This year, Tesla’s image took a hit. The company fell behind on production targets, reports came out that it may be skipping safety tests and making mistakes on the production line, creating more waste. It didn’t help that Elon Musk smoked weed on a podcast, attacked a diver rescuing the Thai soccer team, and got sued by the SEC. At the same time, a guy near Boston taught himself how to bring damaged Teslas back to life, and in doing so, he revealed a lot of the cars’ flaws. Now the question is: will Tesla support him or stop him?
Produced by Dan Bobkoff and Amy Pedulla, with Anna Mazarakis and Sarah Wyman.
- Here’s what you find when you take apart a Tesla
- The one guy who has more to fear from Tesla than anyone else says he’s not afraid at all
Note: This transcript may contain errors.
DAN BOBKOFF: Linette Lopez is a senior correspondent at Business Insider and she started hearing rumblings about Tesla years ago, but at first she kind of dismissed them.
LINETTE LOPEZ: A lot of my Wall Street sources started getting involved in Tesla around 2014 and that is when they started talking about how the stock was overvalued. That story was never particularly interesting to me, because it seemed clear that the stock was overvalued and that the company never made money. But it didn’t seem that any of the shareholders actually cared about that and so that to me was not a particularly interesting story until I was contacted by somebody within the company.
DB: It was spring. Linette was at home when she saw an email.
LL: I was contacted by a guy who worked on the manufacturing line at the gigafactory, which is Tesla’s Nevada plant. It makes all the drive units and batteries. His name is Martin Tripp.
DB: He sounded credible, so she called him up.
LL: He basically told me that Tesla wasn’t exactly living up to its brand. It was not making sexy cars that saved the world because its manufacturing process was so flawed.
DB: Martin tells Linette that Tesla’s factories may not be as good at making things as many thought.
Then, Linette publishes her findings from internal documents showing the factories are generating huge amounts of waste because of flaws in the manufacturing process.
LL: For every car that it made, it would throw away about a third of a car.
DB: Her source alleges that a misprogrammed robot once punctured holes in hundreds of battery packs… and then the company repaired them and put them back into cars. Tesla denies this.
Sources said the company kept shutting down the production line to fix problems. That all that scrap from mistakes was costing the company $150 million and hadn’t been recycled. Tesla said that cost was an exaggeration. Looking at all this, it started to make sense to Linette why Tesla might be spending so much cash.
LL: Martin Trip’s claims made sense to me, and of course they were backed up by internal documents, but they made sense because Tesla’s balance sheet had always been out of control. It had always been spending too much money. In fact, the company had only turned a profit in two quarters over the course of its history. So this was kind of the missing piece of the puzzle of why Tesla was just burning so much cash.
DB: Linette continued writing stories about Tesla’s manufacturing process. On July 2nd, Business Insider published one, again citing internal documents.
She reported that Elon had ordered Tesla to stop doing a critical brake test on Model 3s as they left the factory. The stock fell.
Two days later, she got a response, but not the kind you’d expect.
LL: I had like six missed calls and my Twitter was going insane and it was because Elon Musk was addressing my reporting, rather aggressively, on Twitter.
DB: Elon Musk — Tesla’s CEO — called her reporting false. He accused her of paying her sources, and being paid by people who wanted to profit from a falling share price.
Then it got nastier and some might say childish.
LL: The weird part was when Musk started tweeting out screenshots from my Facebook page and he was totally trolling.
DB: Elon put up some of her posts from years ago attempting to show she had a close relationship to big investors betting against Tesla’s stock. Elon called them “love letters” to sources.
It’s a weird time to be Linette. The Elon tweet-storm led to TV interviews like this one on CNBC:
CNBC: I would prefer to talk about the reporting, and it’s up to shareholders to decide whether or not the CEO of a $50 million company should spend his time yelling at reporters on Twitter.
