Elon Musk isn’t shy. He’s also not known to pass up a chance to burn a competitor. Of course, if you’re going to burn your competition for its use of language, it would be better if you yourself weren’t known for–how should I say–playing fast and loose with the meaning of words. Which, let’s be honest, doing so is one of Musk’s defining qualities.
Those are just a few examples where Tesla’s founder demonstrated a particularly casual relationship with the literal definition of his word choice in public statements–often on Twitter. For example, ‘autopilot’ refers to a technology that is able to completely control and navigate a vehicle. Tesla’s version is more of a driver’s assistance feature, but Musk still uses the name.
What you say matters.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with a little personality, but when you’re the face of a company, everything you say and do shapes the perception people have of your brand. And at some point, you run the risk of people not taking you and your brand seriously.
Which brings us back to the tweet on Thursday. Musk was, of course, at his snarky best when referring to Porsche’s unveiling of its new all-electric Taycan Turbo and Turbo S. The car itself is impressive, boasting a dual-motor AWD setup with 670 horsepower and an estimated 272 miles of range. The name, on the other hand, was something Musk took issue with.
Words have meaning.
In this case, Musk has a point. Turbo refers to a turbocharger, which is something used to increase the performance of an internal combustion engine–but most definitely not an electric motor. Clearly Porsche is taking some liberty here, probably because the company already refers to the top-performance versions of its vehicles with the same moniker. Except, all of those cars actually have turbochargers.
The President of Porsche North America, Klaus Zellmertold, in a statement to Fox News, defended the name by explaining that all sorts of products use the word turbo that clearly don’t have turbochargers, like razors for example. That’s technically true, but if that’s your best argument–comparing a high-performance electric vehicle to a product designed to remove facial hair, I feel like you’ve already let the conversation get away from you.
What you say determines your credibility.
In both cases, both Porsche and Musk, what they say matters. If you stretch the meaning of words far enough they no longer have any meaning. That’s bad because if your words have no meaning, you have no credibility.
Which brings us back to Mr. Musk. I don’t think anyone honestly questions that he’s a brilliant entrepreneur. And, maybe at some point, that a few billion dollars means you can say pretty much whatever you want–that is how it seems to works these days.
Except on Twitter, where the reaction was swift, and on point.
Musk was making a good point, but no one heard his point because of his previous antics.
Talk less and deliver.
And, there’s also an interesting point about this particular case. If the best burn you can give your competitor is that the name it choose stretches its literal definition, there’s a chance you might be worried about more than the name.
Almost everyone agrees that the Taycan Turbo is a really good car. In fact, it’s as quick (if not quicker) than the comparable Model S from Tesla, has more horsepower, a similar range, and is in the same price range. The Turbo S, with 750 horsepower, is the most powerful sedan built today. It’s a legit competitor to Tesla, which might explain why Musk feels the need to make a point.
But making a point isn’t always–the point. Sometimes you’re better off letting it go, less you end looking like the fool. Sometimes your credibility is worth more than a few cheap points. While I don’t think Musk loses sleep over the reaction of the Twitter-verse, at some point, it’s hard not to see in him as much P.T. Barnum as Thomas Edison. When everything you do seems like antics designed to attract attention, the question becomes, why are you putting on a show?