Up and coming electric luxury vehicle producer Tesla Motors faced a potential PR disaster last week. While traveling at highway speeds, a Tesla Model S vehicle struck a large metal object that fell off of a truck trailer. The object caused severe damage to the car, puncturing the vehicle’s bottom-mounted battery and causing it to burst into flame.
In the face of a crisis, many CEOs hand the reins over to their communications team. While this is generally a good idea, Tesla Motors’ response to this potential disaster shows the power that a CEO can wield when properly educated in public relations.
Instead of hiding behind his crisis communicators, Tesla Motors’ CEO Elon Musk immediately began discussing the events on his blog. He explained that the curved piece of metal that caused the damage is believed to have put the battery under 25 tons of pressure and caused a “powerful lever action.” He went on to further explain that due to the design of the Model S, the fire was contained to the front of the vehicle and never reached the passenger compartment.
According to Musk, the combustible potential of the Tesla battery is only about one percent of the combustible potential of a gasoline-fueled vehicle. He sums it up nicely by saying:
“For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid.”
When photos such as the one above are going viral, getting this information directly from the CEO can reassure consumers and prevent misperceptions about a product.
Musk also used the crisis as an opportunity to highlight Tesla Motors’ excellent customer service. Included in his blog was a transcription of an email conversation between the damaged car’s owner and Tesla’s Vice President of Sales and Maintenance. In the email, the VP apologized for the incident and explained that a team of experts had been sent to investigate the battery fire. The vehicle owner then thanked the company for loaning him a Model S and said he couldn’t wait to get back into his car.
Due to the excellent response from Musk and Tesla Motors, this potential disaster has instead been converted into a public relations success. Any tactics they missed?