Elon Musk’s Politics Could Be Pushing Some Patrons Away From Tesla


Few auto executives are as carefully recognized with the businesses they handle as Elon Musk, the chief govt of Tesla, is. And possibly none are extra prolific in broadcasting their political opinions on social media.

However as Mr. Musk’s public persona has change into more and more proper wing, Tesla seems to be paying a value in gross sales, particularly to liberal and left-leaning clients who’re more likely to purchase battery-powered automobiles than conservatives are, in keeping with analysts and plenty of automotive homeowners who responded to a questionnaire on The New York Instances’s web site about whether or not his conduct affected their views of Tesla.

His picture as an erratic, impulsive supervisor seem to have rubbed off on the automobiles, elevating doubts in some folks’s minds about their high quality and serving to to elucidate why Tesla gross sales have been falling. On Tuesday, the corporate reported that its international gross sales within the second quarter fell 4.8 % from the identical interval a 12 months earlier, after an 8.5 % drop within the first three months of the 12 months.

“Musk is a real lightning rod,” mentioned Ben Rose, the president of Battle Street Analysis, which has a usually optimistic view on Tesla’s inventory. “There are individuals who swear by him and individuals who swear at him. No query, a few of his feedback are an actual turnoff for some folks. For a subset, sufficient to purchase one other model.”

Tesla and a consultant for the corporate’s board didn’t reply to requests for remark.

A number of the greater than 7,500 individuals who responded to The Instances’s questionnaire mentioned they have been offended by what they perceived as antisemitism from Mr. Musk, which he denies. Some have been upset by the way in which Mr. Musk has managed Twitter, now referred to as X, since he purchased the corporate in 2022. He fired 1000’s of workers and eliminated guardrails on content material shared on the social media platform. His more and more pleasant relations with former President Donald J. Trump and different conservative personalities have been additionally cited as issues. A overwhelming majority of the readers who responded to the questionnaire have been crucial of Mr. Musk.

“You’re mainly driving round a large crimson MAGA hat,” mentioned Aaron Shepherd, a product designer at Microsoft in Seattle who mentioned he was planning to purchase an electrical Volkswagen ID.4 as a substitute of a Tesla.

It isn’t doable to know what value Tesla has paid for Mr. Musk’s political statements and actions. What is evident is that Tesla, as soon as the dominant vendor of electrical autos worldwide, has misplaced market share in lots of nations for quite a lot of causes. Chief amongst them is the corporate’s reliance on the Mannequin Y sport utility car and the Mannequin 3 sedan, which haven’t been considerably up to date in years, for nearly all of its gross sales. Different firms are luring patrons by introducing new or up to date automobiles extra continuously.

In China, home carmakers like BYD have gained floor on Tesla by providing extra reasonably priced automobiles with know-how options that attraction to Chinese language customers, like rotating screens. In Europe, BMW, Volkswagen and different native manufacturers are doing properly by providing extra luxurious or cheaper automobiles than Tesla. And in america, Hyundai-Kia, Ford Motor and Basic Motors have elevated gross sales by providing a rising number of fashions.

Instances readers who responded to the net questionnaire mentioned they’d been turned off by Mr. Musk’s statements and by their expertise with Tesla’s automobiles and repair operations — the corporate sells and companies automobiles immediately, moderately than by means of sellers.

“There’s a time once I’d have given Musk an organ if he wanted one,” mentioned Tim Yocum, an engineering director at a software program firm. However Mr. Yocum, who lives in Chicago, mentioned that he had skilled issues together with his Tesla Mannequin S and that he had been unhappy with the corporate’s restore and upkeep companies. Mr. Musk’s veer to the correct has additionally upset him.

“Tesla is the one producer in modern occasions that has unapologetically let its C.E.O. take a tiki torch to its good title,” Mr. Yocum mentioned. “This automotive would be the final Tesla I personal.”

Such feedback assist illuminate surveys that say Tesla’s fame has suffered lately. The corporate slipped to 63rd place within the 2024 Axios Harris Ballot 100, which requested respondents about their views on company manufacturers. In 2021, the corporate was in eighth place.

