Elon Musk’s antics turn owners and potential buyers against Tesla: “I love my vehicle, but I really wish I didn’t have to reply to my friends and family on his latest tweet” – Fortune

Elon Musk’s antics turn owners and potential buyers against Tesla: “I love my vehicle, but I really wish I didn’t have to reply to my friends and family on his latest tweet” – Fortune

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

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

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

Was, because while Levitt still loves his Teslas, he’s mad at Musk. “Over time, his public statements really worried me,” Levitt said, citing the CEO’s arguments with US President Joe Biden, among other things. “He’s acting like a seven-year-old.”

Before it was revealed Musk was having an affair with Sergey Brin’s wife, which he denies; before his sloppy deal, then no-deal, to take over Twitter Inc.; 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 he mocked Pronoun; An article said SpaceX paid a female employee $250,000 to settle a claim he sexually harassed her, allegations he cites untrue; Musk’s behavior put off potential customers and worried some Tesla owners.

The trends are evident in consumer survey and market research report after market report: Tesla has high brand awareness, attention and loyalty, and customers are mostly enthusiastic about its cars. Musk’s escapades, on the other hand? You could do without it.

Creative Strategies, a California-based customer experience measurement company, mentioned owners’ frustration with Musk in a study published in April. A year earlier, research firm Escalent found that among EV owners surveyed, Musk was the most negative aspect of the Tesla brand.

“We’re hearing from Tesla owners saying, ‘Look, I love my vehicle, but I really wish I didn’t have to reply to my friends and family on his latest tweet,'” says Mike Dovorany, who spoke to thousands at EV -Owners and prospective buyers during his two-year tenure with Escalent’s automotive and mobility group.

Tesla has had no trouble navigating Musk’s many controversies. The drop in vehicle deliveries the company reported last quarter was the first straight drop since early 2020 and was largely related to Covid lockdowns in Shanghai, which forced its most productive factory to close for weeks. Competitors that have followed the company for a decade may still be years away from catching up in the electric vehicle 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 enormously to Tesla, especially as it eschews traditional advertising. His steady stream of online banter, punctuated by the occasional grandiose announcement or stunt (see: Launching a Roadster into Space), keeps Tesla in the headlines. In the early days of the company, the trolling and glib comments were a feature, not a bug. They allowed Musk to dictate media coverage and made him the ringleader for Tesla’s legion of Very Online fans.

But after making Tesla and himself synonymous with one another, Musk has found himself in political turmoil, has attempted to buy one of the world’s most influential social media platforms, and has struggled to push back unflattering coverage of his personal life , putting the company’s increasingly valuable brand at risk.

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

“Elon tainted that mark for me so much that if I won one, I don’t even think I’d take one,” says Stone. “You’ve got this guy who’s the richest guy in the world who has this giant megaphone and he uses it to call someone a pedophile who isn’t or to shame people, all these things that just kind of are disgusting.”

According to Strategic Vision, a US research firm that advises car companies, about 39% of car buyers say they would not consider a Tesla. This is not necessarily unusual – almost half of those surveyed said they would not consider German luxury brands. But Tesla lags behind more mass-market brands: Toyota, for example, is off the shopping list for only 23% of drivers.

Emma Sirr, a 28-year-old cloud computing worker who lives in Bozeman, Montana, drives around in a 2004 Nissan Frontier with her partner and their two dogs. They’ve been researching electric vehicles for about three years and until recently thought Teslas were 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. Her main criticisms were his politics, the company’s staff turnover and his cavalier approach to autonomous driving technology.

“We took Tesla off the table from the start,” says Sirr. She and her partner have the Kia Niro and the Chevrolet Bolt in mind as possible alternatives. “As consumers, our power is what we buy. I think younger generations in particular are voting with their wallets and I have a feeling that could be lagging behind.”

For much of the past decade, Tesla has lacked competitors who matched the battery range and other performance metrics of its models. Consumers, put off by Musk’s mischief, had few EVs to turn to. As older automakers introduce more powerful electric models, Tesla won’t have as much room to maneuver.

“We’ve seen a greater willingness among early adopters to take risks or accept things that are out of the ordinary,” says Dovorany, who left Escalent earlier this year for an automotive tech startup. “We don’t see that very often with inbound buyers.” To attract this cohort, automakers need to tick every box, and for some, it involves hiring a CEO who doesn’t share Hilter memes on social media.

Levitt, the self-proclaimed former Musk fanboy, took a Lucid for a test drive last month. It wasn’t sold, in part he says, because it didn’t have enough cargo space for his golf equipment. Still waiting for another automaker to steal him from Tesla, he’s considering models from Audi, Mercedes and BMW.

“If you take Mr. Musk and his antics out of the equation, I’m 98% confident my next car will be a Tesla,” says Levitt. “His antics got me into the game.”

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