Tesla Fights Back Against Its Own PR Fail

Paypal co-founder/insanely rich guy Elon Musk isn’t afraid to defend his far-out ideas, be they successfully marketing an electric automobile or convincing rich people to move to his future colony on Mars.

But can he fight back against what CNBC calls “Tesla’s PR #EpicFail“? His auto company’s latest electric car, the Model S, won Motor Trend‘s car of the year award among a wave of very positive reviews, but The New York Times auto critic John M. Broder‘s test drive didn’t go so well.

Despite being a “technical wonder”, the car ran out of juice in cold weather when its battery died and the writer, having no access to one of the company’s remote “Supercharger” stations, had to call a towing company. The Tesla brand’s stock took a hit, inspiring Musk to lash out on Twitter. The funniest part of this four-wheel drama? Not only did Musk pitch the story to the Times in the first place, he apparently called the critic to apologize for the experience and offer him a second test drive before calling him a liar in public.

This is a strange damage control strategy, no?

Musk accused the writer of deliberately sabotaging his own trip by failing to charge his battery to full when he had the chance and taking an unreported detour on his test drive. The Times naturally defended its reporting yesterday with a follow-up story in which the Broder countered each of Musk’s points, reasserted that his original review was not in any way “fake”, and let everyone know that he had followed the instructions provided by the company’s own personnel to a T.

Musk has yet to respond publicly to the follow-up, but we’re glad to give him some unsolicited advice: keep quiet this time. In fact, don’t even bother commenting on the story again unless you’re talking about the “second test drive” that you promised Mr. Broder.

Look, we understand the urge to lash out at those who write negative reviews. Elon Musk was just defending his baby–but in doing so he damaged his own credibility.

The lesson here is simple: No brand wants its “social CEO” making a fool of himself in public. If you want to call someone a liar or a fake, that’s fine–just make sure you do it off the record. Otherwise you’ll come out of it looking like an ass.