What I Learned After Partying With Some Of Tesla’s Biggest Fans

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If you’ve been an internet user at all in the past month or more, chances are you’ve run into some drama regarding Twitter and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. If you’ve read our work for long enough, perhaps you’ve even read our articles about Tesla and the company’s fandom. And perhaps, maybe you’ve grown to have an expectation of what a hardcore Tesla fan is like (obnoxious). I recently went to a huge Tesla party at the Petersen Automotive Museum and mingled with some of Tesla’s biggest fans. It was an eye-opening party, and one that taught me that there’s a lot to loving Tesla.

On November 19, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California held a celebration to commemorate an impressive exhibit. Located in the museum is Inside Tesla: Supercharging the Electric Revolution. The new display is a massive collection of much of Tesla’s history all in one place. Weirdly, the exhibition largely skips over the company’s original founders and jumps right to Elon’s initial investment. But it does cover so much, including Tesla’s lesser known ventures, such as providing batteries for the first American phase of the Smart Electric Drive program.

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There was also an entire wiring harness floating in the air:

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Plus, check out the exploded view of this Model Y:

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The ribbon-cutting ceremony for this exhibition wasn’t exactly a media event. Instead, it was an assemblage of some of Tesla’s biggest fans. Tesla fans came in from all over, even from across multiple states, just to come to an event that was just three and a half hours-long. Heck, Elon wasn’t even there (though head design Franz von Holzhausen was). That’s how dedicated these people are to this brand. And among those superfans were just some of your favorite Autopian writers, David, Jason, and myself.

If you’ve read our work for long enough, you’re probably well-aware that we are willing to be critical of Tesla when we feel it’s necessary. Heck, our automation expert Jason once went into a wolf’s den and debated Warren Redlich, a self-proclaimed fanboy of Tesla and Elon Musk. That debate went over an hour and a half, and saw Redlich flexing his attorney muscles, making the debate seem more like a cross-examination. Historically, Jason has been vocal on his issues with Tesla’s marketing, the Full Self Driving Beta system, Autopilot, and much more.

[Editor’s Note: Of all of us Autopians at the party, I likely had the most contentious history with Tesla fans, and my interactions hadn’t always been great. Once on a press trip, a Tesla fan asked to take a picture with me, and I agreed, only to have him grab my neck, imitating strangling, when the pic was taken. I don’t mind pretending to be non-erotically strangled, necessarily, but who does that shit without asking? Anyway, not all Tesla fans/employees are like that. I had a wonderful conversation with a Tesla battery engineer and his sleep scientist-wife and they were charming and knowledgeable and everything you’d want your battery engineer to be. He had interesting ideas on the best analogies to describe how electricity works, too. – JT]

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So you’d think, as we did, that hanging out with Tesla’s biggest fans would surely result in a less-than-ideal time. We weren’t hiding, either. David and I went around talking to many Tesla owners throughout the night. We wanted to know how they got into Tesla, what they love, and how they feel about Elon. Whenever we talked to the other attendees, we openly admitted that we’re formerly of The Lighting Site. And we openly admitted that we don’t own Teslas and we aren’t the biggest fans (though we respect the engineering and vision). Yet, at least for me, the responses that we got weren’t just unexpected, but actually pretty sweet.

One of the more memorable discussions that we had that night was with a father and a son. For them, Tesla was more than just a car. Owning a Tesla meant having something of status. Hearing them describe owning a Tesla reminded me of how my mom talks about owning a Mercedes-Benz once. To them, Teslas were a physical example of “making it.” Owning a Tesla meant doing something right in their life. The son couldn’t wait until he got a Tesla of his own. And I respect that. For me, buying my first Smart was like that. Coming home with that car meant that I worked hard, and played my cards right. And now, those cars for me are a first-generation Tesla Roadster and an Audi R8 V10.

Speaking of ICE-powered cars, these Tesla fans said that they were still enthusiasts of internal combustion vehicles. They loved the sorts of poster cars found in the Petersen Automotive Museum. However, given the winds of change in the world, they feel that EVs are the future, and Tesla still has a measurable lead on everyone else. These Tesla fans liked Elon’s direction for Tesla, though they agree that everyone would probably be better off if Elon pumped the brakes on his Tweets.

[Editor’s Note: I recall the father telling me about how he’d been told by a friend, way back around 2009, to “Check out this Elon guy” because he was doing things that nobody thought possible. The gentleman, named Barber, kept using the term “FUD” — fear of uncertainty and doubt. He liked that Tesla has been proving the haters wrong. I can respect that. -DT]. 

