Elon Musk has been described as the real-life Tony Stark by his biggest fans, but the Techno-king of Tesla’s tweets have been getting him into trouble with regulators, governments, and – more recently – supporters who would otherwise describe themselves as pretty liberal. From allegations of union-busting and institutional racism at Tesla, tweets that seem to declare an allegiance to Trump, and ongoing troubles with the SEC impacting stock prices, it all begs the question: what will it take for people to quit Elon Musk?
Let’s start with Godwin’s Law, which is an early internet term that says, basically, as any online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Adolf Hitler approaches 100%. Well, it finally happened earlier this week, when Elon Musk’s unregulated Twitter feed posted the following meme, comparing Adolf Hitler to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau …
Adolf Hitler and Canadian Truckers
… the joke was in poor taste, obviously. So much so that the usually stubborn Musk deleted the tweet in a few short hours, without explanation or comment, following a well deserved s#!tstorm of negative PR.
The character Elon Musk plays on Twitter has a long track record of posting “edgy” memes and humor, but invoking Hitler — who was responsible for the deaths of millions of people during the holocausts of World War II — was, “a step too far for many Twitter users,” according to Reuters. Still, some of the expected “weird nerds” are out in force, defending Musk on a national stage (most notably, vertically challenged AOC obsessive, Ben Shapiro).
Obviously, a willingness to be seen very publicly siding with a number of antivaxx Canadian truckers holding a city hostage and waving Confederate and Nazi flags isn’t enough of a gaffe to get people to tear up their Elon Musk posters — and maybe that’s fair. We’ve all said stupid stuff on Twitter or made a pop-culture reference that didn’t land and regretted it later, and that doesn’t make us Nazi sympathizers or fascist apologists, right?
Elon Musk Takes the Red-pill
Back in 2020, Elon Musk told his millions of Twitter followers to “Take the red pill,” (below). It’s a pop-culture reference to the sci film, “The Matrix,” which some would say was twisted to imply support for the then-sitting President, Donald Trump.
The would-be fashion magnate and daughter of then-President Trump seems to have taken it that way, at least. And enough smart people took it that way that Musk tried to distance himself from the Tweet. When directly asked about any political implications, he answered, “No, it’s just: Accept reality as it is as opposed to what you wish it were,” according to Business Insider. “I think [Ivanka Trump] was interpreting it through more of a political lens then it was intended.” [sic]
Despite that distance, for Lilly Wachowski, one of the co-creators and directors of the Matrix movies, the tweet was enough for her to quit Elon Musk. She did so pretty publicly, too!
Fuck both of you
— Lilly Wachowski (@lilly_wachowski) May 17, 2020
Many of Musk’s fans, however, were quick to forgive him, having decided that his comments about Ivanka being “too political” were credible enough to buy him a pass. And, for what it’s worth, I kind of agree with that assessment in this case — but I have my limits, and a recent lawsuit out of California seems set to test those limits soon.
Racism & Union-Busting
As I type this, the state of California is pushing a lawsuit that alleges rampant, institutionalized racism at Tesla’s Fremont factory. You might have read about it in passing here, but that piece failed to highlight some of the most shocking allegations leveled at the factory’s management.
The lawsuit, filed in state court last week by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), alleges that Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, is racially segregated, and that Black workers claim they are subjected to racist slurs and drawings and assigned the most physically demanding jobs. Among the claims are tasty soundbites like, “Workers referred to the Tesla factory as the ‘slaveship’ or ‘the plantation,’ where defendants’ production leads ‘crack[ed] the whip.’” According to Reuters, “segregated areas of the factory (are) known as ‘the dark side,’ and are less likely to be promoted to management positions. They are subjected to racial slurs including the ‘N-word,’ and ‘hood rats’ on a daily basis, according to the complaint.”
While many people unfamiliar with some industry practices might simply ask, “If racism is so rampant at Tesla, why haven’t they been sued before?” The somewhat complicated answer can be oversimplified down to two words: they can’t — And that’s why the state is stepping in. “It’s the state itself bringing the case on behalf of all Black Tesla workers,” explains NPR’s Camila Domonoske. “And that’s a big deal because many of these workers cannot sue on their own. Tesla, like a lot of employers, uses arbitration clauses. And that means when people are hired, they have to sign away their right to take their company to court for anything.”
That signing away of rights, by the way, is one of the issues that pro-union activists have brought up with Tesla on numerous occasions, and Elon Musk has pushed back. In 2018, the National Labor Relations Board decided that Tesla violated labor laws when it fired a union activist, and when Musk wrote on Twitter that, “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?”
To be clear, lots of people have opinions on unions, and that lawsuit is (for now, at least) just allegations that are yet to be proven. Even if they are, frankly, that doesn’t necessarily implicate Elon Musk, who (despite what he may have you believe) is actually very far removed from actual assembly line stuff. In and of itself, then, even a court ruling against Tesla wouldn’t necessarily be damning for Musk … but these things don’t occur in a vacuum, do they?
One on top of another, these little gaffes add up. Given a long enough timeline, it’s imaginable that Elon Musk will go “too far,” and alienate enough people with some tweet or other that it will hurt Tesla, forcing the board to act. But, without Musk, what happens to Tesla?
