Taming Tesla: Product Review Drama was Years in the Making
John Broder wrote a review for The New York Times on Tesla's Model S electric car after driving it along the east coast supercharger network. Broder said the car died on him and its driving range did not line up with Tesla's claims. Broder opened up his review by saying "theory can be trumped by reality." I'm glad I wasn't on Tesla's PR team once that review was posted!
Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that there was a PR team, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk snapped back in a detailed rebuttal, calling Broder's review "a fake" and referencing data logs from the car in an effort to prove Broder's review findings inaccurate. There is nothing wrong with writing a rebuttal. In fact, we absolutely recommend it when the situation calls for it, as it did in this case. But Musk's comments showed nearly no restraint. In fact, he posted angry blog posts after the rebuttal, and the media has been having a field day covering the drama.
Regardless, I think Musk is taking on more heat than he deserves. Granted, my job is to protect passionate CEOs from sharing ALL of their emotions publicly, which Elon pretty much did. But who's to fault a leader that truly believes in his product so much, that he purposefully delays cars from arriving to market so that he can personally inspect them at random on the manufacturing line? From what I've gathered on Tesla over the years, Musk's heart and soul is in the EV business (along with space, but that's another story), he just hasn't had anyone there to set boundaries for what to share and what not to share with the media. Or maybe he has and doesn't follow this advice, which could very well be the case.
Even still, with the auto market annoyed with Tesla's production delays, and the investor community fed up with ongoing growth promises and painful financial losses, the timing was ripe for people from all ends of the industry to chime in on the situation. Let's not forget the controversy of the EV market in general, which has taken a beating over the past year and a half. People love to beat up on new technology, especially if it's been hyped for decades.
I guess my point is that refraining from majestic claims on Tesla's commercial viability and company growth projections years ago might have helped stifle the noise around this particular incident. But then again, I'll take a passionate, hot-headed leader over a conservative one that who lacks spirit about what he/she is selling. Just remember, even hot-heads with passion really need to trust in and use a strong PR team.