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This type of story was pretty common throughout the night. A number of the people that I talked to bought their Teslas as a treat to themselves for working hard. Many of these people weren’t tech “bros,” lawyers, or venture capitalists, but engineers, artists, real estate agents, and more. These were regular people working cool jobs. Some of them were more sympathetic to Elon than others, but most of the Tesla enthusiasts here didn’t seem really any different than hardcore fans of any brand, really.

But almost all of them had one shared concern, and it’s that they believe that Tesla is a low-hanging fruit for easy clicks. Basically, they feel that you’re probably more likely to read about a Tesla recall or crash over the same but about a different brand. A few of them elaborated that it’s not that problems shouldn’t be highlighted, but that those problems shouldn’t be turned into clickbait. And, I totally understand this, too. Back when Smart still sold cars in America, I found myself constantly rolling my eyes whenever someone on YouTube made a video calling Smarts “rolling coffins.” And for years, I saw a picture of a Volkswagen Crossfox crushed into the front of a truck being circulated as a Smart Fortwo crash. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said “they’re actually pretty safe!”

But going back to these people. Going to this party felt no different than going to a party for any other automaker. One lovely fan that I had a conversation with went all of the way to dress up as a SpaceX astronaut. Her helmet was 3D-printed, as were the Falcon rockets that she gave out to everyone she met (see below). Heck, her dancing made me want to dance!

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This party made me arrive at a realization, and it’s that loving cars can get complicated. Some of these people weren’t huge fans of Elon, yet still owned or wanted a Tesla. But, that’s not all that crazy. I still love Volkswagen despite Dieselgate and people love Mercedes-Benz despite its curious re-writing of history. Sometimes you love the car, but maybe not so much the strings that came attached to it.

Later in the night, David made a comment that stuck with me, and it’s that Tesla drivers are sort of in their own corner of car culture, even though many owners are not all that different from the rest of us. Tesla fans mod their cars, race them, break them, and wrench on them all the same. Sure, some are more passionate than others, but not even that is too different. David once got a death threat by an AMC stan for saying that an engine was bad [Editor’s Note: I can’t wait to publish that. -DT]. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t let any brand’s most rabid fans turn you away. I had a blast partying with Tesla’s fans, and I would totally do it again.

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64 Responses

  1. I get what they are saying about Tesla being used as clickbait. But that cuts both ways. Tesla gets disproportionate positive coverage of any “new” thing they do.

    I remember when the model X came out and much of the press lost their minds about how innovative and groundbreaking it was. I kept shouting to the void “they just raised their large sedan platform and put a bigger body on it! Literally every automaker is doing this! Okay they put unnecessary (but cool) doors on it. This isn’t ground breaking!)”

  2. I’ve been following Tesla since Alan Cocconi and the GM EV-1, and if you don’t understand those roots, you don’t know the engineering background behind Tesla.

    I bought Tesla stock in 2012 before the Model S was released, and my wife and I bought a 2 year old CPO Model S P85 in June of 2015. It has been our primary car since then, and we love it and intend on keeping it as long as we can.

    Elon was the right guy at the right time for Tesla. He was the motivator, the energy and the enthusiasm director (dictator) that the company needed, and they got it done. I never agreed with the ‘Tesla Deathclock’ crowd, or the people who insisted that Elon was the biggest Ponzi schemer ever. Just driving my car was enough to disprove that. But, it seems like the power went to his head.

    I’ve been disappointed with Mr Musk many times over the years for distracting himself with stupid, wasteful crap (Boring Company, Hyperloop and now Twitter) that didn’t have the same simplicity of mission that Tesla and SpaceX have. Twitter is the last straw for me. I sold all of my Tesla shares this morning. I keep thinking of putting sticker on my Model S that says something like “Tesla meant something different back in 2015…”

    Elon’s letting Tesla wither on the vine. I feel like he got it over the hill and now he’s bored with it and has lost interest.

    I found Cybertruck hilarious when it was unveiled, but now, the joke’s gone stale and the competitors are just getting the job done and putting out competent electric trucks.

    Where the hell is the Tesla Semi? I mean, come on! It should have been out delivering regional freight years ago, but its just puttering along, stagnating.

    And the new Roadster? Not that I’d be able to afford one, but its a way to keep excitement going for the brand.

    And no new Model S or X on the horizon. Just a yoke. Yay.

    1. If you invested $1000 in 2012, you got an $85,000 payout this morning.
      Congrats! If you were really smart and invested more than that, congrats on your retirement!
      I think it’s pretty awesome that with your newfound wealth courtesy of shitty Elon, the first thing you decided to do is come here to deride him on the internet.
      It’s a good analogy for Musk in general. He will improve and enrich our lives while simultaneously continuing to be a turd.

