Elon Musk’s Tesla suffers huge hit in closely watched brand reputation poll

Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Win McNamee/Staff—Getty Images

Elon Musk’s Tesla suffered a shocking plunge in reputation among the top 100 most visible brands in America in a closely watched survey of consumers.

Every year the Harris Poll surveys U.S. consumers, using a framework devised and employed since 1999. In conjunction with Axios, the duo calculate a reputation quotient, or RQ, based on various attributes including trust, culture, ethics, and vision.

According to the 25th annual RQ study, Tesla’s score fell 6.4% to 74.3 out of a possible 100. Only U.K. energy group BP, best known for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, saw a greater percentage decline in reputation, with a 6.6% decline, from the 2022 results.

However, as Tesla was ranked so highly in the previous year, this meant it fell much further than BP in the table.

Musk’s company plunged 50 places to 62nd, behind even Volkswagen Group, whose 2015 diesel emissions fraud cost it over €32 billion ($35 billion) in cumulative fines, settlements, and recalls.  

While only one data point, the Axios Harris poll results could raise further concern that Elon Musk’s controversial management of Twitter, including his own amplification of alt-right conspiracy theories, is hurting his crown jewel.

Last week he went so far as to say he didn’t care if his companies lost business because of what he chooses to say.

Musk is undoubtedly the most influential entrepreneur in the world whose every personal view is reported worldwide.

Nevertheless, the Tesla CEO has argued he should not be judged any differently from the average Twitter user just because he happens to have over 140 million followers.

Broad-based declines including in culture and trust

Whether this played a factor and, if not, what exactly prompted this ranking drop is difficult to pinpoint as Axios Harris could only offer theories based on responses from the 16,300-odd people surveyed in the latter half of March. 

The plunge was however broad-based with the individual components all declining across the board. 

The most significant drop off came in categories like culture—whether a specific company is a good employer—where Tesla fell to 75th place from 14th a year earlier. Another was ethics—whether a company maintains high standards: Here Musk’s carmaker fell to 72nd from 36th. 

In an Axios podcast debating the ranking, the publication’s own media reporter Sara Fischer attempted to flesh out the responses, arguing that Americans were no longer flocking toward entrepreneurs that promised the moon.  

“A lot of those types of big idea companies and big tech moguls have let Americans down,” she argued on Tuesday. 

One of those is the eccentric centibillionaire who polarized America with his ill-advised and overpriced takeover of Twitter just as the tech and media industry saw valuations plunge on the back of a historic interest rate rise. 

“He’s had to dump a lot of Tesla’s stock,” she argued, adding shareholders furthermore felt his purchase of Twitter meant he simultaneously neglected the EV carmaker right at a time when incumbents are rolling out a raft of new Tesla competitors. “I don’t think Tesla is this shiny new object.”

At the very top of the list this year was Patagonia, which Axios has said routinely ranks in the top 10 among many categories polled. At the very bottom was Donald Trump’s organization.

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