It’s no exaggeration to say that Tesla is a remarkable car company. Founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, the company now run by Elon Musk did what many thought impossible—it made the electric vehicle desirable.
Don’t believe me? Consider the astounding demand for the Model 3. Even at the height of his powers, Steve Jobs could never have persuaded more than 400,000 people to cough up a $1,000 deposit for a product more than a year in advance.
But the past few months have been rough. The final quarter of 2017 saw Tesla’s biggest loss ever. In March, the company had its debt downgraded. Production of the Model 3 has been mired in difficulties. On top of that, there have been weeks of bad publicity following a third death linked to the company’s Autopilot system, including a charge from the National Transportation Safety Board that Tesla is more worried about “headlines than actually promoting safety.” And if that wasn’t enough, there have been claims that Tesla has failed to adequately report serious injuries at its factory in Fremont, California.
All of that is starting to take a toll on public perception of the brand, according to new data from the polling company YouGov. According to the company’s BrandIndex, Tesla’s Buzz score—which asks whether people have heard positive or negative things about the brand in the past two weeks—has dropped from 10 to -0.8 in the past month.
To provide context, we asked YouGov for the Buzz scores for several other automakers—Toyota, Ford, and General Motors, because they sell millions of vehicles; Volkswagen, because its public image was battered as a result of lying to regulators about diesel emissions; and Porsche, since it’s about to launch an EV that will be the most direct competitor to the Model S.
Toyota was well ahead of the rest, with a score of 20. Ford managed a 13.2, although one has to wonder if that number will fall given this week’s news that the company is dropping sedans and hatchbacks from the US market soon. GM, which is currently the only other OEM to sell a long-range battery EV, scored a 6. Porsche came next with 4.3, and even VW managed to beat Tesla, at 2.
YouGov found other metrics have also declined for Tesla. In early March, when asked whether people thought the brand represented good or poor quality, it scored 23. Now that number has dropped to 14.7, its lowest score since the beginning of 2017. For comparison, Toyota scored a 42, Porsche 26.9, and Ford 22.9. But at least Tesla can take comfort in the fact that it still rates higher for quality than either GM (13.1) or VW (11.4).