Take Elon Musk out of the equation, though, and Tesla would have to stand alone. And sure, the Tesla Model Y may be the best-selling SUV in California now, but what are the odds that all those Model Y buyers will come back to Tesla when it comes time to trade it in on their next electric car? Historically, those odds have been pretty good, with just over 70% of Tesla customers coming back for a second one (number 1 in the business, in fact), but at least one repeat Tesla buyer, who goes by “u/Crazy_Mistake_1504” on reddit, is fed up with Tesla’s captive service departments — and their current Tesla may well be their last.
What Went Wrong
I’ve argued before that Tesla customers tend to be more forgiving of the brand’s build quality, fit, and finish than GM or Ford customers — citing, for example, falling bumpers, flying sunroofs, and panel fitment that would make a 20-year-old Honda blush. Despite feeling largely positive about Tesla products, though, I’ve been called “critical” by a number of Tesla fans online — and I’m not expecting anything different this time. What’s interesting about this story isn’t who is writing it, though. It’s that this Model Y wasn’t u/Crazy_Mistake_1504’s (“Crazy,” for short) first Tesla.
“When I purchased my (Model 3) back in 2019, it had multiple issues that required multiple trips to the service center to resolve,” writes Crazy. “Still, I quickly forgot about those issues as they were mostly resolved and the car was such a joy to drive … which is why I ultimately decided to purchase another vehicle from Tesla in 2021.”
That’s where it all began to go wrong for Crazy, despite their admittedly lowered expectations. “Being an existing owner, I already ‘learned’ from my past mistakes,” they write. “I definitely wasn’t going to fall for FSD again, and I would set my expectations that the car won’t be flawless. Sure enough, I was right — several weeks ago, I picked up (my) Model Y with multiple issues. The most notable one being that only a single speaker out of the advertised 13 was working. Audio quality was [extremely] bad and lacking any bass.”
Despite more than 92% of the advertised speakers Crazy had paid for simply not showing up for work, there was more. “Other issues included the driver door requiring excessive force to close, the charge port often failing to open and some squeaking/vibration noises in the cabin. Delivery folks reassured me that these are all easy fixes that mobile service can address, so I thanked them and drove off.”
I’ll overlook that comment about “falling for FSD again” and move on to the delivery itself. As someone who has sold a lot of cars and motorcycles, this part of the story got my attention. In a conventional “buying a car from a dealer” scenario, you never, ever, ever take the car if there’s a problem. As long as you haven’t taken delivery (translation: driven off the lot), that car is still the dealer’s problem. If I was going to place blame, then I’d drop it right at Crazy’s feet the second he accepted a broken car.
That said, it seems like Tesla works a bit differently, and accepting a broken car that you’ve waited months for seems like a more common thing in that world — but Crazy couldn’t get past it. “On the way home I realized the audio issue really takes away from my enjoyment of the vehicle.” It was at this point that Crazy decided to take action. “(I) tried booking an appointment only to realize they were several weeks out (Southern California). After finally getting an appointment, my car spent 2 days in service. They tried replacing multiple parts and even escalated to an engineer. The diagnosis — the vehicle’s computer (MCU) needs to be replaced, but it’s backordered. The other issues were addressed but it cost me an extra 100 miles that service put on the car.”
A few weeks later, the Tesla service center got the backordered MCU and swapped it in. The speakers in Crazy’s car, however, remained silent. “Tesla now claims, ‘your vehicle was built with the wrong amplifier, but we don’t have a replacement.’ So here I am driving a $60k car with a non-functional audio system. Not to mention multiple trips to the service center and getting around in an Uber during a pandemic wasn’t exactly ideal either. Tesla service [still] doesn’t know when they’ll have the part available with no guarantee when my car will be repaired.”
To their credit, Crazy doesn’t seem all that crazy. They’re not threatening to sue Tesla, throwing around 1 star reviews, or getting the BBB involved. If anything, they come across more like an abused puppy than an angry bulldog, simply expressing sadness that the deal didn’t go down the way they wanted. “I didn’t write this post to discourage anyone from buying a Tesla,” they say. “I’m certain most people will get a perfectly working vehicle and may never even have to schedule service. For me, however, my luck and patience has simply run out.”
Can We Draw Conclusions
At the end of the day, it’s hard to draw any kind of conclusions from a story like this — but to me, it feels like the captive service experience is part of the problem here. No matter how upset Crazy gets over his Tesla or how many times the technicians botch the repair job, there’s no other place for Crazy to take his car in for service. He can’t even really take it up the road to the “next” Tesla dealer … because that’s not a thing, and Tesla service centers are all connected and (one could argue) similarly trained to replace, not repair.
I think you put a few competing Tesla dealers or service centers into the mix and you’d get rid of a lot of these “monopoly” problems, but that’s just me — and it’s not likely to be a popular opinion, I know. What do you guys think? Is this kind of problem just par for the course when it comes to Tesla? Scroll on down to the comments and let us know.
** NOTE: here is the link to the original post, and I’ve included a screencap, below, in case it gets taken down.
Where Would You Draw the Line?
Elon Musk’s latest Twitter debacle with Trudeau has sparked lively discussions in the CleanTechnica messages, with the overall “vibe” being one of sympathy for Musk. Not a defense of Musk’s bad behavior, but a general awareness that most CEOs and celebs have a PR or social media team acting as a sort of buffer between them and the public that would (one hopes) catch something like this before it went live. Almost no one has “drawn a line” and decided to put Elon in the “bad guy” camp … yet.
That’s just us, though. Where do you stand? What’s the hypothetical Elon tweet that would send you over the edge, so to speak? Trump 2024? Hillary 2024? Scroll on down to the comments section and let us know!
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