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Being A Tesla-Owner Is Becoming Embarrasing

Recently, Sweden’s major tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet revealed that Tesla uses child labour. An investigative journalistic endeavour showed that children in Madagascar are digging for a mineral that Tesla and other electric car manufacturers use for battery insulation. The newspaper had visited the oxygen-poor mines where 11,000 children work and documented that Tesla in the US had received shipments of the mineral from two Chinese companies that had purchased the mineral from the mines.

Quite a story about the car brand that is extremely popular all over the rich world, including in Denmark. And it adds to a long list of negative stories about Tesla, which makes it more and more embarassing being a Tesla owner.

The electric car brand became widespread in Europe with the help of government subsidies to pave the way for more electric cars. 2023 was the year Tesla became a household name in for example Denmark. And Tesla broke the record in sales of most cars ever in one year by selling 17.955 Tesla Model Y last year. The last record was 16,686 cars sold, which was set by the Opel Kadett in 1986.

While more and more European citizens and consumers are becoming conscious when buying e.g. food, the same ‘political correctness’ does not seem to be important when buying cars. Some people might say No to a Chinese car, but Tesla obviously has a great image, despite a track record in bad behaviour.

Child labour in Madagascar is just one thing. Elon Musk is also downright hostile to labour unions. He has refused to sign Swedish collective agreements, and a number of Nordic labour unions have joined forces to pressure Tesla to accept the Nordic model. Also Germany is joining the movement against Tesla. They are blocking the import of Teslas at ports, and elsewhere, hazardous waste collection is being blocked at Tesla’s facilities.

But there’s more. Tesla is at the forefront of the increasing surveillance and data harvesting when it comes to electric cars. For example, the latest models takes videos of everyone who passes close by, because you could be about to do something to the car, according to the company. This ia potentially criminalising Tesla-owners, at least in Denmark, where it is illegal to automatically film others, according to TV2 Kosmopol. When EU authorities demand that Tesla show more respect for our data legislation, Tesla says that they certainly do. However, this has no real effect, says FDM.

Finally, Tesla’s Autopilot – and self-driving system – has been repeatedly criticised for its safety and efficiency. Accidents and fatalities involving Tesla cars in Autopilot mode have raised concerns about the reliability of the technology. There has been no shortage of promises of self-driving cars from Elon Musk over the years.

There’s no doubt that Tesla pioneered electric cars and has a big role in the green revolution – it is also the first mover in solar panels in the US. And Tesla has received much praise for that. But as profits increase, we should all be much more vigilant. Especially when it comes from the US, where laws and values are very different from those in Europe. Because with thorough knowledge of Tesla – as Aftonbladet’s editorial writes – it is actually embarrassing to drive a Tesla.

Illustration: Screenshot from the brilliant movie Leave the World Behind with Julia Roberts where one scene shows Teslas breaking out of the factories and craching because the Internet is down.

Part of this column was first published in the Danish daily Politiken.