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Elon Musk’s summer of bad behavior hasn’t affected Tesla’s sales, but it has hurt its reputation

The new and used market for Teslas is booming.

Tesla vehicles stand outside of a Brooklyn showroom and service center on August 27, 2018  Spencer Platt / Getty
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Teslas, new and used, are flying off the lot, even while CEO Elon Musk has been behaving badly — and even while the associated bad press has diminished Americans’ overall opinion of the company.

Musk has engaged in a wide variety of un-CEO-like behaviors this year. Most recently, he had to pay a $20 million fine and agree to step down as Tesla chairman as part of a settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors on Twitter. (He falsely claimed to have “funding secured” to take the company private at the round number of $420.) He also called a diver trying rescue a children’s soccer team a pedophile, and he smoked weed on air with comedian Joe Rogan.

But it seems Tesla sales are continuing apace regardless of Musk’s extracurricular activities.

Tesla has seen pretty consistent weekly sales from July through September, according to data from Second Measure, a company that analyzes anonymized credit card data and looked at the frequency of $2,500 configuration fees Tesla buyers paid shortly before getting their cars. Meanwhile, U.S. vehicle sales as a whole plummeted in September compared to a year earlier, thanks in part to the impact of Hurricane Florence.

But 2018 has already been a record year for electric vehicles sales, with Tesla’s Model 3 being the most-sold EV in the U.S.

Tesla wouldn’t comment on how the recent news has affected sales but referred us to its production and deliveries announcement earlier this month, in which the company said it was meeting its production targets and that demand for Teslas “remains high.”

That demand continues on the secondary market.

Used Teslas spend less time on the market — 26 days — than other cars, which take 30 days on average to sell, according to used car site CarGurus. There are about 1,800 Teslas on the platform.

Teslas also hold their value more in resale.

On average, a 2015 Tesla Model S is listed for nearly 70 percent of its original price, compared with 66 percent for non-Tesla cars from the 2015 model year and 61 percent for 2015 non-Tesla luxury cars. Teslas fare much better than electric cars in general, which are listed at just 37 percent of their original value. (EVs decline in value more precipitously than regular cars thanks to a federal tax credit on new EVs. Note that as a relatively new car company, Tesla vehicles are much rarer than other car makes, so limited availability also factors into its demand and cost.)

Teslas are also seeing high demand in the sharing economy.

Telsa is currently the second-most-searched-for carmaker on car-sharing app Turo behind BMWs, a position Tesla has retained for the most part since 2016, when Turo first started tracking search data. It’s also the most commonly rented car in the “Deluxe” category for cars worth $55,000 or more, beating out Porsche, Maserati, BMW and Mercedes Benz, according to Turo, which has more than 4,000 Teslas available on its app. Teslas cost on average $142 per day to rent on the platform, more than three times the average car.

Tesla’s public perception is another story.

Despite the demand for Teslas, Americans’ impression of the electric car company is at an all-time low, according to data from YouGov Brand Index, which tracks consumer sentiment toward brands through daily online surveys. Musk’s behavior this summer has compounded the deleterious effect of technical problems in late March and early April, including a deadly autopilot crash, a Model S recall and production target misses.

Consumers’ impression of the brand — on a scale of 100 for “very positive” to -100 for “very negative” — has declined more than 80 percent this year, placing itself well below the auto industry at large.

Tesla demand could lose steam as it fills its order backlog and its $7,500 federal tax credit expires, but for now the bad press hasn’t affected sales.

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