Tesla enlists owners' clubs to be lobbying army; insists on it, in fact


2016 Tesla Model S

2016 Tesla Model S

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Tesla owners are among the most enthusiastic in the car world, and Tesla often harnesses that enthusiasm.

The company knows it can count on owners to be evangelists for its brand, and even to protest laws that prevent it from selling electric cars directly to buyers in certain states.

But Tesla is apparently not content to sit back while independent owner groups act on its behalf.

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A set of rules laid out late last year for any owners' club seeking "official" status from Tesla gives the carmaker much more control over these groups.

The rules require owners' clubs to participate in Tesla lobbying efforts, protect Tesla intellectual property (IP), and make other demands, according to Transport Evolved, which first spotted the document.

While owners' clubs can vary from small, informal groups to large organizations with their own management hierarchies, Tesla seeks to impose some parameters on club structure.

Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]

Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]

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The agreement for "official" clubs stipulates that a group must maintain membership "in excess of 25 Tesla owners."

Groups must also have a point of contact who communicates with Tesla, and must inform the carmaker of any changes in leadership.

In exchange, Tesla agrees to license its brand name and "features" to clubs, pending approval for each individual use.

ALSO SEE: Minnesota Tesla Owners Show Banned Model S To Iowa Electric-Car Shoppers (Oct 2014)

Any clubs with "official" status are also expected to defend Tesla and its interests.

The agreement states that clubs must "assist Tesla in curbing IP infringement and unauthorized or illegal data breaches."

This may be meant to stop owners from making modifications to a car or trying to perform repairs on their own.

Minnesota Tesla Model S owners demonstrate their cars in Urbandale, Iowa, Oct 2014 [KCCI 8 video]

Minnesota Tesla Model S owners demonstrate their cars in Urbandale, Iowa, Oct 2014 [KCCI 8 video]

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Tesla uses proprietary software to control virtually everything in its cars, and like other automakers, it's very protective of that software.

Other language in the agreement requires clubs to provide "reasonable assistance" in supporting local pro-Tesla legislative efforts, participation in consumer surveys, and testing of new software.

Tesla owners currently do much of this already.

Owner groups have protested direct-sales bans in certain states, and it was recently revealed that Tesla uses secret software to test new "Autopilot" autonomous features on owners' vehicles.

Tesla Supercharger stations at Harris Ranch, California, in April 2013 [photo: TeslaTap.com]

Tesla Supercharger stations at Harris Ranch, California, in April 2013 [photo: TeslaTap.com]

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But the language of the agreement implies that activities like those are not just encouraged of owners' clubs, but expected.

Finally, other language in the agreement could give Tesla the authority to request clubs delete website or social media posts that depict the company in a bad way, according to Transport Evolved.

It's not unreasonable for Tesla to try to manage the use of its image, or more aggressively mobilize legions of loyal and enthusiastic owners.

Yet by placing too many requirements on owners' clubs, Tesla conceivably risks alienating at least some of the very fans that have been such an important factor in its success.

Tesla boasts owner loyalty most carmakers can only dream about. A heavy hand could risk squandering some of that good will for its most involved owners.

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