Tesla’s Dead PR Department Got Blamed for Failure to Send Test Vehicles for a Big Contest

In an increasingly crowded electric vehicle market, every bit of differentiation can help, even for EV juggernaut Tesla. Positive reviews and awards bestowed by major automotive publications can have a significant influence on consumer behavior. That positive recognition is a big part of what automakers’ PR departments work to obtain.

Last year, Tesla eliminated its PR department. Yet the day-to-day work of a well-functioning PR department might have made the difference between Tesla winning Car and Driver’s 2021 EV of the Year award and coming in as the runner-up.

The 2021 Car and Driver EV of the Year award didn’t go to a Tesla

Low-angle view of the façade of a Tesla Motors dealership with logo and sign in Pleasanton, California, on July 23, 2018
Tesla dealership | Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Recently, Car and Driver named the Ford Mustang Mach-E the 2021 EV of the Year over every Tesla model.

The Mach-E is an attractive crossover styled like a muscle car and boasts 75.7-kWh battery packs. They provide a so-so range of 230 miles for the base model. But extended-range Premium models are available that can travel farther (270 miles with all-wheel drive or 300 miles with front-wheel drive).

The base model produces 255 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque, though again, higher trims provide better performance. In fact, the top-trim GT model can produce 480 hp and 634 lb-ft of torque.

You’re not going to get a whopping amount of cargo space here, but that’s true of most of today’s EVs. The cargo hold measures 29 cubic feet and 59.6 cubic feet with the second row folded down. There’s also a frunk that provides 4.8 more cubes of space.

Buyers also get a sizable 15.5-inch touchscreen and a 10.2-inch digital instrument cluster. Plus, there’s a wireless phone charging pad, navigation, and phone-as-key capability included with each model.

Though the Ford Mustang Mach-E is an excellent EV, diligent prospective buyers should consider certain hiccups that occurred with Car and Driver’s review process. C/D didn’t include several notable EVs in its evaluation, including the Chevy Bolt, Hyundai Ioniq, Jaguar I-Pace, and Kona Electric.

Additionally, Tesla did not provide test models for review for this award. Why not?

Tesla gave its PR department the ax

In October 2020, news broke that Tesla had officially dissolved its public relations department. As much as Tesla has grown in reputation and value, the news wasn’t a surprise to everyone. A Forbes article analyzing the move reached the same conclusion that CEO Elon Musk did: The hype machine that Tesla has built makes its PR department unnecessary.

However, automaker PR departments handle many mundane tasks that position a car brand in the best possible light. For example, for reviews and awards, a PR staffer might supply an automotive magazine reviewer with the highest level trim car for a test drive — one they have tested first and fixed any apparent and rectifiable flaws before handing it off.

By not doing so, a reviewer may rent a lower-level trim that fails to impress as much as it should and garner an average or negative review. Or the reviewer might not try to obtain one separately and forgo reviewing the model.

But Car and Driver went the extra mile to ensure it reviewed as many EVs as possible for its award. According to C/D, “Tesla, which disbanded its PR department in 2020, didn’t provide a single vehicle. Instead, we rented the Model 3, S, and Y from private owners for this test, and we decided to skip the slow-selling, expensive Model X.”

And in the case of the Model Y and Model S, reviewers noted problems that a meticulous PR staffer might have rectified.

Other would-be contenders for Car and Driver’s big EV award

Despite Tesla’s near misses, Car and Driver reviewed multiple models from the automaker.

However, Jaguar declined to participate, which is odd considering the category’s stiff competition. Further, Chevrolet’s absence had bureaucratic reasons. Given that the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt had not yet launched, C/D reviewers were informed that Chevrolet would not approve releasing the new model yet. Hyundai provided a similar reason, and neither company wanted to provide last year’s model.

Neither the BMW i3 nor the Mini Cooper SE made the list either, with BMW also declining to provide test models. Car and Driver also didn’t test the Audi e-tron GT or Porsche Taycan Cross made the list either, with the companies citing they had only European models in stock. And several startups looking to compete in the space, such as Lucid and Rivian, also failed to provide models.

No matter the stated reason, some of these automakers may have declined to provide a test model because of Car and Driver test’s nature. The reviewers put each vehicle through a 1,000-mile road trip — a good assessment of an EV. Given the scattershot charging infrastructure throughout the U.S., reliable EVs need a solid driving range, not to mention the ability to handle various types of roads in various states of repair.

Still, several brands did not bring their A-game to the contest, whether by bureaucratic bungle, calculated choice, or oversight, leaving the Ford Mustang Mach-E to run away with the prize.

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