Mr. Musk has maintained that his public statements and persona don’t have an effect on Tesla’s gross sales. “We make the perfect automobiles,” he mentioned at The Instances’s DealBook Summit in November. “Whether or not you hate me, like me or are detached, would you like the perfect automotive or not the perfect automotive?”

Mr. Musk nonetheless has loads of passionate admirers. And a few mentioned the chief’s public statements wouldn’t affect their determination to purchase a Tesla. Many individuals gave him credit score for pushing the auto business to provide electrical autos, a robust device to fight local weather change.

“He has led an organization that has efficiently disrupted a corrupt, lazy automotive business,” mentioned Julian Mehnle, a software program engineer who lives in San Francisco. Whereas no fan of Mr. Musk, Mr. Mehnle mentioned, “I’m grownup sufficient to separate these issues from my selection of shopper merchandise.”

Robert Dean, an architect who lives in Redding, Conn., echoed these sentiments: “Musk is a big, disruptive expertise with a transformative and optimistic impact on the world we reside in. He is also an oddball character, however I’m not marrying him; I’m shopping for automobiles from an organization he brilliantly leads.”

Most of Tesla’s shareholders stay largely supportive of Mr. Musk. Final month, traders endorsed a $45 billion compensation plan for him by a large margin.

But automotive patrons whom The Instances heard from and analysts mentioned Mr. Musk’s political exercise had clearly harm the corporate’s fame with left-leaning customers. And there may be little proof that Mr. Musk’s flip to the correct has attracted extra conservatives to purchase Teslas. In truth, 77 % of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters mentioned this 12 months that they weren’t enthusiastic about battery-powered automobiles, up from 70 % who mentioned the identical final 12 months, in keeping with the Pew Analysis Heart.

“He may be profitable some individuals who like his positions,” mentioned Greg Silverman, the worldwide director of brand name economics at Interbrand, a consulting agency that advises purchasers on advertising methods. However, he added, the chances that Mr. Musk is attracting extra clients moderately than pushing them away “are very low.”

Interbrand analysis signifies {that a} chief govt or different firm consultant who offends clients can cut back gross sales as a lot as 10 %, Mr. Silverman mentioned.

Some automotive homeowners’ issues went past Mr. Musk’s political statements. They cited accusations of racial discrimination at Tesla factories, or the notion that he has allowed racist content material to flourish on X. Tesla has denied that it tolerates discrimination at its factories.

“My mom was significantly debating shopping for a Tesla,” mentioned Achidi Ndifang, who works in info know-how in Baltimore. “As a Black particular person, I felt like it could be an insult for my mom to drive a Tesla.”

Derek Morf, a highschool math trainer in Verona, N.J., reported feeling alarmed when Tesla eliminated the Disney Plus app from some dashboard screens late final 12 months, apparently as a result of Mr. Musk was offended at Robert A. Iger, the chief govt of Disney.

Mr. Morf didn’t care that a lot in regards to the Disney app. However, he mentioned, he discovered it unsettling “that the car I bought may have options modified instantly just because one man had that a lot management.”

Such issues may very well be a legal responsibility for Tesla because it pours sources into autonomous driving know-how. Mr. Musk has promised to unveil a self-driving taxi on Aug. 8. The know-how can not succeed with out belief from customers.

Many Instances readers identified that different automotive firms additionally had baggage. Volkswagen had an emissions scandal a couple of years in the past. Henry Ford, the founding father of Ford Motor, held and unfold antisemitic views. A decade in the past, G.M. bought automobiles with defective ignition switches that have been blamed for greater than 100 deaths.

Established automotive firms nonetheless promote gasoline automobiles that emit greenhouse gases and different pollution. Tesla sells solely electrical automobiles.

However in all probability no different present auto govt has as loud a megaphone as Mr. Musk has, or is extra prepared to make use of it.

“If folks assume that the C.E.O.s of different firms are saints, they’re a bit naïve for my part,” mentioned Jan Leys, a Tesla proprietor in Zurich. “They simply don’t have as massive a mouth and/or platform as Elon Musk.”