By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. The Internet has been a life-changing force for a long time now. The immediacy of it is almost incomprehensible at times and the access to information is simply staggering. That it has been transformative doesn’t even begin to describe the effect that the Internet has had on our lives.
And though we take the Internet for granted, sometimes it’s worthwhile to take a deep breath even for a millisecond and consider what it was like before it arrived and what our lives have become with it in full force.
Has it all been rainbows and lollipops? No, because there’s a virulent underside to the Internet that has begun to rapidly erode the positive euphoria that has been part and parcel of its overwhelming presence.
The Internet has, in effect, turned over the rock on the proverbial anthill, unleashing a swarm of petulant belligerence, rampant asshole-ism and enough outrageously bad behavior to cast a pall of negativity on what once was a conveyance that pointed to a bright future and the promise of “What if?”
It’s no secret that the basic tenets of this country’s fundamental ideal of freedom of the press have taken an intense drubbing in the Internet age. Reporting has been replaced with rancor at every turn, and it’s almost as if misinformation has become the currency of the Internet.
Nowhere was this more evident than in last week’s reporting – and vehement counterattack – of a burgeoning problem with Tesla Model S suspension failures by Edward Niedermeyer and Bertel Schmitt, the editors of the Daily Kanban website. In a story entitled “Tesla Suspension Breakage: It’s Not The Crime, It’s The Coverup” Niedermeyer reported everything that had transpired to date, summarizing the evidence, the exchange between a Tesla Model S owner and the company (the owner had to sign an NDA after Tesla agreed to compensate him for half of his expenses), the subsequent belligerent badgering from Tesla zealots on the Internet and the company’s ham-fisted attempt at "managing the crisis" by its miserable excuse for a PR staff.
Two passages from Niedermeyer’s report stand out:
“This offer, to repair a defective part in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement, is unheard of in the auto industry. More troublingly, it represents a potential assault by Tesla Motors on the right of vehicle owners to report defects to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s complaint database, the auto safety regulators sole means of discovering defects independent of the automakers they regulate.”
“But the most troubling aspect of this affair is not the defect itself, or even Tesla’s possible use of a TSB instead of a recall. Defects happen to every automaker, and the line between a safety-related and non-safety-related defect can be subtle. The aspect of this story that demands explanation is not the crime, but the cover-up: why did Tesla demand an NDA from an owner in exchange for repairs to a defective vehicle? Even if there is a legitimate reason for such an agreement, Tesla should have made it explicitly clear that the agreement in no way infringes on an owners right to report defects to NHTSA.”
This story got out of hand so quickly and achieved such a level of head-shaking ridiculousness that it is still roiling the Internet. Tesla PR itself fueled the stupidity by insinuating that Niedermeyer and his “associates have something financial to gain by negatively affecting Tesla’s stock price.” Remember, this accusatory insinuation was made by an allegedly professional PR staff, which was then exacerbated and compounded by a furious onslaught from Tesla fanboys, who, consistent with what the Internet has become, vilified Niedermeyer and Schmitt in what can only be described as a full-on Trumpian display of out-of-control vitriol and stupefying wrongheadedness.
Niedermeyer (and Schmidtt, separately) even went so far as to feel compelled to make official declarations that they “never did own, nor do I own, nor do I plan to own, Tesla Motors shares, puts, calls, or any derivatives that would gain in value through price swings in Tesla Motors stock.”
The entire episode has turned into a Shit Show of epic proportions.
In comments posted on June 13th, Schmitt wrote, “As Tesla said in a blog post previous to the one above, ‘this is not a legal issue,’ at least not at this point in time. ‘It is a moral issue.’ A company with such high morals should not sink to the levels of inflaming thugs to stomp out independent journalism. Tesla’s declared mission is to 'change the world.’ We do not want to live in a changed world reigned by bullies, or in a world without a free press.”
The upshot of all of this? Despite Tesla leveling flat-out false insinuations against Niedermeyer and Schmitt, pitchfork-wielding fanboys spewing the now-obligatory Internet-sanctioned hatred, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk launching his typically juvenile brand of snide tweets from off on the sidelines, Tesla has confirmed that – like Musk himself – the company believes that it can, no, it absolutely insists that it has a fundamental right to operate outside the bounds of basic corporate responsibility, because its mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” And Elon & Co. will stomp, cajole, badger, intimidate and destroy anything in its path, or anyone who deigns to utter a negative peep about their collective brilliance.
After this episode, if I was charged with crafting a new – and more accurate - mission theme line for Tesla, using the parlance of our times, of course, it would be something like this: We’re Tesla. And you’re not. So go fuck yourselves.
As bad as this whole Tesla episode is, and as bad as Tesla’s response was – both officially and unofficially – I have to say that none of it surprises me. Not even a little bit. After seventeen years of writing about the mindset of CEOs and their PR minions, I can confidently say that I have an uncanny knack for understanding what drives them, both good and bad. I’ve covered a long list of CEOs over the years and nailed them for exactly who they are, as opposed to what their PR minions want you to believe. And Elon Musk is only the latest in a long line of egomaniacal miscreants.
And in fact, as I’ve said recently, His Holiness Elon Musk and The Great Sergio Marchionne share some frightening similarities. 1. They’re both brilliant and fancy themselves as the smartest guy in the room, any room. 2. In their minds they know what’s best for everyone and everything, and the sooner we all capitulate to their whims and wishes the better off we’ll all be. 3. They’re never, ever wrong. (They may be misinterpreted, or something may have been attributed to them that they never actually said, even though they actually did in fact say it, or unexpected economic factors may have reared their ugly head and thrown the timing of their “Plan” askew, but they’re never, ever wrong.) And 4. Hordes of dimwit dullards – especially in the press - inevitably conspire to derail their brilliant plans by their sheer, unfettered inability to understand even the basics. Of anything. (I should have mentioned Dan Akerson, too, but I so loathe that retired President Emeritus of Unctuous Prick University that it makes me throw up in my mouth a little just to think of that unmitigated asshole.)
Is the Tesla Model S an excellent automotive execution? Yes. Did automotive veterans, many of whom are from right here in the Motor City, help bring it to life? Yes. Will Elon Musk ever acknowledge that fact? No. Has Elon Musk ever been wrong about what Tesla could be, as opposed to skipping over what it actually is? Yes. Do Teslas have quality and reliability problems, some of which are serious and demand formal recalls? Yes. Will Elon Musk & Co. ever acknowledge those negatives without vilifying the journalists who report them or the owners who are insolent and disrespectful enough to report them? Oh hell no.
It’s a time-honored formula in the car business when it comes right down to it: Take one so-called “brilliant” egomaniacal executive who overpromises and underdelivers on a regular basis, add in some absurd projections about production schedules for future vehicles and profitability, throw in some built-in belligerence toward the press and some PR sycophants/attack dogs and it all equals about 1,000 kw of Not Good.
I have seen this movie before, and it never ends well.
Over the years of doing Autoextremist.com I have been vilified, investigated, chastised, dismissed, crucified, excoriated and subjected to every other accusation imaginable by any number of CEOs and their spineless weasel PR minions. And it all adds up to the same pathetic drill: tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Niedermeyer and Schmitt did an excellent job exposing the Emperor’s New Clothes, in this case Musk and his small-minded Internet attack dogs’ penchant for excoriating the peasants who would deign to question his brilliance.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.