DB: It’s also a really a weird time to be Elon Musk. It’s a weird time to be Tesla. For years, Tesla was held up as the future of transportation: sleek, curvy, efficient electric cars that would leave old car companies like GM and Ford in the dust.
NEWS: Tesla. [applause] The name alone triggers devout worship among some.
DB: And at the same time, Elon Musk was built up as this genius inventor — kind of like Alexander Graham Bell, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs rolled into one.
NEWS: The South African-born businessman, engineer, inventor, real life Iron Man, and probably savior of the human race…
DB: Musk was introducing cheaper Teslas for the masses… at the same time he was launching rockets into space….
SPACEX ARCHIVAL: SpaceX and Tesla. You would be hard pressed to find two companies that are more popular today. And yet, in the not too distant past, both companies were basically unknown, and were in fact simultaneously on the verge of bankruptcy.
DB: Touting new solar panels for roofs.
ARCHIVAL: The interesting thing is the houses you see around you are all solar houses.
DB: And dreaming of new forms of transportation like the Hyperloop, which would move people on pods through a tube that works kind of like an air hockey table. Tesla and Elon could do no wrong — they embodied the future. Until this year.
NEWS: Tesla is defending its safety standards after one model felt short of the highest rating in a major crash test study.
DB: The Tesla narrative changed. And some of Elon’s other projects stalled.
NEWS: Tesla’s been accepting $1000 deposits for the roof tiles since May 2017, by at that point, the company wasn’t even close to mass producing them…
LL: So from the beginning of Tesla’s history, Elon has overpromised on production targets and timing and under-delivered. So the question has always been for how long can he do that and at this point it’s still unclear on Wall Street.
DB: And after the dustup with Linette, Elon seemed to become more erratic.
He tweeted out that he planned to take Tesla private — off the stock market. Then he smoked weed on a podcast.
PODCAST ARCHIVAL: “I mean it’s legal, right?” “Totally legal.”
DB: Then the Securities and Exchange Commission sued him over the tweet and charged him with fraud. He was forced to step down as chairman of the board — though he’s still CEO. The damage had been done.
LL: He has said in interviews in the past that he thinks that the internet is a video game where things don’t matter and you can just say whatever you want to people and because he has an army he has a, it’s ridiculous that he says things like that.
DB: So what happens when someone plays Elon at his own game?
From Business Insider and Stitcher, this is Household Name. The show about brands you know, and stories you don’t. I’m Dan Bobkoff.
In a sense, Elon Musk trolled Linette for reporting on the conditions of Tesla’s factories and cars.
At the same time, there’s a guy in Massachusetts who’s trolling Tesla.
Rich Benoit knows the cars better than almost anyone. He taught himself how to take a wrecked Tesla and bring it back to pristine condition.
And along the way, he’s discovered a lot of Tesla’s issues.
Now the question is: will Elon do to him what he did to Linette?
Stay with us.
DB: To help me tell these two stories we have with us Household Name producer Amy Pedulla.
AMY PEDULLA: Hey!
DB: OK, so, this has been quite a year for Elon Musk and Tesla.
AP: Yeah, what happened to Linette from her reporting is like this microcosm of what’s going on more generally at the company. First of all, Tesla has a cult following that you know about, I know about, everyone knows about. Its drivers and fans are rabid, and part of that is the mystique of Elon Musk. Like, who knows the name of the CEO of Subaru? Do you?
DB: I do not.
AP: Exactly. Everyone knows Elon Musk. And people have very strong opinions. Here’s Linette Lopez again:
LL: You know as a Tesla reporter, you’re constantly being pulled in different directions. I think that a lot of people who are very supportive of the company think that I hate it or that I hate Elon Musk or that I want Tesla to fail and that’s really not true.
AP: And Linette thinks Tesla has an amazing mission.
DB: What’s the mission?
AP: So its goal is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Sounds like a good thing for all of us. It does that through its electric cars and solar panels for homes.
