May 23, 2024 - Business

Tesla's once-stellar reputation is running out of juice

Step chart showing Tesla's reputation ranking in the Axios/Harris 100 Poll from 2019 to 2024. In 2019 Tesla was ranked #42. They peaked at #8 in 2021 before falling in 2023 to 62 and now sit at #63.
Data: Axios Harris Poll 100; Chart: Axios Visuals

Tesla Motors' brand reputation continued to slip over the last year as the antics of polarizing CEO Elon Musk and other issues tarnished its once-impeccable image, according to new Axios Harris Poll 100 survey results.

Why it matters: Tesla soared to 8th place in 2021's ranking of America's 100 most visible companies by their perceived image, but has since plummeted to 63rd — suggesting Musk and his company flew too high and too fast, like Icarus of Greek myth.

Zoom in: In the 2024 Axios Harris Poll 100, Tesla ranks in the 70s or below on attributes like character, trust and ethics.

  • It ranks higher on factors like growth (48th), vision (34th) and products & services (32nd).
  • But those rankings are far below its standing just three years ago, when Tesla ranked in the top 10 on all three attributes.

Context: Tesla's reputation has slid behind those of other conventional automakers.

  • Honda (7th), Toyota (12th), Subaru (15th), General Motors (40th) and Ford (55th) now all rank higher than Tesla (63rd).
  • Only Volkswagen (69th) ranks lower.
A table showing the top Automotive companies in the 2024 Axios Harris 100 Poll.
Data: Axios Harris Poll 100; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Tesla has long been defined by its CEO, who captivated consumers and investors with his vision to promote stylish, high-performance electric cars as a way to tackle climate change.

  • But his messy takeover of Twitter, and increasingly controversial political rants on the platform — now called X — have alienated some one-time believers.
  • Some Tesla owners even put bumper stickers on their cars declaring, "I bought this before Elon went crazy."

Between the lines: At many companies, communications specialists are available to smooth over the boss's miscues.

  • But Musk famously dismantled Tesla's public relations department a few years ago, and now handles his own PR via X.

What's next: Tesla faces an array of business and legal challenges that will continue threatening its reputation.

  • It's under increasing pressure from competitors, especially up-and-coming Chinese EV makers.
  • In response, Tesla is slashing car prices and cutting 10% of its workforce, even while the UAW mounts a union organizing drive.
  • Meanwhile, federal safety regulators say Tesla's Autopilot assisted-driving technology was responsible for 467 crashes and 14 deaths over about 15 months during 2022-23.
  • Tesla cars have also been plagued by quality issues, including steering and suspension failures.

Reality check: Despite the company's reputational hit, Tesla has by far the most loyal buyers of any automaker, according to S&P Global Mobility.

  • Nearly 70% of Tesla-owning households looking to buy a car in the first quarter of 2024 purchased another Tesla, per S&P data.
  • Most other brands have a loyalty rate around 50%.

The bottom line: For some buyers, it's about the car — not the company or its CEO.

Go deeper: Read the full methodology behind the Axios Harris Poll 100.

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