Elon Musk has established a reputation for himself and Tesla by breaking the rules, but the billionaire’s recent comments on politics, as well as a charge of sexual harassment against him that he claims is false, may damage the brand in the eyes of some Tesla customers and employees.
Musk refuted a Business Insider report on Thursday that he sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016, calling the accuser a liar. In the middle of a heated bid to buy Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), Tesla CEO Elon Musk declared the day before that he would now vote Republican rather than Democrat, calling the Democrats a “party of division and hate.”
Tesla was also removed from the widely watched S&P 500 ESG Index this week, citing issues such as racial discrimination within the company and crashes linked to its vehicles, according to an index executive.
Musk responded by calling ESG ratings a “scam” and questioning how the index could eliminate an electric car company while adding oil and gas companies. While Musk has previously made news for his outspokenness, such as labelling a critic a “pedo man” on Twitter, the latest issues raise the question of whether his outspokenness would ruin his likeability. And, given Musk’s ties to Tesla, whether this will damage the company’s sales, particularly in California.
According to Experian data, the left-leaning state is Tesla’s largest market, accounting for over 40% of the company’s U.S. retail registrations last year. According to the California New Car Dealers Association, Tesla sales in California increased by about 70% last year, accounting for 6.5 per cent of all vehicles sold in the state.
The hashtag #BoycottTesla trended on Twitter, and some consumers said they were cancelling their Tesla purchases
“In the past, I admired him for working to build a green business that’s transformational in energy use. But he is sadly becoming divisive as an attention-seeking troll and I no longer trust that he is dedicated to the quality of his products. I will cancel my Tesla order,” said J Yeh, a Twitter user who describes herself as a lawyer who has lived in several cities including Los Angeles.
“You lost a potential customer,” a Twitter user named Ute Bauer from Germany said, adding in German: “To anyone reading this, cancel your orders.”
Given the company’s great performance, many institutional investors may stick by Musk no matter what, but that doesn’t mean some aren’t upset. One Tesla employee, who did not want to be identified, expressed displeasure that Musk’s outside initiatives looked to be harming the company’s stock. He stated, The corporation ought to do something to solve the situation.
Tesla shares fell about 9% on Friday, wiping off roughly $66 billion in market value and bringing the company to its lowest level since August, with analysts blaming “distraction concerns” from the Twitter transaction. On Thursday, Musk assured the public that Tesla was always on his mind.
“They’re doing a lot of good things,” said Taylor Ogan, CEO of Snow Bull Capital, which owns Tesla shares. “It’s just disappointing when that is tainted by Elon Musk’s antics. Elon Musk is the best thing for Tesla and the worst thing for Tesla.”
If office water cooler conversations centred on Musk’s sexual harassment claim rather than Tesla products, the impact might be “corrosive” to the Tesla brand, according to John Smith, a former GM group vice president who oversaw worldwide product planning.
Because technology business employees in California tend to be more liberal, Tesla and SpaceX employees may become “a little bit spooked and upset” as a result of Musk’s anti-Democratic party comments, according to Jason Stomel, founder of digital employment consultancy Cadre.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told Reuters on Thursday that Musk’s SpaceX has a good team of executives and that the agency’s collaboration with the company is “running without a hitch.” NASA relies on Musk’s SpaceX to carry its astronauts to space.
Musk still has a sizable online following. According to Twitter user @JVega103, he is a Republican who owns a Tesla and recently purchased Tesla solar panels. The user tweeted, “Thanks for everything you do.” Some industry experts wondered if Musk and Tesla would simply brush aside the latest controversy, as they had in the past.