LL: What I am paid to do is try to figure out whether the company is living up to that mission of making these sexy cars that save the world, and the cult of Musk crowd is always very skeptical of anyone who actually applies skepticism to the company and thinks that they must have some hidden, anti-Tesla agenda. In fact, I followed this guy on Twitter the other day and he’s like a big, you know Musk supporter, I guess.
AP: So the guy immediately sends Linette a message on Twitter.
LL: And this person was like, ‘wow I can’t believe you followed, me you’re on the other side.’ They act like this is some kind of war like we’re playing online Cowboys and Indians or something and that’s just simply not the case. They tend to think that journalists hold these petty grudges or have some kind of dog in this fight, I don’t have a dog in this fight, I haven’t driven a car since the Bush administration
DB: So other cars have fans, you know there are websites for fandom of various brands, but Tesla seems like something else.
AP: Yeah, it’s totally totally different. So people don’t like it when people point out the company’s problems. I’m just gonna take a step back for a sec:
Here are some of the things that have happened to Tesla recently.
Tesla struggled to get its new Model 3 to its customers. The Model 3 is supposed to be this cheaper Tesla — more of a car for the masses than a plaything for the rich. But for a lot of the year, it couldn’t make enough of them.
And the ones it did make had some problems. So for instance, one customer who got an early model said his bumper fell off in the rain 30 minutes after bringing it home for the first time.
DB: So are they still having these problems?
AP: So they’re making a lot more Model 3’s lately, and the bumpers seem to be staying on these cars, but recently the issue hasn’t been the cars, it’s Elon.
I reached out to Tesla directly for this story, and while I requested an interview with Musk, it was declined. The company also did not follow up to multiple follow ups for questioning.
DB: So, here are some things I know about Elon Musk, just from the ether. I know Elon wants to build a giant tube that will apparently whisk people from Los Angeles to San Francisco really quickly.
AP: Mhm, exactly.
DB: He says he wants to colonize Mars.
AP: Somebody has to do it.
DB: And he thinks that in the meantime, artificial intelligence is going to destroy us. And somehow he’s running this car company, and he also has time to run a rocket company, SpaceX and then there’s also Tesla, which has all those production problems you talked about and Elon apparently is sleeping in the factory on this bad couch because they are so behind on production.
AP: Yeah, he’s a pretty busy guy. But there’s another side of Elon that we’ve been starting to see this year which is just very very different. Like the time Elon’s then girlfriend, the Canadian singer Grimes, invited rapper Azealia Banks over to Musk’s house to collaborate on a new album.
DB: Just like the Ford CEO! (laughs)
AP: Yeah, exactly. While there, Banks posted Instagram stories, claiming that she had been waiting alone for Grimes for days in the Musk’s house, alleging he was making freaked out phone calls to financiers, and that his money came from colonialism.
DB: What a mess, do we even know if any of this is true?
AP: No, we can’t confirm a lot of this but look: even before all that went down, a month before, he inserted himself into that rescue of the Thai soccer team in a cave.
NEWS: A British diver who played a key role in the rescue effort of that Thai soccer team trapped in a dark cave for weeks is back in the headlines. He’s considering legal action against Elon Musk over comments the billionaire made on Twitter.
DB: Right didn’t he say he could solve it with a robot or something?
AP: Yeah, a small submarine. But then a diver saved the kids, and criticized Elon and Elon called the guy a “pedo” on Twitter.
DB: It seems like Elon has a nasty side.
AP: And the diver even sued Elon… and is asking for damages. But Tesla is worried about the reports. It recently asked employees to “renew their vows” to the company, in an effort to plug the leaks.
DB: And what happened to that guy who tipped off Linette about all the problems in the factory?
AP: Oh yeah listen, it did not end well for that guy.
LL: Tesla figured out who Martin Tripp was, and that he was leaking, and then he was fired and now he is being sued by Tesla. And the company accused him of writing code and hacking his way into Tesla’s back end and sabotaging the company’s manufacturing process. Tripp on the other hand said that he can’t even code and that he was making 28 bucks an hour in the middle of the desert, so.
