Haughty Tesla Brought The PR Disaster Upon Itself


Management by Dilbert

The imbroglio surrounding Model S ball-joints and gag orders for Tesla customers could have been avoided, or at least drastically minimized, would Tesla not have emulated the worst trait of a certain few legacy automakers, namely their hubris and conceit.

Before the story that set the scandal in motion was published, Tesla and the NHTSA were asked by the Daily Kanban to respond to the questions that were raised in the story. Tesla ignored the request.

If Tesla would have responded, saying that it is aware of these allegations, and that according to its investigation, 37 out of 40 suspension complaints were bogus, and filed by a single guy in Australia, the story would have taken a different turn.

If Tesla would have responded with the statement that it is aware that the NDAs may cause unfortunate confusion, and that it already is in discussion with the NHTSA to change that language, the story would have turned out differently, or it may not have been written at all. If the answer would have been that all NDAs, useless and unenforceable as they are, would be expunged forthwith, Tesla would have been feted as a paragon of “the customer comes first.”

However, Tesla preferred to ignore the request.

The NHTSA answered, and it was that official answer, combined with the vacuum created by Tesla’s incommunicado communication department, that made the matter implode in the big way it did.

Most automakers would have immediately reacted to a request as the one below. The Daily Kanban is a small operation, but between Ed in Portland and me in Tokyo, we are open for business and comments round the clock. As Tesla tries to grow up into a big automaker, its take-away should be that some questions can be uncomfortable, but avoiding them can turn out to become very painful.

A few forthright and proactive answers from Tesla might have kept the nasty genie firmly sealed in its bottle; no acerbic words and no embarrassing blog posts would have been necessary. Tesla’s feet could have remained unshot. Nobody would have to be attacked for supposedly manipulating a stock that may not have fallen in the first place. I know, that’s a lot of maybes, but it would have at least been worth the try.

Email request sent to Tesla

From: Edward Niedermeyer <[email protected]>
Date: Wed, Jun 8, 2016 at 4:44 PM
Subject: Story about suspension failure and Tesla’s use of NDAs.
To: [email protected]
Greetings Tesla communications team, my name is Edward Niedermeyer and I’m the editor of DailyKanban.com. I previously had contact with Ricardo Reyes, but since he has left the company I wasn’t sure who specifically to contact with this request.

I am finishing a story at Daily Kanban about suspension failure in Tesla Model S and Tesla’s use of non-disclosure clauses in its goodwill agreements with customers, and I wanted to give you the opportunity to respond to some of the questions it raises.

– Is Tesla aware of any relationship between the kind of suspension failure documented in this thread and this TSB it issued last year?

– How did Tesla determine that the issue addressed in this TSB was not a safety-related condition?

– Does Tesla consider suspension control arm breakage to be a safety-related condition?

– How many reports of suspension control arm breakage has Tesla received from customers and service centers?

– Is the attached document (TeslaGoodwill.jpg) an official Tesla document?

– Does Tesla insist on customers signing non-disclosure agreements in exchange for goodwill repairs to (or repossessions of) defective vehicles as a matter of policy?

– How many Tesla owners have signed the attached goodwill agreement with Tesla, or some version or variation thereof?

– Has Tesla ever enforced a nondisclosure agreement against a customer?

– Does Tesla believe that the attached goodwill agreement prevents customers from reporting defects covered by the agreement to the NHTSA complaint database?

– Is there a reason that this agreement doesn’t specifically inform customers that they have the legal right to report defects to NHTSA?

– Why did Tesla remove its press release touting the Model S as “achieving the best safety rating of any car ever tested” from its website between December 2014 and January 2015?

Feel free to email responses, or if you’d prefer to speak by telephone I can be reached at 541-XXX-XXXX.

Thanks in advance,

Ed Niedermeyer

P.S.: This morning, Elon Musk is likely to storm into Tesla’s PR department, throw one of his feared fits, and fire the hapless intern that ignored this request along with all the other ones. Don’t do it, Elon.  It’s not the intern’s fault. It’s the culture.