The Ford-Tesla Grudge Match: An Automotive Cultural Misunderstanding

In recent times, there’s been a lot of drama on social media between Ford fans and Tesla fans, with much of it centered around Ford executives. While I’m a fan of Tesla, I’m pretty different from the average Tesla fan, and somehow have no problem getting along with the people on the Ford side about as well as I get along with the people on the Tesla side. The whole thing has left me confused, and wondering why people have gotten so ugly with each other.

I’m sure a number of people will tell me on Twitter and in the comments why they think this is. Ford said this and that, and that was ugly, so they deserve to be mobbed is the most common one I get from people. I’ve also seen conspiracy theories, and was even accused of working for Ford. I get it, though, and I’m not mad at anybody. I’ve just been confused.

Last night, I finally figured out why people have been so mad while it hasn’t fazed me. It’s actually a clash between old-school car culture and Tesla car culture, which are quite different from each other.

Old-School Car Culture Was Very Thick Skinned

The guys on Top Gear are a great example of how old-school car people interact. If I took the average Tesla fan to a car meet 15–25 years ago, they’d be appalled at the things people were saying to each other. People who were good friends and even family would constantly rip on each other’s cars.

I’d tell a friend of mine that her old Dodge muscle car “handles like a lawn dart.” Her dad would say he’s had lawnmowers with bigger engines than my Fiero. I’d ask my friend with a Mustang if he’d had any good wrecks lately, and he’d tell me that Chevys (my family had a lot of them) were indeed “like a rock,” because rocks don’t move on their own.

We’d even share cute insulting acronyms with each other:

  • FORD: Fixed Or Repaired Daily, Found On Roadside Dead
  • PONTIAC: Poor Old Nut Thinks It’s A Cadillac.
  • CHEVY: Cheapest Heap Ever Visioned Yet, Can’t Have Expensive Vehicle Yet
  • Chrysler starts with “cry,” because that’s what you’ll be doing if you own one.

Well, that last one wasn’t an acronym or a backronym, but it seems to fit in, so I’m leaving it there.

Despite all the insults we’d throw each other over our vehicles, everyone was still friends. They were friendly ribbings. A few days later, someone from a family with a lot of GMs (me) was helping a friend install a new exhaust system on a Ford, in garage space that an old Chrysler man would let us use. We made fun of each other, but we were all still car people. Nobody got angry, nobody said “I’m never speaking to you again,” and it never came to blows.

That’s because we never took the little car insults personally, even when we had spent a lot of time working on them and were thus personally invested. We didn’t make fun of each other’s religions, politics, or anything like that, because those would have been a low enough blow to ruin friendships. Our choice of car was fair game, though.

Tesla Fandom

I do know that there are old-school car people who are Tesla fans, and that I’m far from being the only one. I have noticed, though, that the average Tesla fan who is getting really angry at the Ford people right now tends to not be in that crowd. One guy I asked said he hated cars before Tesla came along. For many others I’ve asked, Tesla excited them in a way that other cars couldn’t.

In other words, Tesla pulled in a lot of people who weren’t car people before. For some, it’s the environmental friendliness. For others, it’s the gadgetry, and the idea of a rolling computer that can do cool tricks excites them. Some people even started out as Tesla shareholders and only got a Tesla car later, so their main focus is the stock. I’ve also seen people who started out as fans of Elon Musk, and now like Tesla because it’s one of the companies he runs. If any of this describes you, that’s totally cool.

Given these very different common paths into Tesla Fandom, it’s no surprise that the culture of Tesla’s fans is going to be very different from the rest of the automotive world. At traditional car meetups, you don’t hear people talk about emissions, software, or how the price of the manufacturer’s stock is doing. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having those discussions, but they are quite different from what you hear in other automobile communities. People are talking about the history of their car (or the model), the different engine options, what they did to restore or modify their car, and a variety of other related topics.

The Big Takeaway Here

I know that there are people out there who are being truly ugly and mean-spirited about Tesla. I don’t deny the existence of that at all. It’s quite real, especially from people who are shorting the stock and wish it ill.

I don’t think people like Jim Farley or Mike Levine mean it that way, though. It’s normal for the car manufacturers to throw shade at each other, and I think Elon Musk (who was into cars long before Tesla) gets it. I’ve seen him return fire at Ford, but again it was not meant in a malicious way. He has also pointed out repeatedly that étron means “turd” in French, and the Audi e-tron is a top selling electric vehicle in Europe, #1 in EV darling Norway in 2020. The execs of these different car companies get it, and have fun playing the car insult game.

Many of Tesla’s fans didn’t come from a background where this was normal, though. They see someone saying bad things about Tesla, and they think it’s an attack. Even worse, if they’re Tesla shareholders, it’s taken as a threat to their pocketbooks and retirements, so that’s even worse than a personal attack in some ways. They feel an urgent need to retaliate, and even saw Elon’s tweets giving it back to the Ford people as encouragement and even a call to arms (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Initially, the Ford camp took this as friendly counter-insults and thought the typical friendly game was going on. As things got worse and it became clear that Tesla fans were deeply serious about what they were saying, we started seeing things like mass blocking.

I know I’m making myself look old saying this, but I miss those good old days when we could all just enjoy our different cars together. I know many, if not most, Tesla fans aren’t involved in the drama and would readily do this, but to the ones neck-deep in it, I hope we can get this all sorted out and get back to having fun.

And really, isn’t that the point? If we aren’t having fun, why be fans of anything?

Featured image: My dad welding new suspension mounts on the frame of a Ford Bronco, with a Ford Bronco in the background.

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