AP: I can see why Elon feared Tripp and feared Linette too.
LL: Once you start breaking stories on a company other sources approach you, and I started using their resources as well and once Martin was fired I wrote another story and that’s when things really started getting interesting.
I wrote a story based on more internal documents that appeared to show that Elon Musk himself had ordered that Tesla stop doing a test that checked the breaks and alignment on Model 3s as they were leaving the factory. The test is called the brake and roll test.
And this was the week that Tesla had something to prove because it had promised Wall Street that it would make 5,000 model 3s within a week.
So my story was essential said, ‘ok, these guys are willing to cut this, what everyone seems to be telling me in autoland is a really crucial part of the process’ and that was shocking to anyone that worked in automative. And the day my story went out, the stock fell 7%.
DB: And then Elon had his meltdown and started posting Linette’s Facebook pictures?
AP: Look, I would not find that fun, but at the end of the day it was good publicity for her reporting.
AP : When you tell people you work for Tesla, how do they react?
WENDY: Most people are, most people are really like excited or jealous.
AP: This is a Tesla employee. And we’re going to call her Wendy and alter her voice at her request. I talked to her for hours about what it’s been like inside Tesla these days. She didn’t want to talk about what’s been going on with the Model 3s: but she did say it’s been really tough there lately.
WENDY: Although lately, you know, a lot of it has been about, you know, people have been like ‘oh, Elon’s being so stupid. Oh, when are your cars being delivered on time?’
Honestly, it’s been I’ll tell you what I told my shrink. It’s been really demoralizing like, you know, it’s something that I’ve worked so hard at for so long. [sighs]
To have something that you’ve worked at so hard for so long and like them so involved in and suspend taking over there. Like that’s why I’m seeing a dietitian. I have gained like 50 pounds I think since I started at Tesla. Like that’s how much stress I’ve been under and you know, and I commute every day for like an hour each way and you know, I, I like still believe in the dream, you know.
I’m 43 like this is what I’ve done for the past 8 years like. I’m divorced. I don’t have a boyfriend. I just have my dog and my guinea pig and Tesla that’s like it.
AP: But she loves Tesla. And she was a big fan of Elon. She says he’s really hands on and genuine and really funny even, she said. Especially in the all staff meetings.
WENDY: They’re basically Elon doing a stand-up routine…like it’s great, but like there’s just been so much hero worship.
DB: But what about now?
AP: So now she’s not so sure about him. He’s changed, she said. Maybe he’s not getting enough sleep. And she tells me when she’s feeling burned out from Elon’s tweets and the long hours at Tesla… she tells me she watches YouTube videos.
WENDY: Like one of my favorite videos on YouTube that like I would always watch my watch to cheer myself up when I was down on whatever was happening at Tesla would be Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, dancing and singing in front of her Model X.
NANCY CARTWRIGHT: Here it goes! Dun dah dah dah…
AP: So one day she’s looking through her favorite Tesla channels and one video catches her eye.
WENDY: The $7,000 Tesla. The one that went viral…
AP: And the caption is World’s Cheapest Tesla. 1.5 million views.
WORLD’S CHEAPEST TESLA: After calculating all of these costs, it costs $6,500 for Dolores as you see her today, running and driving. I believe this is the world’s least expensive Tesla. Now it’s $6500…
WENDY: And I watched it and I was like…’this is amazing. This guy is amazing.’
AP: What she saw is someone she thought embodied the spirit of Tesla. And someone who may hold the key to holding the company the accountable. That is… if they don’t shut him down.
DB: Alright, that’s in a minute.
DB: We’re back.
RICH BENOIT: Hey guys it’s Rich from Rich Rebuilds, aka the artist formally known as Car Guru aka Uncle Rich…
AP: Ok, so this is Wendy’s favorite YouTuber. His name is Rich Benoit. And by day – Rich works in IT. By nights, and weekends, he’s Rich Rebuilds. Or — sometimes — your uncle Rich.