        1. He certainly enriched StayPut’s life, that is, if there’s any truth to their divestment story. Personally, I feel if the story were true they would be rather elated right now due to their newfound wealth. They make it sound like selling their Tesla stock is some kind of tragedy, when they just made 85 times their investment.
          It’s possible that the bad could outweigh the good in the end, whatever that means. Like sure we’ll be able to breath the air around our neighborhoods and live longer due to the lower prevalence of carcinogenic fumes everywhere, but alt-right people will also be allowed to post the N word on Twitter as much as they like.

    2. I’ve also been following Tesla for roughly the same amount of time.

      The fact is, Tesla wouldn’t have made as far as it as without the leadership of someone who was/is at least a little crazy

      The upside of that is he’s willing to try stuff that was unthinkable to everyone else in the industry… such as using “laptop batteries” in a BEV.

      I myself argued with *allegedly* technical people who swore up and down that lithium ion batteries couldn’t be used in BEVs due to heat and other issues… which struck me as idiotic since you have a much bigger heat management problem with the average turbocharged gas engine and the heat generated by Lithium batteries was nothing compared to that.

      As for where the Cybertruck, Roadster and Semi is… well these were delayed due to the bigger-than-expected success of the S, 3, X and Y… that left Tesla scrambling to expand production and satisfy demand for these existing models.

      If you were truly following Tesla closely in recent years, you would know that and you wouldn’t be asking such stupid questions.

    3. I’ve held Tesla stock since 2016 and it’s been a decent investment but still not enough for me to afford one of their cars. I’d like a Model3 but they haven’t come down in value and $60K is enough of a stretch for my budget that the build quality and repair issues you always hear about are enough to give me pause.
      I still think the company an amazing story that couldn’t have been done without Elon and I love reading about the Tesla and SpaceX accomplishments but damnit he gets distracted to easily. I seriously wish he had never heard of Twitter but then again I also wish I had never heard of Twitter.

    4. 1000% man. I started investing in TSLA in 2013, and it’s the majority of my portfolio.

      Elon’s recent antics have been damaging the brand, and reducing the demand for the cars. Are the sales still going up? Yes. But I know several people who USED to want a Tesla, and no longer want one because of his BS.

      There have been discussions about it in /r/teslainvestorclub, but the moderators lock and delete the threads whenever they come up. Anything but rainbows and sunshine about Elon will get you banned, even tho he’s actively hurting the brand. It sucks. My porfolio has tanked. He needs to shut up.

      1. it sounds like he’s just upset that Tesla is no longer the super-pointy tip of the spear it once was. Now its just a plain ole auto maker that focuses on making thousands of the same thing, day in and day out, in an attempt to make money for shareholders and keep people employed.

      2. GM put up huge financial numbers while also stagnating so badly it would make a swamp blush. When Toyota gets around to doing EVs properly I could very easily see them repeating history and eating Tesla’s lunch the way they did with GM decades ago.

        That said, Tesla does have a habit of proving haters wrong. It’s just a little concerning that they keep releasing warmed over versions of the current cars and the actual new product keeps getting delayed, and in the case of the Cybertruck seems completely impractical to the point where I think it’s valid to question whether it will ever actually make it into production. And I say this as someone who reserves vaporware claims for the truly disastrous cases like Faraday Future. The Cybertruck might not be on quite that level, but it’s close.

      3. you mean other than not updating models ever and having the same old tired design inside and out? they used to sell nearly 30k model S a year. now they sell about 10k. of course their sales numbers are rising every year, when you start at nothing its easy to go up especially as your production lines come online. but what have they really innovated in? they keep promising the world, and giving us fart noises.

        1. “they used to sell nearly 30k model S a year. now they sell about 10k”

          No… the only reason why they sold 11,500 Model S units last year was due to a production stoppage due to a major update.

          Now that the update is complete and production back up, they are on track to having the sales levels back in the 25K to 30K range. Case in point, they have already over 28,000 units this year:
          https://carsalesbase.com/us-tesla-model-s/

          Maybe next time, do a little homework before speaking/writing…

  3. Lets not forget that Henry Ford had some ahhh lets say less than delightful traits. I think mild insanity goes hand in hand with technological revolution. Not an excuse, I’m far from a Tesla fanboy.

  4. If you remove Elon from the situation and treat Tesla the car company as just a car company, you allow yourself to see them for what they are: A very important part of automotive history.

