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When a Brand Becomes Your Identity, Bad Things Can Happen

A horrible situation transpired in Midtown Detroit yesterday evening, in which the driver of an old Chevrolet Silverado pickup crossed the center line on Canfield Avenue, near Second Street, and struck four people standing outside the Shinola store.

According to the latest reports, a 73-year-old man has died, while two others remain in hospital in serious condition. The 42-year-old driver, who has reportedly never held a license in his life and was driving with illegal plates, was arrested at the scene. He told police he had taken two Ecstacy pills, Xanax, and officers also suspect he was under the influence of alcohol.

An unidentified passenger riding in the truck told media he didn’t know why the driver crossed the line, adding that he tried to stop the vehicle by jamming the gearshift lever into “park.”

What makes this story different from the many instances of innocent bystanders being injured by passenger cars not being where they’re supposed to be (not to mention criminally irresponsible behavior on the part of vehicle operators) is the location of the crash, and the reason those pedestrians were standing along Canfield.

It was a Tesla pop-up event. And those bystanders were looking at Tesla vehicles near a mobile design studio. As early reports filtered out, some decided to take speculation to new heights.

The most visible, and some would say the most irresponsible, example of this rush-to-motive reaction is a piece published by Electrek last night. Carrying the headline, “A truck reportedly intentionally ran over people at a Tesla event in Detroit,” the story has since been updated, but only to reflect that the driver was undergoing drug and alcohol testing, as well as the addition of a comment from Tesla.

The headline, based on a comment from an eyewitness, remains. While police have not listed an official cause of the crash, a driver who readily admits to being on drugs gives a casual detective ample food for thought. Still, it’s not hard to imagine why witnesses would claim a vehicle travelling at 45 miles per hour towards pedestrians was doing so “intentionally.” Any vehicle making course for the sidewalk at that speed will look like an intentional act.

But the assumptions of eyewitnesses is just that: assumption, at least until we know more. The Electrek article continues, describing efforts by major automakers like General Motors — as well as state lawmakers — to keep Tesla from doing business in Michigan.

“The event was near the Shinola headquarters near GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant,” Electrek states, as if to imply the crash site’s location — three miles from one of GM’s many assembly plants — had something to do with causality. A map then appears, showing the distance between the Midtown crash site and GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant.

“The police were on site investigating after the accident, which is potentially not an accident, and the victims were transported to the hospital,” the piece reads, adding that the event is ongoing. “At this point, it’s not exactly clear what transpired and if it was indeed intentional, that they were targeting the victims because it was a Tesla event.”

The story ends with further descriptions of GM’s lobbying efforts to keep Tesla’s direct sales model out of the state.

At some point — one which the writer, Editor in Chief Fred Lambert, should have arrived at much sooner, if indeed at all — one needs to clamp down on speculation until all facts are known, especially in a case like this. This is a serious, life-and-death situation, not a benign will Hyundai build a pickup truck guessing game. It’s simply irresponsible to go this far.

If an American car strikes pedestrians remotely near a German or Japanese assembly plant on U.S. soil, are we to immediately assume (and write about) how the cause could maybe, perhaps, possibly be attributed to protectionism and proposed White House policies? Or do we wait to see whether the driver had a stroke, passed out, or was intoxicated?

Such actions only serve to rile up a certain demographic — in this case, the ardently pro-Tesla readers of Electrek. We make light of how some Tesla aficionados are too enraptured with the brand (and thus too protective), but reading the comments section below the story would give anyone, including rational Tesla owners (of which there are many), reason for pause. Some of the comments make Alex Jones’ ramblings seem like reasoned, cogent arguments in comparison.

Terrorism. Hate crime. Anti-Tesla violence. In the comments, these accusations mingle with conspiracy theories about stock prices and the GOP and other assumed motivations for the allegedly intoxicated, unlicensed driver of the GM pickup on Canfield Avenue. Identity politics can get ugly. When you identify with the lifestyle and ideology attached to a car brand, it can get ugly and just plain weird.

There’s already far too much polarization and division in today’s society. Fanning the flames in this manner does a disservice to everyone: readers, Tesla owners, GM employees, everyone.

[Image: Tesla]

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