As long as we’ve had cars, we’ve had people tinkering in their backyards, fixing them, modifying them, but Rich is in his own league. This guy buys salvaged cars and turns them into like-new gleaming Teslas. These are Model S’s and Model X’s. Some have been flooded, or some have been damaged even worse. This is him from one of his videos.
RICH REBUILDS: So I went online and I found this gem that looks like it was beat to death… the car looks like it was rolled over 55 times. It wasn’t’…
AP: Rich scours auctions to find totaled Teslas like these ones. He bought this crumpled red Model S for its parts. And he calls it a donor car. He needs donors because Tesla won’t sell him their parts. And he paid too much. More than 18 grand for the dead car. He picks it up.
RR: Jesus Christ.. This is what $18,000 plus shipping looks like. The car is shaped like a rhombus. The seats were destroyed…
AP: But this is Rich we’re talking about. He’s fearless in a blase way. So when he gets the wreck home, he nonchalantly connects some jumper cables to it and the thing actually starts to come to life.
RR: No freakin’ way…No freakin’ way….this was pretty damn incredible. So I cut the lines and I kept working on the car using kitchen knives, cut the windshield glass…
AP: Rich is a high stakes Mr. Fix It.
DB: So he’s basically a DIY Tesla Factory?
AP: Exactly. That’s exactly it. And I saw that when I visited him recently at his home and he showed me his garage and storage area we he keeps a huge inventory of Tesla parts.
RR: These are all the parts you need to put them back together. Literally everything you need is here. Everything. There’s some just shocked so suspension components all the interior trim panels put the car back together…
AP: Rich’s factory is a two-car garage attached to his suburban home. The kind of home with kids’ toys all over the living room floor.
In his storage room off to the side of the garage, there are parts strewn all over the floor. A half eaten bag of potato chips sits on a folding chair. Look to your left? And there’s a bumper hanging over there, a spare Tesla seat next to it, piles of Tesla batteries on concrete floor stacked like bricks.
RR: There’s a there’s everything, here all of the entire braking systems on the ground, the calipers, rotors, the shocks that open and close the rear trunk…
AP: So you’ve memorized every part….
RR: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I know all this stuff the back of my hand…
AP: Rich is self-taught… but I didn’t realize what that meant until I saw this car for myself parked in his garage.
AP: Wait, so who is this? Does this one have a name?
RR: Yeah, this is um, this is this is Dolores it’s actually my wife’s car.
AP: Dolores is named after the character from the show Westworld. The character looks like a woman, but is actually a robot. Rich’s Dolores looks like a new Tesla, but is actually a mutant built from pieces of another Tesla.
RR: Everyone’s like ‘wow..this car looks brand-new looks pretty cool.’ But yeah, I’m pretty like this everything you see you could see and touch was removed from this vehicle like the mirror. The headliner, the door panels.
AP: It has the new car smell.
RR: Yeah, that’s cause I have the new car scent air freshener right here….
AP: Dolores’s body had been flooded.
RR: I said to myself, ‘you know, what? Well, it’s a flood how hard can that be? Like it’s a piece of cake. You know it’s a flood, you throw some rice in it and you call it a day.’ Like a cell phone. I dropped my cell phone in the toilet before, I know I know how it works. You just need more rice….that’s all ya need.
AP: The car was dead. And Rich spent days getting water out of the car in bucket, after bucket, after bucket.
But over time he painstakingly taught himself how every piece fits together, how the car really works. And then started bringing her back to life, and he documented the whole thing on YouTube.
RR: This is going to be more podcast-style so feel free to put on the headphones and do some light housework” while you’re listening to it…
DB: We’ve watched a bunch of these videos and it seems like his production values got better over time.
AP: Yeah he started working with this guy who’s this producer, who’s turned Rich into more of a personality. And while he’s developing his YouTube voice, he spent months getting Dolores going.
