Vision, an American research firm that consults car companies, about 39% of car buyers say they would not consider a Tesla. That’s not necessarily uncommon – nearly half of respondents say they won’t consider German luxury brands. But Tesla is lagging behind more brands in the mass market: Toyota, for example, is only on the shopping list for 23% of motorists.

Emma Sirr, a 28-year-old cloud computing worker living in Bozeman, Montana, travels with her partner and their two dogs in a 2004 Nissan Frontier. They’ve been researching electric vehicles for about three years, and until recently they considered Teslas as the only viable option, given their range and the charging infrastructure the company has built in their area. But they refused to buy one because of Musk, their biggest annoyances being his politics, staff turnover at the company and arrogant approach to autonomous driving technology.

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“We took Tesla off the table from the start,” Sirr says. She and her partner are eyeing the Kia Niro and Chevrolet Bolt as possible alternatives. “As consumers, we buy our power. I think younger generations, in particular, are voting with their wallets, and I feel like that may be coming back to bite.

For much of the past decade, Tesla had no competitors to match its models’ battery range and other performance metrics. Consumers deterred by Musk’s mischief had few EVs to turn to. As older automakers introduce more capable electric models, Tesla won’t have as much leeway.

“We’ve seen a greater willingness among early adopters to take risks or accept unusual things,” said Dovorany, who left Escalent earlier this year for an automotive tech startup. “We don’t see that very often with incoming buyers.” To win this cohort, automakers have to check every box, and for some, employ a CEO who doesn’t share Hilter memes on social media.

Levitt, the alleged former Musk fanboy, took a test drive in a Lucid last month. He wasn’t sold on it, in part he says because there wasn’t enough cargo space for his golf gear. He is still waiting for another automaker to steal him from Tesla and is considering models from Audi, Mercedes and BMW.

“Ignoring Mr. Musk and his antics, I’m about 98% sure my next car would be a Tesla,” Levitt says. “His antics got me in the game.”

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