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Tesla Talks Back

Posted: March 31, 2014, 1:34 p.m.
by Shannon Auvil.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, the luxury electric car manufacturer based in Palo Alto, Calif., has lots of say about the New Jersey legislature.

On March 11, New Jersey’s motor vehicle commission voted to outlaw direct sales of Tesla cars in the state, effective April 1. New Jersey joins Arizona, Texas, Virginia and Maryland on the list of states that allow Tesla showrooms, but require car sales to go through a middle man – the car dealership. Tesla has been trying to sell its cars directly to consumers instead of going through dealers.

Musk has been a vocal advocate of the company and the vision he has for it. Musk, who founded SpaceX and PayPal, aims for Tesla to become an affordable car option for most consumers. Right now, that’s a bit out of reach – the Tesla Model S retails for a whopping $60,000.

Musk has built a reputation as Tesla’s most vocal defender and an incredibly outspoken CEO. When Tesla hits a roadblock, Musk is front and center to defend his product, much to the chagrin of lovers of typical public relations practices, such as sending out a spokesperson. In response to the New Jersey vote, Musk wrote an impassioned blog post on Tesla’s website.

Musk’s frustration with the most recent setback to Tesla is obvious as he rips the MVC’s explanation for the new law:
“The rationale given for the regulation change that requires auto companies to sell through dealers is that it ensures ‘consumer protection’. If you believe this, Gov. Christie has a bridge closure he wants to sell you! Unless they are referring to the mafia version of ‘protection’, this is obviously untrue … consumer protection is pretty much the furthest thing from the typical car dealer’s mind.”

Musk won’t be making any friends in the New Jersey statehouse by calling out legislators – but he doesn’t seem to believe he needs them.

Few CEOs challenge critics like Musk does. He personally confronts anti-Tesla sentiment on Twitter and addresses many concerns directly on the Tesla blog. His reactivity through blog posts, Twitter and email have created a treasure trove for journalists hoping to make his transparency burn him.

However, his tactics and communication style might not be as spontaneous or unrestrained as they look. Tesla vehicles are not yet affordable to the masses, and the electric auto community is interested and well-informed – Musk’s blog posts are exactly how that community needs to be reached. By bypassing reporters, Musk can directly address and outline concerns for the people who are the most invested in Tesla.

In fall 2012, Musk responded to news of a fire risk in the Model S with a very thorough, informative blog post. In this post and others, Musk used facts, transparency and persuasion to defend Tesla. Some called him combative and believed he should rely on a crisis management team instead of his own smartphone or keyboard, but his communication style is part of Tesla’s brand.

Musk is as much a part of Tesla as Mark Zuckerberg is a part of Facebook; his defense of Tesla is impressive and effective at giving a face to Tesla and spreading facts. While his cars may not sell in New Jersey, he isn’t leaving quietly.


  1. Post comment

    Shannon, I find this post extremely interesting. I have been looking at the Tesla brand over the past several months because it is creating a new niche for the automotive industry. I actually was looking at a Tesla S before I got my new car. It is quite a sensational ride. I like how you bring up the fact that Musk is like Zuckerberg because in a way they both are very influential people in the media. However do you think Musk is doing the right thing by putting out the fires on his own? Or do you believe he really does need a crisis management team? I find it kind of impressive for such a wealthy CEO to be handling that kind of stuff on his own.


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