Elon Musk’s politics divide consumers

He heard from Tesla in June that his car was ready, but backed out of the purchase, forfeiting the $250 order fee he had paid. Simon told CNN Business his feelings changed this spring after Tesla CEO Elon Musk reached a deal to buy Twitter. Musk has since backtracked and indicated he wants out of the deal to buy the social media company.

Simon is one of many electric vehicle buyers who have developed stronger new feelings about Musk and Tesla in recent weeks.

Driving a Tesla has long been a way for consumers to signal values ​​about the environment and sustainability.

According to Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, consumers connect deeply with brands that share their values ​​or represent who they aspire to be. Tesla has enjoyed a powerful identity-based loyalty that has emerged with car buyers, and it rivals bigger brands like Apple and Nike.

“The intensity of the relationship for those who truly love Tesla is out of this world,” Reed said.

Some car buyers are increasingly drawn to Tesla, or away from it, due to a range of beliefs that align with or oppose Musk, including politics, free speech and culture. business, according to interviews with 12 recent car buyers.

In recent months, Musk has called Democrats the party of “division and hatred”, joked to put cocaine back into Coca-Cola, compared CEO of Twitter to Joseph Stalin, disputed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a one-on-one fight for Ukraine, and warned that “the awakened mind virus will destroy civilization”.

Simon said he felt for Tesla employees who owned stock in the company. Tesla stock has fallen 31% since Musk struck a deal to buy Twitter. The S&P 500 fell 11% over the same period.

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Simon thought the falling share price suggested a lack of confidence in Tesla as its busy CEO – Musk also runs SpaceX – took on another project. While Musk has since said he wants out of the deal, he now potentially faces a lengthy legal battle if Twitter chooses to take legal action against him.

“There are people who are not him who have worked a long time to earn these shares,” said Simon, a business executive in Philadelphia, who said he was “extremely serious” about the possibility for his employees to earn money.

“It’s real life stuff for these people,” Simon said. “That’s pretty uncool.”

Steven Kronenberg of California canceled an order for a Tesla solar roof this spring after seeing Musk announce his support for Republicans.

He also said he didn’t like seeing Tesla facing legal action from a California civil rights agency over its treatment of black workers.
“If anybody wants to spend money at Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A or Tesla, they can do that,” Kronenberg told CNN Business. “I have many other options.” (Chick fil-A had for a time donated to organizations that were critical of same-sex marriage, and Hobby Lobby was at the center of a Supreme Court ruling that the Affordable Care Act couldn’t force closed corporations to cover certain contraceptives for employees.)
Elon Musk gestures as he speaks during a press conference at SpaceX's Starbase facility near Boca Chica Village in South Texas on February 10, 2022.

Kronenberg said he was ordering an electric vehicle from a Tesla competitor.

Companies have always seen some impact by taking political positions. According to Vanitha Swaminathan, professor of marketing at the University of Pittsburgh.

Reed, the professor from Pennsylvania, described Musk as a “lightning rod” people either love or hate. He views Musk and Tesla as immune to harm from Musk’s recent behavior because people are already so divided over him. Musk can benefit from provoking strong feelings, rather than indifference.

“If you’re a public figure, you probably better be pissed off,” Reed said. “Like, huh, whatever, Ford CEO, who cares?”

Swaminathan said Musk’s potential risk to Tesla’s sales and brand might not be too great because the automaker has a strong brand and is known for its innovative spirit.

“Tesla’s own brand reputation could act as an insurance policy and limit the damage the CEO’s position has on the brand,” Swaminathan said.

Colorado’s Erik Corkran has long loved Musk, whom he considers an inspiring voice for individual freedom. Corkran, who leans into the libertarian, said he likes to be limitless and has done a lot of freelance work in his career. He loves his Tesla Model X which he bought earlier this year.

Corkran said he cares about social justice topics such as gender and race, but feels they are becoming too high a priority in schools at the expense of math or science. Corkran watched this spring as Musk faced backlash as he decided to buy Twitter and weigh in on politics.

“You know what,” Corkran said, remembering thinking back in May. “I’m going to throw away $100. I’m going to buy a Cybertruck.” Although Tesla’s Cybertruck isn’t available yet — production was originally slated to begin in late 2021 but has been delayed until 2023 — potential buyers can reserve the option of picking one up for a $100 down payment.

It hopes to be delivered in 2024, when Musk has announced the truck will be available.

Lisa Morris, who lives in Louisiana, ordered a Tesla this year to save on fuel costs on a long drive she frequently takes to pick up her granddaughter from school. She said she would be the first of her friends to own a Tesla.

Morris has very strong feelings towards politics and says that as a businessman she “would rather have 1,000 Republican clients than 100,000 Democrats”. [customers].”

Morris said she was even happier with the purchase after Musk announced he would no longer support Democrats.

“The man should keep doing it and never hold back his opinion,” said Morris, who added that she doesn’t respect companies that hide their support from Republicans.

Scott Wilson of California, who owns a Model Y, placed an order for a second Tesla this year. But he said he had thought it over and was considering canceling the order.

“I don’t want Tesla cars to become the new MAGA hat,” Wilson said. “I don’t want to be seen as a rich jerk, and I don’t want to be seen as a politically conservative, libertarian freedom of speech warrior.”

So far, Wilson has held his order. He said it helped that Musk seemed calmer on Twitter over the past two weeks.

Other car buyers say Musk’s efforts outside of Tesla and his political views are not factored into their decisions at all.

Steven Cohn, who bought a Model 3 this year, said he saw Musk as the American dream and admired what he had done to fight climate change. But he also finds Musk’s political views “a bit regressive”.

“I will make my purchasing decisions based on what I believe is the best value for me and my family,” Cohn said. “Not based on any political party.”

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