In addition to Elon Musk’s title as CEO — sorry, Technoking — of Tesla, along with his role as boss of SpaceX, we need to add professional troll to his resume.
How else to explain his latest Twitter spat?
For those who didn’t see it, Ford chief Jim Farley tweeted out a video touting the brand’s new BlueCruise hands-free driving system that had what many interpreted as a subtle dig at Tesla.
BlueCruise! We tested it in the real world, so our customers don’t have to. pic.twitter.com/dgqVkWH31r
— Jim Farley (@jimfarley98) April 14, 2021
Tesla, you see, has been accused, fairly in my view, of using its customers as unwitting guinea pigs in the testing of its so-called “Full-Self Driving” system.
We’ll pause here to note that there is no car on the market that offers true self-driving. A fully autonomous experience would be classified as level 5 autonomy, and no car is beyond level 2. Tesla’s system is level 2. Our friendly rivals at Jalopnik won’t even use Tesla’s terminology anymore because it’s misleading, and dangerously so, and as TTAC boss, I’ve been thinking of following suit. While we strive to be fair in our journalism, we also exist to report the truth, and the truth is that Tesla’s system isn’t full-self driving, no matter what it calls it. And Tesla’s marketing actually is dangerously misleading, since consumers might believe their cars can do more autonomous driving than they actually can, potentially leading to accidents.
So, Ford called Tesla out. And Musk clapped back with a clip from the 1995 comedy Tommy Boy, which starred Farley’s late cousin, Chris. The clip showed a scene from the movie in which the 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX driven by the characters portrayed by Farley and David Spade experiences a hood malfunction at speed because Tommy Callahan Jr. (Farley) didn’t remove the oil can after a fuel stop.
I found some footage of the drive https://t.co/TXeLQO9Spr
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 14, 2021
At least one automotive reporter called out Musk on Twitter for being mean. As we all know, Farley died young of a drug overdose, and it’s arguably pretty awful to tease someone by dredging up footage of their late cousin acting in a movie — one in which he plays a guy who can be, at times, a bit of idiot.
That aside, it bugs me on another level. There’s a discourse now that pervades our politics, our sports, and almost everything else in which someone gets called out for doing something that most people would say is wrong — in Tesla’s case, using a marketing term that is misleading and dangerously so — and instead of working to correct the issue, decides to lash out in an attempt to hurt the critic.
In other words, instead of tweeting back at Ford, Musk should be working on either making FSD actually a truly self-driving system, or more realistically, coming up with a better name for it that doesn’t imply that it does more than it actually is capable of. Say what you want about BlueCruise or GM’s SuperCruise, neither implies that they are level 5 systems that allow the car to completely drive itself. And last I checked, GM’s Super Bowl ad made it clear SuperCruise only works on certain roads.
This is nothing new for Musk. But it’s intellectually dishonest bullshit and I am tired of it. As a society, we’ve spent too long now — at least half a decade — allowing powerful people to act like this when they’re called out or criticized. It’s childish behavior and we’re enabling it.
Musk isn’t the only one guilty of this. A certain ex-president is a master of it, as are certain politicians from both sides of the aisle, at all levels. Give me five minutes and I could think up a whole ton of athletes and celebs and pundits and contrarian journalists who embrace this type of behavior, especially on Twitter.
But since Musk runs the most divisive car company of our era, he’s our focus for this post.
I don’t know if what he tweeted to Farley is truly mean or not. Or if it is or isn’t funny.
I do know that it’s a deflection from Tesla’s misleading marketing, and that’s the problem.