Stewart Alsop is a venture capitalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Where else would he be? There are few VC’s in Des Moines.) He ponied up the money to reserve a Tesla Model X in red with black interior. He also opted for the Ludicrous Mode upgrade, a $5,000 option.
Most venture capitalists are not shy people. Back when the Model X was first introduced, Alsop wrote a scathing blog post entitled, “Dear @Elon Musk: You should be ashamed of yourself!” The back story, for those of you with short memories, is that Musk promised the world that production of the Model X would begin in the 3rd quarter of 2015, which ended on September 30. A gala event was promised when production actually began.
Time and again, the date got pushed back. Finally, it was set for 7 pm Pacific Time on September 29 — barely 24 hours before Tesla’s self imposed deadline expired. In the end, the company only delivered about a dozen cars to customers that night. Those were largely hand built specials meant for company bigwigs and ultra-wealthy supporters.
Musk is the consummate showman. Some say he is a cross between Thomas Edison and PT Barnum. He knows how to work a room. He is a master at building excitement on social media. He plays Twitter the way Yo Yo Ma plays the cello. On September 29, Stewart Alsop was one of more than 3,000 people on hand for the grand unveiling. People were told they would get a chance to actually drive a Model X after the event. Alsop was #1343 in line for a test drive.
Let’s allow him to tell part of the story from there. “Starting a 7:00 pm event at 8:50 pm is simply unacceptable, particularly when the invited guests are actually your customers! But for you to stand up at 8:52pm and not even acknowledge that you have wasted your own customers’ time was insensitive and poor judgement.”
Alsop has more to say. Lots more. “I drove 2.5 hours round trip. I arrived on time, waited around 30 minutes outside the building, got packed inside the building with ~3,000 other people for another 60 minutes, got moved from one room inside the building to another to wait another 20 minutes with the same 3,000 people. And then, drum roll please, you shuffle out on stage and start with a slide show — an amateur slide show at that — all about how safe the Model X is.”
Disgusted, Alsop left before the test driving session began. He’s not sure there even was one. By the time all those people got behind the wheel of the one or two cars on hand, it would have been time for the annual St. Swithern’s Day festivities.
According to Tech Crunch, Elon Musk was not pleased to be called out in public by Alsop, although his complaints seem entirely appropriate given the chaotic nature of the event. He got a call from Elon personally. He says he was told that Musk was not comfortable building a car for someone who had flamed him in public. He then said Alsop “can’t own” one. He has since learned that his Model X reservation was cancelled by Musk personally. We don’t know if the ban if for life or only until Elon cools down. For his part, when the story broke yesterday, Elon took to Twitter, as he likes to do.
Must be a slow news day if denying service to a super rude customer gets this much attention
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 3, 2016
There are some who wish Musk would run for President, citing his boundless energy and commitment to doing “the right thing” by the environment. But as my old Irish grandmother was fond of saying, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” It may be that the redoubtable Mr. Musk may have some personality quirks that would make him unsuitable for being in charge of the nation’s nuclear launch codes or its various “no fly” lists, for example.
After posting this story, I suppose I, too, will be banned from ever owing a Tesla. When the time comes, I will have to put the order in my wife’s name.