Trust, Risk, and Resiliency: Tesla vs. the Grey Lady

Tesla (Motors, not Nikola) lent a reporter one of their new electric cars. Reporter decides to try a two-day, 500 mile trip to experience Tesla’s free-electricity “supercharging” stations along the way.

Reporter writes up the experience as an unfunny Chevy Chase trip, complete with flatbed tow truck.

Tesla gets the car back, has a look at the logs, and realizes the reporter just pulled a hatchet job… not only were there — if not outright lies — some very misleading phrasings in the article, but the reporter intentionally ran the car out of juice so he could call a tow.

This having turned into a full-on all-singing all-dancing all-mud-slinging media circus, CNN borrows the same model of Tesla car and repeats the drive. Successfully this time, saying it “wasn’t that hard.”

From Tesla’s perspective, we have a pretty good example of risk, precautions, and resiliency to analyze.

Now, Tesla is not a risk-averse venture. No doubt courtesy Elon Musk’s childhood in South Africa and his experiences with PayPal and space travel, the guy is no stranger to danger.

Tesla’s even been screwed over by the press before, most famously when Top Gear showed Clarkson’s crew pushing a Tesla sedan that hadn’t actually run out of juice.

On the other hand, media relations carries an extremely high upside risk for Tesla. For the product they have to sell, press coverage of equal or greater effectiveness than national advertising is attainable. (Unlike most car companies, Tesla has a pretty badass story to tell.)

To mitigate some of the risk that comes with subjecting a potentially disruptive product to media scrutiny — hatchet jobs — Tesla’s made a point of turning on logging for every car they loan to a reporter.

This mitigation doesn’t actually prevent the negative event from occurring. The reporter can still write whatever they like. However, it does provide Tesla with some resiliency.

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from a negative event. (vs robustness = being less affected by it, and survivability = ability to keep going in some reduced fashion no matter what)

In this case, that resiliency is being able to reduce or counteract the negative impact of deceitful press coverage by pointing out that the logs show the reporter’s full of it.

“A reviewer in the New York Times said recently that he failed to make it, setting off a war of words with Tesla founder Elon Musk, who said the Times review was a “fake.” […]

On Thursday, I took the same drive — and I made it to Boston, though not without some anxiety that I would run out of juice. […]

In the end, I made it — and it wasn’t that hard. […]

But I didn’t have to take it that easy, which is good because the Model S provides a pretty amazing mix of smooth and silent performance along with brain-squishing acceleration.”

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