An Update: Tesla CEO Proved ‘People at Tesla’ Screwed Up

CEO Elon Musk claimed “people at Tesla” screwed up on his blog, but the tweets he sent in the middle of last week proved something else. The maker of the Model 3 and Roadster relied heavily on tweets from its enigmatic chief executive to announce a bold and expensive effort to turn the company around.

A recent Wall Street Journal report suggested that Musk was struggling to fulfil his promise to deliver on his promises to customers. Musk was also facing a revolt at Tesla’s parent company, the famously rebellious United Kingdom-based W Motors. But the way the company decided to tell customers that “production hell” had begun, publicly taking out its problems on Musk, would quickly reveal itself as the real issue.

To be clear, the one-sentence tweet that said “production hell” was not something Musk had done himself. It was sent in error by “four or five people,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, at the urging of his “fact-checker” to announce to the world what was going on inside the company. “This was in fact the result of people who have not thought through the implications of these tweets,” Musk said in a tweet this week.

Indeed, one would think that the source of such a statement would be a person who has thought through its implications, because that’s actually what people inside Tesla did. According to Reuters, they “told Musk his communication policy was not working and asked him to reconsider. They later clarified that they did not ‘at all like his personal style’.”

Tesla said in a Tuesday statement that it had lost nearly a quarter million dollars after the tweets on Monday – Monday being another “production hell” day for Tesla. Of course, it wasn’t the only loss, since the company announced plans to fire 2,500 workers who had been working on the Model 3.

One Wall Street report suggested that Musk did damage control this week to offset the huge cost of social media mishaps at his companies. “Insurance, marketing and PR experts consulted by the Journal said the losses could help shape decisions to train more workers on social media and possibly change the company’s disclosure rules, in which the S-1 filing identifies the CEO as the ‘primary spokesperson.’ ”

Of course, it’s not clear whether any moves by the company would have done much to stem the losses, but this story may also have helped Tesla in its cause.

The New York Times asked the CEO if he considered Tuesday’s flub a one-off, or indicative of a larger pattern of poor public relations by the company.

Elon said he was grateful that he did not have to tell the public what was going on inside the company, but, nonetheless, said “I’ve had enough of ‘I told you so,’ and have decided to set out why.

Our communications have not been as strong or consistent as we would like, and our efforts have not been as effective.”

We’ll just have to wait and see how the company follows up on all of this.

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