But not with any help from Tesla. Like this one time, he calls them up:
RR: And I said ‘Hey, I need like a battery in a motor and stuff’ and they were like, ‘LOL we’re not going to sell you anything.’
AP: But then they ask:
RR: ‘What’s the VIN number for your car?’
AP: The VIN number is the Vehicle Identification Number. He records this whole thing for YouTube.
RR: And I gave him the VIN like ‘no, this car was in a flood. We’re not going to sell you any parts for it. Have a great day.’
AP: What was your reaction to that?
RR: ‘Oh, they’re probably just kidding. I’m just going to call another dealership. No big deal. The probably had a bad day didn’t have coffee or just cranky.’
AP: They weren’t just cranky. Tesla doesn’t want Rich touching its cars at all. You could say it’s about safety — he’s not actually certified to fix the Teslas. But it’s also about control. They don’t want anyone outside the company looking too closely at how it all works. Kind of like Apple.
Tesla good at the kinds of things Apple is also good at: marketing, software, branding. But in terms of the cars, they’re not perfect yet.
RR: And then I called several other places out of state in state and same response. ‘We don’t sell parts the cars that we don’t deem as road safe. So we can’t sell you anything…’
AP: And then what happened?
RR: And then I sat there with like a blank look on my face. And I said to myself ‘there’s gotta be a better way, like how do people… why why would anyone buy these cars if you can’t fix it yourself?’
AP: And this to me is the paradox of Rich. He loves Teslas. That’s why he does this. He wants to own one for a lot less money. And he wants to make sure these wrecks don’t go to waste in a field.
Along the way, though, he’s looked at every part — big and small — up close, and he’s found that the cars aren’t as amazing as we’ve been led to believe they are. Yes, the batteries and software are advanced, but he’s also noticed that the cars aren’t put together that well. And sometimes the pieces are missing.
RR: consistency isn’t really tough as our strong point every car I’ve taken apart has been different, very different. They may use different screws on one car, different sound deadening another car, some kind we have no sound deadening some car might be missing a blatant pane.
AP: Are there any parts that seem to give customers a particular problem, that you keep coming up against?
RR: Most of the door handles are a big thing. It’s one of the most frequently used parts of the car. You have to get in the car to drive it obviously. That was a huge pain point. There was a ribbon cable that goes back and forth and flexes every time the door handle opens and that was a breaking point.
AP: This is partly why Wendy at Tesla is a huge fan of Rich. She kind of sees him like a huge check on Tesla. His videos showing the flaws keep the company honest and eventually help it improve…
WENDY: I think what he’s doing is what’s going to keep us alive. I think what Rich is doing is important for Tesla… I don’t think it’s dangerous for Tesla at all.
AP: I wondered though if Rich was in any danger –
WENDY: Oh man, I sure hope not. I think if we stop him, it will be very dangerous for us. I think we should let him do what he’s doing as long as possible. And I don’t know if we should endorse it because he mailed but I don’t think we should stop them. I think if we stopped him, it would be a really big mistake….
DB: We’ll be right back.
DB: Alright, we’re back.
AP: So, Dan.
AP: I want to tell you one reason I find Rich so interesting. Remember the video where Rich bought a really beat up Tesla? The red one that rolled over?
Well there’s a different part of the video that caught me eye. Rich starts wondering — very matter of factly — what happened to the driver of this car?
RR: I was dying to know if a Tesla in this condition could have possibly saved the driver. He had to have been be dead. Looked at clearance between the roofline and the front seat and the roofline wasn’t crushing my head…I think this guy may have lived actually…
DB: He’s approaching this like an engineer.
AP: And maybe this is just some kind of YouTube stunt, but I think this is real Rich. He goes into the car’s GPS, finds the owner’s address, and drives there. It’s an hour outside of Delaware. And he knocks on the guy’s door.
AP: Why did you need to know that?
