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Elon Musk’s politics divides consumers

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

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

Driving Tesla has long been a way for consumers to signal environmental and sustainability values.

Consumers connect deeply with brands that share their values, or represent what they aspire to, according to Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Tesla has benefited from a powerful identity -based loyalty that has emerged among car buyers, and its rivals are leading brands such as Apple and Nike.

People walk into a downtown Tesla dealership on March 28, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.

“The intensity of the relationship for those who are really at Tesla is not on the charts,” Reed said.

Some car buyers are increasingly attracted to, or far from, Tesla, because of a range of beliefs that support or oppose Musk, including politics, freedom of speech, and company culture, according to interviews with 12 recent car buyers.

In recent months, Musk has called Democrats are the party of “division and hatred,” bureau about the return of cocaine to Coca-Cola, compared Twitter CEO Joseph Stalin, challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a one-on-one battle for Ukraine, and warned that “the woke mind virus will destroy civilization.”

Simon said he felt Tesla employees had stock in the company. Tesla stock has fallen 31% since Musk made a deal to buy Twitter. The S&P 500 fell 11% in the same timeframe.

Simon thought the stock price’s fall suggests a lack of confidence in Tesla because its busy CEO – Musk also heads SpaceX – has taken on another project. Although Musk has said he wants to leave the deal, he now potentially faces a lengthy court battle if Twitter chooses to bring legal action against him.

“There are people on the line that he didn’t work long to earn that stock,” said Simon, a business executive in Philadelphia who said he was “deadly serious” about his employees getting opportunity to earn.

“That’s a real life thing with those people,” Simon said. “It’s pretty not cool.”

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

He also said he didn’t want to see Tesla face a lawsuit from a California civil rights agency for its treatment of Black workers.
“If someone wants to spend money on the Hobby Lobby, or Chick-fil-A or Tesla, they can do that,” Kronenberg told CNN Business. “I have a lot of other options.” (Chick fil-A has donated some time to organizations opposing same-sex marriage and the Hobby Lobby is in the midst of a Supreme Court decision that the Affordable Care Act cannot force companies close to seize some contraceptives for employees ..)
Elon Musk nodded as he spoke at a press conference at SpaceX’s Starbase facility near Boca Chica Village in South Texas on February 10, 2022.

Kronenberg said he ordered the electric vehicle from a Tesla competitor.

Businesses have previously seen some impact from political stance. Budweiser appears to have lost popularity in conservative counties after its 2017 Super Bowl ad favored immigration, while Ben & Jerry garnered support from liberal nations for its support of same-sex marriage and Black Lives Matter, according to Vanitha Swaminathan, a professor of marketing at the University of Pittsburgh.

Reed, the professor in Pennsylvania, described Musk as a “lightning rod” that people loved or hated. He views Musk and Tesla as immune to harm from Musk’s recent behavior because people are already divided on him. Musk can benefit from arousing intense emotion, rather than apathy.

“If you’re a public figure, it’s probably better to be nervous,” Reed said. “Like, eh, anything, the CEO of Ford, who cares?”

Swaminathan said Musk’s potential risk to Tesla’s sales and brand may not be very significant because the automaker has a strong brand and is known for its innovation.

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

Colorado’s Erik Corkran has long liked Musk, whom he views as an inspirational voice for individual freedom. Corkran, who relies on libertarianism, said he wants 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 he thinks they are becoming overwhelming in schools at the expense of math or science. Corkran watched this spring as Musk encountered backlash as he moved to buy Twitter and weigh in on politics.

“You know what,” Corkran said as he recalled the thought in May. “I’ll throw away $ 100. I’ll get a Cybertruck.” While Tesla’s Cybertruck is not yet available – production is initially said to begin in late 2021 but this has been delayed until 2023 – potential buyers can reserve the opportunity to purchase one for a $ 100 deposit .

He expects to get delivery in 2024, when Musk said the truck will be available.

Lisa Morris, who lives in Louisiana, ordered Tesla this year to save on fuel costs on the long trips she often makes to get her grandson out of school. He said he was the first of his friends to own a Tesla.

Morris has intense feelings about politics, and he said as a businessman that “he would rather have 1,000 Republican customers, than 100,000 Democrats [customers]. “

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

“The man should continue to do this and no longer suppress his opinion,” Morris said, adding that he does not respect businesses that hide their support for Republicans.

Scott Wilson of California, who owns the Model Y, ordered for a second Tesla this year. But he said he was hesitant, and he thought of canceling the order.

“I don’t want Tesla cars to be 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 political conservative, libertarian free speech fighter.”

So far, Wilson has complied with his command. He said it has helped that Musk has seemed calmer on Twitter over the past few weeks.

Other car buyers say Musk’s efforts outside of Tesla and his political views were not all factors in their decisions.

Steven Cohn, who bought the Model 3 this year, said he views Musk as America’s dream, and he admires what he has done to combat climate change. But he also found Musk’s political views to be “somewhat on the regressive side.”

“I make my buying decisions based on what I feel is the best value for me and my family,” Cohn said. “Not based on a political party.”

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