    We’ve now seen from other upstarts, some doing well, and some not, that what Tesla has created is special, and certainly worthy of fandom.

    About half of the design decisions made by Tesla leave me thinking “Who would deal with this?” Yet at the same time, there are people that will never have anything other than a mercedes, Ford, Chevrolet, Jeep, etc.

    In those rabid fan bases you will always find obnoxious people, but I think at the end of the day, most are just passionate about a a machine that has had a tangible, positive effect on their life. You three took time to seek that out, and God bless you for that.

    When I opened this article I wasn’t sure what to expect. But again and again, you guys and gals prove that your hearts are in the right place.

    I always love reading about groups of people that I’ve never encountered, and what motivates them to enjoy what they do.

    What a nice look into a different niche of automotive culture.

  5. Over the years I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable around rabid fans of about anything. It just seems to me that to be a rabid fan of a team, car, person, product, or amendment, one must suspend critical thinking to a certain degree. Rabid fandom is an identity a person takes on-and few people can handle having their identity attacked. Which is what rabid fans seem to feel is happening when asked questions about the object of their fandom. Even pertinent and reasonable questions.

    1. I think a lot of people have a need to identify with something, and that definitely extends to products. But you nailed it, it gets unhealthy when people see a negative viewpoint towards that product as an attack on their very personality. I’m well aware of all the flaws in modern Stellantis products, yet nothing makes me happy like a wrangler. So when I make a post in a FB car group that involves my Jeep, I almost have to guard myself against all the inevitable “it’s a piece of Chrysler trash” replies. You can’t take it personal, or you’ll just be miserable.

      Trouble is, the people that do take it personal and feel it’s their duty to defend X brand/team/culture are always the most vocal and obnoxious.

      1. *modification to original statement 1a: if you are an actual sports team fan who supports a team highly unlikely to have a positive win/loss ratio year in & year out, I am likely to be supportive of your fandom rather than dismissive. Because, in that case, you’re not trying to assume a bullet-proof identity: it’s more like you embrace the suck already
        I respect that as a fan of cheap POS cars

      1. I’d put her more in the Elon Musk enthusiast camp, since Tesla Inc. and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation are two totally separate, distinct companies, one publicly traded, one private, and the only direct connection to them is Musk himself.

        I mean, if someone showed up to a Stellantis event dressed up as a CNH tractor, would you think they were a Chrysler enthusiast, or a John Elkann groupie?

  6. “and it’s that Tesla drivers are sort of in their own corner of car culture,”

    There have been BEV fans for a long time. And I suspect there is a lot of commonality between Tesla fans and what were once GM EV1 fans.

    There seems to be an attitude among many in the auto industry that BEVs can only be generic, boring appliances that will ‘all be the same’.

    And the best thing Tesla did was prove that perception to be false.

    And the truth about Tesla’s history is that you need someone like Musk who has the combo of vision, money and *craziness* to do it.

    Of course now that Telsa as basically made it and is self-sustaining, that doesn’t magically put a stop to Musk’s craziness element… with his recent purchase purchase of Twitter being proof of this.

    So I’m still a fan of Musk for what he has achieved. And he has been right more often than he has been wrong.

    And for all those who say they won’t buy a Tesla because Musk say something, well to that I say you had also never buy a Ford… because Henry Ford and his buddies who ran Ford (not to mention Henry Ford II) said and did many awful things as well that makes anything Musk has said/done look like nothing.

    And I bet I could find similar crap the founders of other major car companies said and did.

  7. I’ve been thinking for awhile that some positive articles on tesla are warranted. Something about the technical side would probably be a hit.
    Don’t get me wrong.I’m more critical of their bad points than any writer on this site.It just feels like the right thing to do.

  8. FUD stands for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Not fear of uncertainty and doubt as in the note in the article.

    Spreading FUD was a strategy Microsoft employed to sway buyers towards Microsoft products. E.g. will product x be around in a couple of years? Do you really know if product x actually works? Etc.

  9. For them, Tesla was more than just a car. Owning a Tesla meant having something of status. Hearing them describe owning a Tesla reminded me of how my mom talks about owning a Mercedes-Benz once. To them, Teslas were a physical example of “making it.”

    As long as Tesla has this brand perception and a huge lead in the charging infrastructure space they’re going to be fine. The question is whether they can keep both of those things long-term.

    Also, is there any proper way to quote things here? Adding quote marks around a sentence that already ends in a quote is kind of awkward.

