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Elon Musk’s “Teslaquila” hits a speed bump

It’s hard to be a visionary.

A man in a field harvesting blue agave pine cones for tequila
A man harvesting blue agave for actual tequila in Jalisco.
LightRocket/Getty Images

Tesla co-founder and CEO (but no longer Tesla chair) Elon Musk has many bold ideas. He has ideas about electric cars. He has ideas about rocket ships. He has ideas about radical mass transit systems that so far don’t exist but someday might.

He also has ideas about tequila — specifically an as-yet-hypothetical spirit he’s dubbed “Teslaquila.” Unfortunately, Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT), which governs what can legally be considered tequila in the US and Mexico, has gotten wind of these ideas — and it is not pleased.

Like all the best ideas, Musk’s tequila vision was first introduced with an April Fool’s Day tweet.

Then, because he is not you or me but Elon Musk, Tesla filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office in October to trademark “Teslaquila.” According to CNBC, the trademark is for “distilled agave liquor” and “distilled blue agave liquor.”

He then tweeted a “visual approximation” of what “Teslaquila” might look like, when and if such a product were to exist.

At The Verge, Elizabeth Lopatto makes the case that, while it is easy to make fun of, this is actually not a terrible idea. “Merch is normal for high-end automakers,” she writes, noting that Porsche sells earbuds, and Maserati sells a keychain that is a leather oval and costs $163. Tesla would be part of a grand tradition. And starting a tequila brand is a popular celebrity hobby, the way regular people knit. Justin Timberlake has one, Diddy has one, and George Clooney had one, until he sold it for approximately $1 billion.

The tequila business is notoriously difficult — the space is very crowded, waste is a problem, and agave is in dangerously short supply — but that makes it an attractive fit for Musk, Lopatto speculates. He is a man who likes hard things. For example, in addition to launching Teslaquila, he is trying to colonize Mars.

But now there is a new difficulty: The CRT is arguing that the “name ‘Teslaquila’ evokes the word Tequila ... [and] Tequila is a protected word,’” reports Reuters, explaining that the council has strict rules about what constitutes tequila, including that the spirit must be produced in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas. Timberlake, for example, worked with the Tequilera Newton distillery in Jalisco; Clooney, after an arduous two-year search, worked with an unnamed “master distiller” in the same state.

“If [Tesla] wants to make Teslaquila viable as a tequila it would have to associate itself with an authorized tequila producer, comply with certain standards and request authorization from Mexico’s Industrial Property Institute,” said the CRT in a statement. “Otherwise it would be making unauthorized use of the denomination of origin for tequila.”

The CRT’s concern is that the proposed name, “Teslaquila,” could trick people into thinking it was true tequila, which, by definition, it wouldn’t be without approval from the CRT, as the organization has the right to control the designation of tequila in both Mexico and the US. Were Teslaquila, which has not yet been approved by the patent office and also may or may not be a joke, to go forward without approval, Fortune warns, the company could “find itself being sued by the Mexican government.”

Presumably, Teslaquila is not Musk’s top priority, compared to other things, like making Tesla profitable and ending traffic jams in Los Angeles. But of all the reasons this particular vision might not become reality, Musk says regulation isn’t one of them. In response to a story about the issue, published by the electric vehicle site InsideEVs, he tweeted that he was prepared to “fight Big Tequila!”

Such is the struggle to create the future.