Illegal Model S Stunt Jump Viral Video Reveals a Worrying Brand Image Problem for Tesla

There are plenty of valid criticisms of Tesla as a carmaker, a brand, or a cultural institution. Most of the time, these criticisms are levied at the company itself. Or just as prevalently, the founder and CEO of the whole operation.
Tesla Model S Crash 8 photos
Photo: Alex Choi on YouTube
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But this time around, proceedings are altogether different. We can see this in the tone local and national news networks chose to adopt when covering the latest Tesla-related snafu. This time, centered around the Slovakian-American, YouTuber, Instagram celebrity, and all-purpose social medial influencer David Dobrik and people's efforts to try and copycat a trend he himself started.

The site of it all was an unassuming but particularly steep Los Angeles County residential road called Baxter Street. A street that was unfortunate enough to be discovered by one of the most polarizing individuals on social media, a 25-year-old influencer who's done little but attract controversy since finding worldwide fame on the long-deceased Vine video app.

But we won't bore you with another re-hash of a video you've all no doubt seen by now. A rented 2018 Model S floors it up to the crest of Baxter Street and proceeded to transform from a big, heavy EV sedan into a potential unguided bomb flying 50 feet (15 meters) in the air. Somehow, the driver only hit a Subaru Forrester crossover SUV parked on the street.

A car that happens to be owned by a local resident musician and proper gearhead who'd dropped $4,500 of his hard-earned money putting a new engine into the car that's ferried him from gig to sweaty gig. The local, who revealed his name to be Jordan on major news networks, woke up shortly past midnight to find a band of clout chasing hooligans scurrying out of the rented Model S and into another Tesla like a group of startled mice being pounced on by a particularly chonky cat.

If you weren't already fuming at the gargantuan levels of dumb behavior on display, one of the occupants of the Tesla was shown on video to be carrying a stray cat in their lap as they exit the vehicle. Indicating that the feline was indeed in the car as it flew through the air and miraculously didn't catch fire or explode on impact. Lithium-Ion batteries are absolutely brutal in fire situations, just as anyone whose cars got destroyed when one caught fire on a cargo ship learned the hard way.

The prospects of such a fire in an LA suburban neighborhood were truly sickening. Considering this act was almost certainly inspired by Mr. Dobrik's original stunts back in 2020. it appears to be indicative of a disturbing pattern of behavior from a certain group of car buyers. On further analysis, it may reveal some very deep-seated issues with western car culture and even western culture in general.

But to preface, there's a definite hierarchy of accountability in this whole fiasco. The first among that list is the foolish and clout-chaser individual who decided they needed to top David Dobrik's stunt after a local Tesla meetup. From a strictly ethical perspective, it'd be pretty ludicrous to insinuate that Dobrik is responsible for the actions of people he hasn't even met or heard of.

That said, this doesn't mean that Dobrik's hands are clean in this affair. By 2020, the then 23-year-old influencer was already an established online media figure with millions of followers across a litany of different social media apps. Without the influence of Dobrik and his band of "content creators," Baxter Street would still just be a sleepy little footnote in one of the most iconic and well-known regions anywhere on the planet. The buck stops with you when you wield online clout. It's clear Dobrik chose to use his very poorly.

With the secondary rung of responsibility established, it's possible that a tertiary rung is necessary as well. It's starting to look like Telsa is starting to see the effects of a brand image problem bubbling up since their exposure to the world on the BBC's Top Gear back in 2008. For some context, there are many in the tech and the business world that draw comparisons between the accomplishments of Telsa with Apple and the launch of the iPhone.

Why is this? Well, the parallels between the practices of the two companies are pretty easy to spot. Firstly, both were founded by eccentric tortured geniuses who are perceived as fancying their ideas and their ways of doing business as superior. Even when compared to what their own customers demand. Both companies sell and market their products as high-quality luxury items that have become must-have items for e-celebrities.

When clout-chasing influencers do ridiculous stunts, pranks, social experiments, or whatever brand of nonsense they choose to brand it with, you better believe it's being filmed on an iPhone. Because let's be real, what influencer wants to be caught dead with an Android phone? In this vein, Tesla EVs have become another tool to garner social media clicks and the resulting Google money that comes along with it.

Only this time, the device in question isn't capturing the content. Rather, it's the star attraction. One that could very easily get a lot of people hurt or killed if a worst-case scenario occurs. It would be one thing if this was an isolated incident which never occured after the David Dobrik fiasco. But this just isn't the case based on the evidence presented. Pair this with Tesla's rap for attracting smug, full of themselves one-percenters from coastal-elite American cities who flaunt their cars like diamonds and gold jewelry, and you have a recipe for an uber-toxic and problematic public brand perception. Even if Tesla themselves obviously can't be held accountable for the actions of this very foolish driver in any way whatsoever. But remember, perception is reality, and that applies to Tesla just as well.

It doesn't matter if the bulk of Tesla drivers donate to charity on the regular. A couple of viral stunts gone awry with sufficient loss of limb and property might be enough to get at least some potential buyers to think twice. But perhaps that's an unintended consequence when an automaker markets powerful luxury cars to affluent young people who have no concept of real-life consequences and stunted perceptions of right and wrong. Just think of how many people have been maimed in Porsche 911s over the years.

It's something Elon Musk and his board members may want to mull over if they want to upkeep an image of environmentally sustainable electric vehicles for the masses. But hey, we're just a bunch of poor auto journalists. What the heck do any of us know? As it happens, far more than some people give them credit for.

Check back soon for more from EV month right here on autoevolution.

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