RR: When you work on a vehicle if that car has any bad vibes, like if someone did pass away in it, I would feel very differently about it. For sure. I don’t want that kind of I guess bad juju for the vehicle.
DB: It seems like there’s something a little Elon Musk-like about Rich.
AP: Ok I had the same thought. It’s totally true. He can be funny. He can be brash. He’s ultra-nerdy and wicked smart, but some of the things he does like kind of raise eyebrows. As I got to know him, I got this sense that if things had gone a little differently, maybe he could been like Elon Musk.
Rich is from in Hyde Park, MA. It’s a lower income part of Boston, home to immigrants and people of color like Rich.
RR: The area I was raised in wasn’t the best area to raise a family, especially with the kid having so much autonomy to do whatever you wanted to do with no repercussions.
AP: His parents never married, and his mom worked a lot. Since he spent so much time alone, he had this habit of taking nearly everything apart in his mother’s home.
RR: I think it worried her because I was effectively destroying everything in the house. (laughs)
AP: Before long she’d had enough…
RR: One day she said, ‘you know what, you live with your dad now. You know, you’re a certain age where I’m having a hard time kind of reeling you in and raising you.’
AP: His dad was strict. But Rich can’t really help himself.
RR: He had a really nice high-end speaker system. And what I did was I want to see how the woofers worked. I was like, ‘this is really cool. How does it work?’
AP: Instead he sticks his thumb in the tweeters. And he blew a fuse. His dad was furious. His dad told him he just couldn’t do this anymore. That was in eighth grade.
In high school, Rich’s girlfriend gets pregnant. But Rich also gets into Harvard. He works full time and even nights to support his kid while in college, but it was just too much. So he drops out of Harvard and transfers to a cheaper college. He feels like a failure. He went on to work in IT by day. And now he tinkers with Teslas by night. And he runs this YouTube channel where his persona is like a dad trying to be funny and cool, which is what he is.
RR: They were cruising around on a bright sunny day and a pole just jumped out of nowhere and obliterated their Model 3. Poles are the number one cause of car accidents, I believe we should ban all poles. Keep all wiring underground. Keep our Model 3s safe!
AP: So Rich tells me he’s not afraid of Tesla coming after him. He’s not afraid of getting hurt while working on the cars. And somehow he’s not even intimidated by how much money he spends on damaged Teslas. But there is one thing.
AP: What are you afraid of?
RR: [sighs] That’s a good question. I’m scared of people not thinking I’m a nice and good guy. Yeah, I want to come across as a nice guy, a good guy and it’s like a personal thing I have where I want to I guess maintain a certain image. You know, I do I do have fears and doubts about myself, you know. I also have a fear of not looking smart not being smart too, you know, and I think those are my fears but I think I’ve said that a few times in a few videos where I’m like, hey, I’m not even that smart but..maybe I really believe that you know, maybe I’m looking for someone to say ‘no, you are smart’ and me to be like, you know, feel better about myself.
AP: But of course this is the internet. A land of trolls, whether they be CEOs like Elon Musk, or guys in their basements. Elon hasn’t come after Rich yet, but Rich does have people that don’t like him.
RR: Oh my gosh, I’d say I probably have mostly haters… (laughs) there’s a lot of haters. A lot of people don’t like doing what I’m doing cause you think I’m hurting Tesla in some way, hurting the brand. They think only Tesla should be working on it. Some of the things I say they don’t agree with. Sometimes I’ll go on a rant make fun of Elon Musk a little bit. And it will drive them crazy.
AP: But a lot of the Rich’s haters don’t just quibble with Rich about how he’s needling Tesla. A lot of them see a Black man with a platform and respond with pure racism.
RR: It’s funny because, the second that I address that in a video and I said ‘you could make all the racial comments you want, I think it’s hilarious’ and I actually started reading some of the comments out loud … that dropped by about 50%.