  10. Frankly i am an Elon fan but not Tesla I like the whole FU i am rich ill do what i want because like me if i were that rich i dont have enough middle fingers to flip everyone off. And 99% of the human race would do the same or far worse. Heck many would buy an island and live in splendor he is investing and trying to improve things. But reading this article reminds me of my parents opinion of Cadilac. But here is what i know Cadilac took awhile to build a reputation and kept it ny changing slowly and started decline slowly because no quick changes. Now Tesla did everything quick but expect them to get to the top of the mountain and quickly decline because thats how it works.

  11. This article contains so many of the reasons I love this site so much. Among them: an open-hearted description of a subculture that’s often used as a punching bag for lesser, more cynical auto journalists.

    Never change, fellow Autopians. Never change.

  12. “Weirdly, the exhibition largely skips over the company’s original founders and jumps right to Elon’s initial investment.”
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting this right up front. Nearly everyone wants to turn any interesting conversation about Tesla (or SpaceX) into an annoying conversation about Musk.

    Mind, dude’s really hurting $TSLA while he Tweets at windmills.

  13. Elon is the Steve Jobs of the modern era. A complete prick, and also polarizing enough to get acolytes to follow him even though he is not a very good person on most accounts. I guess we shall see if the multiple crops of competing BEV’s take out Tesla (ala Apple in the 80’s and then see if Elon can find the smart phone of cars in the future?

  14. It’s my opinion that anyone that uses the term FUD is someone to stay away from. It’s more commonly used in crypto/web3 circles, so seeing it in a Tesla context is not surprising at all.

    FUD means, “I dismiss all criticism, valid or not, and am blindly drinking the Kool-Aid.”

    1. No, FUD means “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt”.

      It’s a common tactic that many companies in many industries (including the auto industry) have used against competitors products… especially when the competitor has tech that others don’t have.

      Hell… I watched a Jay Leno’s Garage video where there was an ad put out by a car company that was spreading FUD about those newfangled Overhead Valve Engines being unserviceable compared to the ‘tried and true’ flathead engine.

      1. Other than the S, Tesla are bland, boring, and sterile designs inside and out. The S has a lovely body, but the rest have blunt, bluff noses have all the visual presentation of a unwrinkled forehead. Blobby and misshapen, the bodies are as unattractive as cheap refrigerators. The interior design brief seems to be “what is the absolute minimum we can put in here and still call it a car?” Shit design all the way down since the S.

      2. I have seen washer and dryer sets that have more visual appeal than a Tesla. Usually a better user interface as well.

        Performance isn’t everything. There’s a reason that people still love MGs and NA Miatas.

  15. Honestly the way I feel about Tesla I think it’s the reliable generic car that you have when you need one but it happens to accelerate very fast and not have a polluting exhaust. To be frank I’ve never seen a single production Tesla standard automobile that has gotten me excited (I’m excited for the Semi though). All Teslas come in boring colors from the factory, their options are pretty lacking in terms of customization, etc.

    Honestly the Cybertruck is the only Tesla I can see myself getting in the near future is a Cybertruck. No paint to get scratched, super thick steel that is resistant to dents, height adjustable air suspension, etc.

    Honestly my goal would be to own the Cybertruck long enough in gets a light surface rust over the stainless steel body.

  16. Tesla owner of many years here. Thanks for this article. To me, Tesla has one of the best articulated, most inspiring mission statements of any company out there: “To accelerate the transition to sustainable energy”. It is so precise and yet so full of hope.

    At the same time, I am allergic to cult of personality in any form. So I am a big fan of both Tesla and SpaceX not because of the guy, but despite the guy. Way before the guy even started going full on Howard Hughes. I hope the Twitter saga shines a brighter light on the true role that the amazing teams at Tesla and SpaceX have in their continued success. It does not get enough attention that those companies are not a one man show.

    Also, being a fan of Tesla, I wish they did some things better. Autopilot should not be called Autopilot, their customer service is uneven at best, and their quality control can be rather sloppy at times. Those things shouldn’t be just ignored or dismissed, because they hinder their pursuit of their mission statement. If they can do better, they should do better.

    I am around and happy to answer any questions, since I suddenly realized that I might be a bit of a rarity in this corner of the internet 🙂

  17. They are right about Tesla being used to draw clicks. It seems like the top shot of almost every morning shift at jalopnik is a Tesla. I hope the Autopian can stay away from that trap, although Tesla does just naturally make a lot of news.

    1. I’ve worked with tesla in a number of roles over the years, lots of good folks working there. Unfortunately, just about all of them were either burnt out, or on their way to being burnt out. Musk treats his employees like shit, which is at the top of the list for reasons why I loathe him.

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