Via Elon Musk, Tesla leads car companies in speaking up on racial injustice

(Sort of.)

Aerial view of empty parking lots in Italy. Drone photography.

As the deaths of George Floyd, Breoanna Taylor, and other black people spark large-scale unrest through the country, many corporate entities have felt the need to speak out against racial injustice in some way, sometimes with a financial donation to a social justice organization to boot. The automotive industry, with a few exceptions, has not followed this trend. And a company that has become known for bucking the trends in the industry, Tesla, leads the crowd, through the words of its CEO Elon Musk.

In recent years, companies speaking out on social issues has become another part of doing business. A 2018 study from Sprout Social, surveying 1,000 customers, found that “two-thirds of consumers (66 percent) say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues.” Self-identified liberal consumers think it’s more important than conservatives, but the rewards can be great: when consumers’ personal beliefs align with what brands are saying, according to the study, 28 percent will publicly praise a company.

But the death of George Floyd at the hands of police presents a challenge to even the most attuned social media manager. Polling on issues of trust and police differ sharply in the country, with only 36 percent of African-Americans saying they trust the police, and 77 percent of white people saying the police have earned their trust. Overall, according to a poll from Axios-Ipsos, 69 percent of Americans say they trust the police.

Most companies have not discussed police or policing in their statements, a trend that holds steady in Inverse’s informal examination of social media.

Using U.S News and World Report’s guide to the Best Car Brands of 2020 as a guide, and throwing in a few other brands like Tesla and Rivian, Inverse found just four companies of the 17 reviewed by Inverse that issued statements.

These statements, from Nissan, Toyota, BMW, and Rivian vary in their specificity. Toyota’s statement on social justice states that “We all have witnessed unacceptable bigotry and a lack of education around the Covid-19 virus to more recent societal issues of violence, killings and racism against African Americans in Minnesota, Kentucky, Georgia and elsewhere.”

Inverse reached out to these companies to discuss their statements and will this story when we hear back.

Companies that were very outspoken during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, like Ford and Tesla, have been quieter. Ford, which launched what it called Project Apollo to fight Covid-19 in April, has not issued a statement.

But in the early hours of June 1 on Twitter, Musk responded to a video of George Floyd’s brother in Houston, by saying “Definitely not right that the other officers were charged with nothing. What message does this send in general to officers who stand by while another does wrong? #JusticeForGeorge.”

A few hours, or a few days after Musk's tweets, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, and Rivian issued their own statements on Twitter. The official Twitter account for Tesla, which typically prefers to let CEO Elon Musk do the talking through Twitter, has been mostly silent.

Later that day, Musk responded to a video clip of Chris Rock’s 2018 comedy special Tamborine criticizing the metaphor of “bad apples,” by saying “well said.”

Later that day, that Musk announced he would be taking a break from Twitter for an unspecified amount of time.

The Tesla Cybertruck has piqued the interest of police agencies around the world.


Meanwhile, police agencies around the world have expressed interest in Tesla's upcoming Cybertruck.

During the height of Covid-19 shutdowns and through the birth of his seventh child, Musk maintained a more active presence. He pushed hard through social media to re-open Tesla’s Fremont plant, going so far as to tweet out the “Star-Spangled Banner” to proclaim his patriotism.

Neither Tesla or SpaceX, Musk’s most prominent companies have issued statements. Some of their competitors, like Virgin Galactic, have, while most have not. Musk has spoken on the issue, but it is with an uncharacteristic quietness.

The Inverse analysis — Should more companies use their huge social media platforms to speak out on social injustice? Yes. Does Elon Musk deserve credit for responding to questions about it? Yes. Should Tesla proactively issue its own statement about the matter? Yes. Should Nissan, Toyota, BMW, and Rivian be praised for what some would consider taking a brave step in speaking out, and potentially risk losing customers who disagree? Absolutely.

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