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Elon Musk Turning Buyers Against Tesla?

Is Elon Musk increasingly responsible for Tesla in the electric car race?

This story was originally published on July 30. On Monday, Elon Musk angered Ukrainians when he suggested the country wanted a negotiated solution to Russia’s invasion and give up Crimea for good.

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

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

“I was a total musk fan,” Levitt says.

Well, because Levitt still loves his Tesla, he splurged on the mask. “Over time, his public statements have really come to bother me,” Levitt said, citing the CEO’s feud with US President Joe Biden, among others. “He acts like a seven year old.”

Before learning that Musk had an affair with Sergey Brin’s wife, which he denied; before its slipshod deal to acquire Twitter Inc., then no-deal; Before the revelation she fathered twins with an executive at her brain-interface startup Neuralink; Before SpaceX fired employees who called him a “frequent source of confusion and embarrassment”; before changing her name and legal gender after her daughter’s history of pronoun mockery; An article previously reported that SpaceX paid an employee $250,000 to settle a claim that he sexually harassed her, allegations he called untrue; Musk’s behavior turned off potential customers and angered some Tesla owners.

The trends are borne out in consumer surveys and market research reports: Tesla commands high brand awareness, consideration and loyalty, and customers are mostly happy with its cars. On the other hand, hatred of musk? They could do without.

Creative Strategy, a California-based customer-experience tracker, noted owner frustration with masks in a study released in April. A year ago, research firm Escalante found the Tesla brand to be the most negative among electric-car owners it surveyed.

“We’ve heard 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 Dovorani, who has spoken to thousands of people. EV owners and potential buyers during his two years working in Escalante’s automotive and mobility group.

Tesla has had no trouble wading its way through Musk’s many controversies so far. The shortfall in car deliveries the company reported last quarter was its first sequential decline since the start of 2020 and was largely due to the Covid lockdown in Shanghai, which forced its most productive factory to close for weeks. Competitors that have been 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 actions on Twitter — the same forum where he’s become such a lightning rod — has contributed greatly to Tesla, especially as it moves away from traditional advertising. His steady stream of online banter, punctuated with the occasional grandiose announcement or stunt, keeps Tesla in the headlines. In the company’s earlier days, trolling and glib comments were a feature, not a bug. They allow Musk to shape media coverage and make him the ringleader of Tesla’s ultra-online fan base.

But after making Tesla and himself synonymous, Musk has become embroiled in political strife, attempted to buy one of the world’s most influential social media platforms and fought to dial back unwanted coverage of his personal life, leaving the company’s increasingly valuable brand in the lurch. the risk

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

“Elon has tainted that brand so much for me that I don’t even think I’d take one if I won one,” Stone said. “You have this guy who’s the richest dude in the world, who has this huge megaphone, and he uses it to call someone a pedophile who isn’t, or fat-sham people, all of that stuff is just kind of gross.”

According to Strategic Vision, a US research firm that consults with auto companies, about 39% of car buyers say they would not consider Tesla. This is not necessarily out of the ordinary – almost half of respondents 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 Sir, 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 have been researching EVs for about three years and until recently considered Teslas the only viable option, given their range and the charging infrastructure the company has built in their area. But they refuse to buy one because of Musk, whose main issues are his politics, the company’s employee turnover and its cavalier approach to autonomous-driving technology.

“We’ve taken Tesla off the table,” Sir said. He and his partner are eyeing the Kia Niro and Chevrolet Bolt as possible alternatives “As consumers, our power is what we buy. I think the younger generation especially votes with their wallets and I think that can bite.”

For most of the past decade, Tesla lacked competitors that could match its models’ battery range and other measures of performance. Consumers put off by Musk’s mischief had few EVs to turn to. As legacy automakers introduce more capable electric models, Tesla won’t have as much of a chance.

“We’ve seen a willingness among early adopters to take risks or tolerate things out of the ordinary,” said Dvorani, who left Escalante for an automotive technology startup earlier this year. “We’re not seeing that much with incoming buyers.” For this team to win, automakers need to check every box, and for some, that includes hiring a CEO who doesn’t share Hitler memes on social media.

Levitt, a self-described former Musk fanboy, took a test ride on a Lucid last month. He wasn’t sold on it, he says, in part because it didn’t have enough cargo space for his golf gear. He’s still waiting for another automaker to steal him away from Tesla and is considering models from Audi, Mercedes and BMW.

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

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