But the US government got them all beat.
Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk had a magic touch when it came to marketing. Walking on water was just a low-level activity. Tesla was able to create enormous pent-up demand for its Model 3, long before it ever entered much delayed production, collecting $1,000-deposits from hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts without ever spending a dime on advertising the Model 3. That will go down as one of the most fabulous product launches ever.
A year ago, Musk was still seen walking on water after lunch, and his erratic behavior and pronouncements just brightened his halo. But now he’s wading knee-deep in mud, with the SEC breathing down his neck, as Tesla is laying off people in waves, closing all its stores to save cash, and shipping Model 3s to China and Europe because demand has dried up in the US.
Americans have taken note: Tesla’s reputation has plunged from a glorious 3rd place last year among the most visible US companies to a middling 42nd place, according to the Axios Harris Poll 100 that ranks the reputations of the most visible companies in the United States.
In the survey that polled a nationally representative sample of 18,228 Americans between January 2nd and 18th, Tesla plunged 39 places from the prior year – and landed just below Google, which has had its own series of issues, and right above General Electric which is trying to dismember itself in an existential struggle.
Only scandal-plagued Facebook plunged further than Tesla, down 43 places, a move that mirrored the plunge in its shares.
The poll rates a company on nine subcategories: Affinity, ethics, growth, products/service, citizenship, vision, culture, character, and trajectory. Where Tesla got dented the most was in the categories of culture (58th place), character (57th place), ethics (56th place), and citizenship (54th place). But in the category of products/service, it ranked 14th; and in trajectory, it ranked 22nd.
Tesla’s fate appears to be inextricably tied to Musk, and when Musk walks on water, Tesla soars. And when Musk sinks up to his crotch into mud, Tesla loses it.
Facebook’s reputation ranking was already a lot lower last year, below even where Tesla is now, and so it plunged a lot deeper than Tesla: It plunged to 94th place near the bottom of the list, into the ignominious territory of Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs, both of which are embroiled in festering and costly scandals, and of Sears which is bankrupt.
Goldman Sachs ticked down 1 spot to 93rd place, but Wells Fargo managed to tick up 1 spot to 96th place. Sears fell 9 spots to 97th, raking dead last (#100) in four categories: growth, vision, culture, and trajectory.
There are only 3 spots left below Sears, at the bottom of the list. In 98th place is the Trump Organization whose dirty laundry keeps getting aired on a daily basis; cigarette maker Phillip Morris; and well, in last position, the US government, which ranked dead last (#100) in two categories, affinity and ethics, and next-to-dead-last (#99) in character and trajectory.
“The U.S. Government is the worst company in America, according to its customers (the citizens of America),” Axios says as the top of the five “Key Findings.”
“The Axios Harris Poll 100 is a measurement of what real people think right now about the companies in our cultural conversation,” Axios says (detailed methodology). And that sounds about right.
The FANGMAN companies that I track periodically on WOLF STREET showed mixed results:
- Facebook was the #1 plunger this year, down 43 spots, from #51 in 2018 to #94 in 2019.
- Amazon ticked down from #1 last year, a spot it had held for three years, to #2 this year.
- Netflix fell 3 spots, from #21 to #24.
- Google dropped 13 spots from #28 to #41, after employees were “walking out over Google’s Project Maven contract to partner with the Department of Defense on AI technology and the #Metoo challenges.”
- Microsoft ticked up 2 spots to #9.
- Apple, which had peaked at #2 in 2016 and then fell, landing on #29 in 2018, fell further in 2019, to #32
- Nvidia, the taillight of the FANGMAN didn’t make the list.
Interestingly, and perhaps not all that surprisingly, the 10 companies with the highest-rated reputations included a family-owned supermarket chain (Wegmans) an employee-owned supermarket chain (Publix), and two family-owned retailers (Patagonia and L.L. Bean):
- Patagonia, rose 6 spots
- L. Bean, up 11 spots
- Walt Disney
- Publix (employee-owned supermarket chain)
- Procter & Gamble
- Sony, up 21 spots.
Tesla’s plunge from grace with Americans, while not as drastic as that of Facebook, shows that the hype isn’t working anymore, at least not to the extent it did. For Americans, Musk no longer walks on water, and Tesla suddenly has to face all the problems other automakers have to face, plus some.