On Feeling Weird About Tesla

On paper, I am a Tesla guy. I’ve got money, I’m a nerd, and for years I professionally ran a blog advocating for technology that helps decrease our impact on the environment. I love what Tesla does. I even (foolishly, considering how over-valued it is) own stock in Tesla. And yet the idea of buying an S or an X…or even a Model 3 seems inescapably wrong to me.

I recognize that I am just one dude dealing with my own issues, but I’m going to deal with them publicly right now, because I think it may be a barrier as Tesla ventures out of big cities and into the mid-range market with the Model 3.

I live in Missoula, Montana and I drive (depending on the weather) a 2009 Honda Civic or a 2007 Subaru Outback. This makes me pretty much exactly like everyone else in town. You have an inexpensive, reliable car for summer driving, and Subaru (or even more likely, a truck) for the winter.

There is only one guy in my town of 60,000 people who has a Tesla and everybody knows where he likes to eat lunch. His car couldn’t be more obvious if it had hover lights. When I’m in LA, I see Teslas like they’re Hondas. But here, that kind of vehicle feels almost ostentatious.

I hate luxury for luxury’s sake. I find it not just brash but societally disruptive. It’s just another mechanism of manufacturing discontent by building a thing that most people want but can never have. It’s a glaringly visible line we intentionally draw between the classes and highlight the growth in American inequality; another wedge that we drive between ourselves for no other reason than ego.

That’s easy to lose in a larger city where the social connective tissue is more loose. But even in my relatively large small town, the name “Tesla,” while clearly not just luxury for luxury’s sake, carries the baggage of a luxury brand.

The problem is, the Model 3 comes in a bit under the price of the ostentatious luxury vehicle. And it does it with a bunch of perks that I actually do want in my car (if all goes as promised.) It‘ll be safe, fun to drive, and carbon efficient. And yet it would make me socially anxious to drive one because…it’s weird.

It’s different. In the Big City, different feels good, like blazing a trail. In a small town, though, different can feel like trying real hard to look special. Or even like rubbing your neighbor’s nose in your success. I feel a responsibility to think not only of how my Tesla will make me feel, but how it will make my neighbors feel (about me, and about themselves.)

I don’t know if this is a problem for Tesla, but I know it isn’t a problem for me because my next car is going to be a mid-size, old-school gas burner…just like everybody else.

Or maybe, if I want to be a true nerd about it, a Chevy Bolt.

EDIT: I want to be clear, this isn’t a good reason not to buy a Tesla, it’s a real and practical reason why I, and many others, won’t. I’m not making an argument, I’m pointing out a problem.

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