Prior to opening the user poll asking if he should step down as Twitter’s CEO, Musk said he would abide by its results — though he has repeatedly flip-flopped on previous pledges. But the possibility that he will stop managing Twitter appears to be seen as good new among Tesla investors.
The automaker’s stock has tumbled more than 60% since the South African-born entrepreneur announced plans to purchase Twitter, with a 30% dip since the deal was completed. But after hitting a 52-week low last Friday, Tesla shares started to rebound in overnight trading.
One question left to be answered is how much damage Musk has done, both to his own reputation and to Tesla’s. In the weeks since taking over Twitter he has taken a number of controversial steps, including reinstating the accounts of Holocaust deniers, while suspending a number of journalists. The far right bent of many of his personal tweets have alienated those on the other side of the political spectrum — with data suggesting that they tend to make up a major share of Tesla buyers.
“Tesla has no working CEO”
Complicating matters, critics contend Musk, a classic micromanager, has left Tesla to drift while focused on Twitter. “Elon abandoned Tesla and Tesla has no working CEO,” said KoGuan Leo, Tesla’s third-largest shareholder with holdings worth $3.4 billion. “Tesla needs and deserves to have working full-time CEO.”
Leo called on Tesla’s board to appoint a professional manager to run the automaker. His comments were made prior to the Twitter poll asking about Musk’s future as CEO. It is not clear if Leo might be satisfied if Musk shifts his attention back to Tesla.
If and when Musk might step down as Twitter’s chief executive is uncertain. In a recent tweet he said, “No one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive,” adding, “There is no successor.”
“The people have spoken”
Stepping into Musk’s shoes would certainly be difficult. Since taking over the widely used social media service, Musk has triggered one controversy after another. He has reinstated the accounts of controversial accounts, primarily those on the far right fringe of politics, including anti-Semites, as well as former President Donald Trump. On the other hand, he suspended a number of journalists who’ve been critical of him — subsequently reinstating them after the move triggered widespread criticism.
“The people have spoken,” Musk said in a Saturday tweet. “Accounts who doxed my location will have their suspension lifted now,” he added, referencing his earlier claim that the journalists were posting reports noting where Musk’s private jet was traveling.
But the actual reason for the suspensions was less clear. Washington Post correspondent Taylor Lorenz was temporarily suspended after posting a tweet asking Musk for comment.
“Again, the suspension occurred with no warning, process or explanation — this time as our reporter merely sought comment from Musk for a story,” Sally Buzbee, the Post’s executive editor, told the Associated Press.
One controversial move after another
Over the weekend, Musk also announced that Twitter users would not be allowed to reference a number of other social media sites by name. That came as a growing number of Twitter users were switching to services like Facebook, Instagram and Mastodon and announcing their plans in tweets.
Such moves have brought sharp criticism of Musk who, when he completed the Twitter takeover, said he was a “free speech absolutist,” a position he used to justify the reinstatement of some of the most controversial of the site’s users.
Musk’s actions have generated criticism from around the world. Following the temporary suspension of journalists last week, Melissa Fleming, head of communications for the United Nations, said she was “deeply disturbed” by the move. “Media freedom is not a toy,” she added.
Several European officials have expressed support for an investigation of Twitter.
Tesla faces collateral damage
Even if Musk were to leave Twitter and pare back his own tweets, some analysts question whether damage has already been done to Tesla. A study by TrueCar found that “consideration” of the automaker’s products was already showing a sharp downturn in the months before the Twitter acquisition was completed. And other research has backed that up since then.
Part of the problem is that Musk has repeatedly posted comments aimed at liberals, members of the LGBTQ community and others on the left side of the political spectrum. They make up a disproportionate share of EV buyers, said TrueCar CEO Mike Darrow.
“Divested from all things Elon,” said Rob Wheeler, CEO of the Palm Springs LGBTQ center, in an Instagram post over the weekend. He said he had returned his leased Tesla 20 months early.
Alienating potential buyers and existing customers comes at a bad time for Tesla as there’s a flood of new EV alternatives coming to market. The year will end with about 60 long-range models available in the U.S., more than triple the number on sale this time last year, according to research by TheDetroitBureau.com.