Elon Musk’s Divisive Persona Is Harming Tesla’s Reputation, Data Finds

As Tesla begins facing competition from legacy automakers, its divisive boss isn’t helping it win any popularity contests.

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A photo of Elon Musk in a Tesla factory.
Elon Musk, dreaming of a time when 35 percent of people didn’t hate him.
Photo: Christian Marquardt - Pool (Getty Images)

Just a few years ago, Tesla was the only electric car maker most people would even consider buying. Its impressive range and, at the time, sleek styling made it an easy choice for anyone to cut down their gas bill. Another factor in its meteoric rise was enigmatic boss Elon Musk, who picked up adoring fans around the world with his very special brand of eco messaging.

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But 2023 is a very different place to 2012, when the revolutionary Model S first launched. Now, anyone in the market for an EV has some compelling options from the likes of Mercedes, Polestar and startups like Rivian to choose from.


Furthermore, Musk is viewed as a wildly different boss to how he was back then. In the past year, his reputation has practically crumbled around him as he tried to buy Twitter, attempted to back out of the deal and was basically forced to take over the social media platform. As soon as he did, he then fired most of its staff and publicly mocked a disabled employee.

An arial photo of Tesla cars parked in a parking lot.
Tesla’s reputation is taking a hammering.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Now, a new report from Vox shows just how damaging this behavior has been to the electric car company. According to the site, “some data suggests” that Musk’s antics at Twitter are changing peoples’ opinion about owning a Tesla. Vox reports:

“For starters, Tesla is no longer the only game in town when it comes to EVs. Plenty of automakers now compete in the market, and they seem to be making headway. A year ago, for instance, 17 percent of potential EV buyers told surveyors at YouGov that their first choice was a Tesla — more than any other brand. Now that number has dropped to 9 percent, outpaced by both Toyota and BMW.

“That sentiment seems to be turning up in actual sales, too. Tesla’s US market share declined to 58 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022, down from 78 percent a year earlier.”


Obviously, there are all manner of other reasons why you might not want to buy a Tesla right now. The automaker is currently under investigation for its self-driving claims and its ability to properly attach steering wheels to its car. On top of that, the options from the likes of Hyundai and Porsche are mighty compelling.

A photo of Elon Musk carrying a bathroom sink.
The man who has everything, except a kitchen sink.
Photo: Various Sources / AFP (Getty Images)

But, while the YouGov survey didn’t explicitly ask EV buyers what they thought of Musk it did ask what they thought of his car brand. And, it turns out, the company’s reputation has been going down since last spring, when Musk’s Twitter debacle kicked into overdrive.

Then, by the time the world’s former richest person finally got his hands on the social media platform, YouGov found that Tesla’s net favorability score had gone into the red, which Vox says meant “more people disliked the company than liked it.”


According to YouGov, Tesla’s favorability in the past year peaked in May when it hit 6.7 percent. Its lowest point came in January 2023, when it hit -3.9 percent. Now, the company’s rating is floating around -3 percent.

If opinions of Tesla are in the red, that’s nothing compared to the public rating of Musk. According to YouGov, the number of people that view the Tesla CEO in a negative light has jumped from 23 percent of those polled up to 35 percent, as Vox reports:

“There is, however, potential upside for Musk: While more people dislike Musk than before, more people also like Musk than ever before. Whether those new Musk fans are Tesla buyers, or will ever become Tesla buyers, is a question we can’t answer at the moment.”

A photo of two Tesla superchargers.
If there was a time to supercharge Tesla’s reputation, it would be now.
Photo: Brandon Bell (Getty Images)

Now, the automaker needs to sit back and focus on what it does best, building electric cars. That way, it can let its own reputation attempt to overshadow that of its enigmatic founder. Otherwise, successes like its impressive Supercharger rollout risk being lost in all the noise.