(laughs) This is my favorite comment. I’m gonna paraphrase: ‘You’re disgusting. Messy. You’re a slob. Don’t blame it on the truck. You could have a bus and it would still be trash. Just like your entire existence. Who hurt you man? Seriously, who hurt you?’
When I started addressing them and once they realize that I was in the level where I didn’t really care or I wasn’t concerned what they were saying and I found it funny. And it showed that it wasn’t getting to me. I was taking power away from them. Absolutely.
AP: Sometimes Rich will pin the most bigoted comments at the top of his YouTube feed.
RR: It will be the very first comment the most derogatory and racial and just disgusting filthy comment, I’ll pin as the first one. To let them know: I read this comment. I’m not ashamed of it. There it is right there and I let everyone else do the work. So just let them tear them apart…
AP: Rich’s dream is to open a Tesla repair shop some day — he wants to make this work his life, not just a hobby. But that’s where he could really come up against Tesla. Tesla doesn’t have dealers like other companies. It owns its own stores and repair shops, and that’s the way it likes it. Now Tesla could shut Rich down in a minute with a cease and desist letter or even worse. Here’s Linette again:
LL: Well it’s up to Tesla whether or not he’s an enemy. And so far Tesla has decided he is not an enemy.
AP: So far, Tesla has pretty much tolerated Rich’s videos.
DB: Hey, no such thing as bad publicity?
LL: But I think it would be very bad for their brand to try to squash a man who is just trying to fix their cars who admires their cars.
AP: But look Rich thinks he’s found a loophole. There’s this law in Massachusetts that says owners have the right to repair their cars if they have the same equipment as a dealer. And Rich thinks this gives him the power to keep doing it, but since Tesla doesn’t have dealers like other companies, it’s untested.
LL: Whether or not Rich’s dream can come true is really up to Tesla and how much they’re willing to tolerate outsiders tinkering with its cars. And how much it wants the outside world to know about how Teslas are made. And on the other hand, Rich sort of represents something that Tesla champions. A sort of geekiness about cars and love for getting into the nitty gritty parts of them and a sense of independence that Americans really like. And so I don’t think it would sit well for Tesla lovers or customers for Tesla to attack this little guy for working on cars that he really seems to love. And frankly, it’s a free country, man.
DB: So after all this, do you think that Rich Renoit and Elon Musk with actually meet?
AP: Rich sure hopes so.
RR: I’d be like ‘Hey Elon.’ He’d be like ‘Hey Rich.’
I think he’d be like hey, you probably just humor me and be like, ‘oh, yeah, nice job and kind of go about its business… Hop into his Tesla on a flying horse his rocket up his rocket…. and head back home to Mars or wherever he’s going…’
DB: Just before we finished this episode, Tesla wrote to say it will assess salvaged vehicles for a fee and that customers are free to do what they want with their cars, including doing their own repairs. It added that a car repaired by an unqualified mechanic may post a danger to others on the road.
DB: A quick update now on a previous Household Name episode. A few weeks ago, we brought you the story of a Brooks Brothers store in Lower Manhattan that became a makeshift morgue on 9/11. We told the story of a young doctor who went to volunteer there and to his horror, he was put in charge, and came up against his personal limits. If you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to go back and listen.
We got word that the Brooks Brothers store just closed for good. It had been in that same location for 45 years. I stopped by just before final closing and a manager didn’t want to be recorded but he told me it was a special place that he’ll never forget. As I left, I noticed some photos in bubble wrap. The pictures that for years showed what the store looked like right after 9/11 and what it looked like when it was restored a year later.
This episode was produced by Amy Pedulla and me, with Anna Mazarakis and Sarah Wyman.
Our editor is Gianna Palmer.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
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Mixing, sound design and original music by Casey Holford and John DeLore.
The executive producers of Household Name are Chris Bannon, Laura Mayer, Jenny Radelet, and me.
Please leave us a review and rating on Apple Podcasts. It really helps people find the show. And let us know what you think. Send comments and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Household Name is a production of Insider Audio.
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