So far, 2018 hasn’t turned out to be a great year for Tesla Motors. The company has been plighted with production issues, some quality control problems, bad press over the questionable safety of its Autopilot system, and concerns over the financial stability of the company. While all of these matters remain fixable, the compounding pressure seems to have left Tesla CEO Elon Musk a bit unhinged — which has caused some complications of its own and been exacerbated by negative media attention.
The automaker needs a win, even a small one, so it can help rebuild its reputation and alleviate some of that pressure. Fortunately, it seems to have found its opportunity.
Last week, Consumer Reports gave the Tesla Model 3 a very mixed review. While it claimed to enjoy the vehicle’s handling and superior electric range, the outlet said its in-car controls were distracting and noted its average stopping distance of 152 feet was “far worse than any contemporary car we’ve tested and about 7 feet longer than the stopping distance of a Ford F-150 full-sized pickup.”
As a result, it could not recommend the the Model 3 to consumers. Musk immediately flew to Twitter to respond, saying the matter would be fixed without customers needing to have the vehicle serviced.
Although Tesla was also careful to hint that Consumer Reports test data could have been an anomaly, going on to say that later examples of the Model 3 shouldn’t be affected by any braking issues. “Tesla’s own testing has found braking distances with an average of 133 feet when conducting the 60-0 mph stops using the 18″ Michelin all season tire and as low as 126 feet with all tires currently available,” the automaker said in a response to the review. “Stopping distance results are affected by variables such as road surface, weather conditions, tire temperature, brake conditioning, outside temperature, and past driving behavior that may have affected the brake system.”
A few days later, Musk announced that the braking issue had been solved. In a Twiter response from Friday he said that a “firmware fix for upgraded brake performance on standard Model 3 started rolling out yesterday. Should improve braking distance by ~20 ft for repeated heavy braking events. Thanks @ConsumerReports for excellent critical feedback!”
The final line was in direct opposition to his critical response to the media of late, which has become increasingly antagonistic. Last week he suggested that he was going “to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication.”
Public response to this had individuals claiming everything from a global conspiracy that had the mainstream media trying to ruin Tesla stock via false reports to the possibility that Tesla had suffered some very real setbacks that were reported without giving the company the benefit of the doubt. Either way, the vast majority of Elon’s followers voted on a poll that his hypothetical website, intended to keep the press honest, would be a good step.
“The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them,” Musk said in a tweet from earlier in the week. He then went on to say the repeated coverage of the Model 3’s production delays were obsessive and outlined a “general increase of misleading clickbait” within reporting.
This was followed by Musk’s former communications director throwing in his two cents. “At a time when Western democratic norms and institutions are being eroded, and journalists around the world face mounting threats and persecution just for doing their jobs, I’m proud to know so many amazing reporters,” said Dex Torricke-Barton, who was previously employed by SpaceX, Musk’s spaceflight company. “Thanks for fighting for the truth.”
As for the strategy itself, we’re not entirely sure how well it will play in the long term. Musk’s war with the media has already received more coverage than the company’s firmware update — an impressive and advanced technology that seems to have solved a tangible braking issue on at least some of the Model 3s sold to consumers without their needing to have it brought in. That’s impactful and something even highly biased outlets would have found exceptionally difficult to spin. But reports of it were largely buried by the bickering between Musk and the media.
[Image: Tesla Motors]