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EVs & Mobility

This article was published on March 28, 2022

Elon Musk’s ego is making it hard for the NHTSA to deal with Tesla

US regulators need to get creative

Elon Musk’s ego is making it hard for the NHTSA to deal with Tesla Image by: YouTube
Ioanna Lykiardopoulou
Story by

Ioanna Lykiardopoulou

Ioanna is a writer at SHIFT. She likes the transition from old to modern, and she's all about shifting perspectives. Ioanna is a writer at SHIFT. She likes the transition from old to modern, and she's all about shifting perspectives.

Despite their undeniable popularity, Tesla vehicles have been experiencing a wave of troubles: a string of crashes, Autopilot and Full-Self Driving Beta malfunctions, and even battery explosions.

As a result, the automaker has consistently drawn the attention of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). But has it made it easy for the agency to investigate the company’s reported safety issues? No, it hasn’t.

In an intriguing piece, The Washington Post’s Faiz Siddiqui details how US auto regulators have had to employ unconventional strategies to circumvent a big part of the problem: Musk’s ego and stubbornness.

In general, if an automaker refuses to cooperate with the NHTSA, the agency can impose cash fines of about $23,000 per day. But while the threat of fines usually works with traditional companies, it has failed to do so with Tesla.

According to former regulators who spoke to Siddiqui, Musk’s own attitude wasn’t easy to deal with. He was stubborn, fiercely pushing back against their findings, and even embarked on personal encounters with a number of them, ending up in yelling matches.

So the NHTSA decided to follow less conventional strategies. They found that a combination of threats, pressure, and flattery were key to persuading him to comply with federal safety measures.

At times, challenging his ego or simply waiting for him to calm down proved to be useful as well.

Interestingly, these “mind games” seem to be doing wonders. In the past six months, Tesla has issued around a dozen voluntary recalls (like the latest Boombox recall), which is a dramatic change compared to previous years.

But maybe this doesn’t have to do entirely with the correct ways to corner or appease Elon’s ego. As Siddiqui points out as well, it could very well be a matter of politics.

As a niche EV maker that’s also raking in big bucks, Tesla was more or less allowed to sidestep many federal safety regulations under the Obama and Trump administrations.

However, Biden hasn’t been that favorable towards the company, which might have enabled the NHTSA to exercise more control.

The entire story, which also details numerous interactions between Tesla and the NHTSA, is definitely worth a read. Find Siddiqui’s coverage on The Washington Post.

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