Aug 4, 2022 - News

Iowa's Tesla drivers become targets for aggression

Illustration of the Tesla logo in the center of a target bullseye.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Tesla drivers are routinely heckled, cut off in traffic and blocked from charging stations, multiple Iowa owners tell Axios.

  • Angst about politics or the environment is typically the motivator, they said.

Driving the news: Suzie Stewart of Des Moines — a friend of Jason's — recently told us that she fears for her teenage son’s safety because he drives a Tesla.

  • She was with her son last month when another driver made obscene hand gestures as they passed and then sped up and tailgated the car in an incident she said was unprovoked.

State of play: We reached out this week to members of the Iowa Tesla Owners Club Facebook group and received more than a dozen responses from people who said they have experienced similar situations.

  • Uber driver Kyle Volz of DSM said the harassment is especially apparent when he works weekends. He believes one driver tried to run him off the road.
  • Spencer Hall of Norwalk said he faces intimidation or challenges from other drivers multiple times a week, frequently from people who want to race.

The intrigue: Each of the Tesla owners we spoke with believe other types of electric vehicles are far less targeted.

  • That's because Teslas are a symbol of the environmental movement and Elon Musk — the company’s billionaire CEO — is sometimes viewed as a polarizing figure, Brian Miller, an Ankeny resident who advocates for electric vehicles, told Axios.
  • Plus: They're often sporty and seen as a status symbol. That prompts some people to want to challenge them, Hall told us.

Yes, but: Some people in the group reported no problems, with a few noting they've received overall positive reactions to their cars.

Of note: DSM police Sgt. Paul Parizek told us he's unaware of reports that allege an incident was prompted by an aggressor's dislike of Tesla.

  • Some harassment complaints could be linked with environmental discord but that’s not something that's specifically tracked, he said.

Threat level: It's a serious issue and some types of harassment are commonplace, Miller said.

  • Rolling coal: When a driver — typically of a large truck with a modified engine — aggressively accelerates and blows billowing exhaust on an electric vehicle.
  • ICEing: When drivers of gasoline vehicles park in or block access to electric charging stations.

Zoom out: The problem is not isolated to Iowa.

  • Teslacam Stories, a series on YouTube, has dedicated multiple episodes to owners’ experiences as the victim of road rage.
  • Electrek, an American news website dedicated to electric transportation, has also reported on the issues.
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