Watching the fanfare and haterfare that surrounded the release of the electric F-150 Lightning was quite the show. The reveal of the truck was unusual in just about every way it could be unusual, including an EV speech by Joe Biden that completely left Tesla out, despite the company’s high relevance to the things he addressed. Many Tesla fans were upset by the snub, but there’s one big takeaway: even the President of the United States can’t kick Tesla out of the room.
When it comes to any discussion of EVs, Tesla is an elephant that takes up the room, and lives in everyone’s heads rent-free.
Don’t Take My Word For This (No, Really, Don’t!)
Hey, I know everyone builds a social media bubble around them to some extent or other. With so many people I follow being Tesla fans, it’s easy to think the whole world revolves around Tesla. Sunday dinner at my mom’s, I sometimes start talking about stuff I’ve been seeing all week, and the other people at the table have no idea what I’m talking about. I might as well 講中文. They’d probably understand more that way (and I can sort of speak Mandarin, at least enough that I wouldn’t starve to death if dropped randomly into China, so this is actually a semi-feasible option).
With this Tesla bubble, It’s easy to think that Ford’s F-150 announcement means something other than it means to the average American. You know, the target market for the truck. Chances are, you’re this way, too. When you’re surrounded by fans and Stans, it’s impossible to really know what the average car normie thinks about things, and this leaves us with some questions:
- Did ignoring Tesla hurt the California company and help Ford?
- Did the F-150 announcement generate more publicity for Ford, or did it end up helping Tesla?
- Muh stonks? What about muh stonks?!
We really have no way to know … or do we?
I can’t help you with the last one, but Google Trends gives us some data that can help with the first two.
Above is a screenshot of search interest in Ford. The highest peak on the chart is 3:00 AM the night after the Lightning reveal. Oddly enough, every peak on this chart happens at 3:00 AM, which most likely correlates to some sort of bot activity. Ignoring those weird peaks, we can see that there was some increased interest at about the time of the show, but it wasn’t that much higher than the week that came before it.
Here’s the last week’s search interest in the Tesla Cybertruck. As you can see, the peak (which coincides exactly with the F-150 reveal) is significantly higher than the rest of the search interest for the past week. In other words, they got a huge boost from the event — in fact, a bigger boost than Ford got out of it.
Need more evidence? Cybertruck was trending on Twitter, while I didn’t see Ford or Lightning pop up.
What Makes This More Surprising
What makes this more incredible is how much both Biden and Ford did to avoid and even set themselves apart from Tesla. On the surface, it was as if Tesla didn’t exist at all. Under the surface, the repeated mention of unions was obviously meant to tear away the people who thought about Tesla.
Obviously, both of those tactics failed, and likely because they underestimated the top-of-mind Tesla has in the EV market.
Generally, the President of the United States has more credibility and pull with the public than a private company. They almost always have better name recognition (percent of the audience that’s heard of them). Thus, when the President gives a speech, you can generally assume that he (and hopefully “she” one of these days) has a great measure of control and/or influence over what the audience is thinking about, what the press will be reporting afterward, and what people will be thinking about (even if they hate him, and maybe especially if they hate him).
This isn’t true at all for EVs. Biden rode in an electric truck, and the press was making Tesla comparisons afterward. He made a speech about Ford, unions, and American production, and people were talking about Tesla afterward. Ford showed off its new truck, introduced by UAW leadership, and (you guessed it) people and the press were talking about Tesla afterwards.
Tesla! Tesla! Tesla!
No matter what they do, no matter how much they try to push the narrative in another direction with a politically charged topic like unions, and no matter how good the vehicle is (hey, that frunk is pretty impressive), people always talk about Tesla if you mention an EV.
Living In Heads Rent-Free
Tesla’s the elephant in the room, and people look stupid trying to ignore it, but not all elephants are the same. Becoming the elephant that upstages everyone can be very difficult and expensive. You can do it, but renting the elephant means putting a lot of time and money in.
The best elephants are ones you can get for free.
And really, that’s what Tesla pulled off here. Without having to buy an advertisement, pay an audience to attend, or set up a viral marketing campaign, everyone was thinking of Tesla. Ford was thinking about Tesla the moment it started designing the F-150 Lightning. The UAW needs more money for vacations, and they’d love to unionize the Tesla plants and get more dues out of them, so the opportunity to shame Tesla by giving Ford a glowing review was irresistible. Once again, though, they were all thinking about Tesla the whole time.
And Biden? Don’t even try to tell me he wasn’t thinking about that rascal Elon who won’t play ball. Sure, he’s not Donald Trump trying to roll back emissions standards and prop up big oil, but he’s winning the EV game without getting permission from the establishment or greasing the right government and union palms along the way.
Even if I’m being overly cynical and Biden has the purest of intentions at all times, Elon Musk is still making the Democratic Party look terrible on climate change. Decades of environmental policy led to almost nothing, and you can’t blame all of that on Republicans. Democrats held the House, the Senate, and the White House at times, and they took seemingly drastic action a number of times. Not nearly as much changed as all of us would like.
Then, some upstart whipper snapper tech bro comes along and transforms the whole industry, even making progress during the worst of the Trump years.
Plus, Elon’s a billionaire, and we know how evil billionaires supposedly are. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t think billionaires should exist, but even she drives a Tesla. Here we are again, thinking about Tesla, even when they hate Tesla in theory. Rent free.
Tesla really is the company that is not only the elephant in the room, but they get that time in everyone’s heads without paying a dime of rent. Like or hate it, that’s pretty impressive.