Kevork Djansezian--Getty Images
By Ben Geier
October 28, 2014

Elon Musk has been using Twitter (TWTR) for everything it’s worth recently. First, he sent out the unfortunately-worded tweet where he announced it was “time to unveil the D,” later revealed to be a new version of the Tesla Model S.

And now, the electric car company CEO is using his social networking profile to throw shade at Wall Street Journal reports saying that sales of Tesla’s (TSLA) were down year-over-year — reports that sent the stock plummeting in the afternoon.

“Article in @WSJ re Tesla sales is incorrect,” the tweet reads. “September was a record high WW and up 65% year-over-year in North America.”

The WSJ article claimed Ward’s Auto data had Tesla sales down for September — unlike most auto companies, Tesla only reports sales quarterly, not monthly, according to CNBC. Though the stock plunged yesterday after the WSJ story, it was up more than 3% in pre-market trading after Musk’s tweet.

However, Ward’s Auto data seem to be what the WSJ reports. They say Tesla sold 1,577 cars in the U.S. in Sept. 2014, compared with 1,700 in Sept. 2013, an 11% drop. For the first nine months, Tesla sold 10,335 cars in the U.S., down 26% from 12 months earlier.

Now, this doesn’t mean Musk isn’t telling the truth. He’s well within his rights to focus on global sales, or to highlight growth in the North American business. But he is, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, guilty of some terminological inexactitude when he says “Article in @WSJ re Tesla sales is incorrect.” It clearly isn’t.

All of which begs the question: why is Elon Musk so upset about a story that he seeks to diss it with a misleading counter-claim? It is not typically the action of someone talking from a position of strength.

It’s also curious to see Musk taking issue with the WSJ’s reporting that Tesla is offering incentives on leased vehicles. He claims that the lower prices on leases are just the result of a deal with US Bank, and that Tesla’s revenue does not change. Of course, if the company is offering incentives, it would be a clear sign that things are not as peachy as Musk claims, since car companies tend to offer incentives when sales are soft and they need to move metal.

As Barclays analyst Brian A. Johnson said in a note to clients Monday: “With a lower monthly payment, we see this as a positive to help support Model S sales – but perhaps a recognition that the pace of Model S deliveries in the U.S. had perhaps plateaued and needed a sales boost.”

We won’t know for certain until Tesla publishes its results next week. If the company beats expectations, then it will delight all those excited by the success of something as radical and innovative as Musk’s electric car.

But until then, there will be a nagging doubt that Tesla’s high-priced vehicles don’t look so much of a bargain with gas prices at $3 a gallon or below. And there will be some hard thinking ahead if, as Goldman Sachs suggests, oil prices spend the next year between $75-$80 a barrel. Low oil prices favor traditional technologies, just as high prices encourage alternative ones.

Geoff Smith contributed to this story.

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