Imagine the following scenario: Your humble author buys an Accord Coupe, and loves it, and suggests that you do the same. Not so hard to imagine, insofar as that’s what actually happened.
Now let’s imagine I tell you that you, the TTAC reader, can get a discount on an Accord if you use my referral code. That’s kind of odd, right? After all, I’m here to report on the Accord, not to incentivize your purchase. Last but not least, let’s imagine that for every four Accords sold with my referral code, Honda gives me $6,200 worth of Honda products. A new CBR500, maybe, or an ATV for my son. And let’s say that there’s actually more to it than that — in fact, for every four Accords I sell, I can receive up to eleven thousand dollars’ worth of goodies.
Last but not least, let’s imagine that I hold a significant amount of Honda stock and that my posts are written with the knowledge that positive Honda stories might help that stock move in a direction that is profitable for me.
Sounds crazy, right? Welcome to the world of Fred Lambert and his site, electrek.co.
It’s apparently not unusual for Electrek writers to hold positions in Tesla stock, and although they periodically disclose that fact, it’s not usually disclosed in close proximity to stories like Tesla Model S Crushes All Competition. What you will find right beneath that article: an invitation to use the writer’s code for a Tesla referral. That’s where you’ll see that the writer has made twenty referrals for new Tesla purchases. And we can also see that Fred Lambert, the site’s editor-in-chief and the man responsible for setting the ethical compass of the site, has successfully referred six new owners.
What do they get? Let’s see:
Referrals one and two are worth at least $500 each. Referral three is worth between four and seven thousand dollars on the resale market. Referral four is worth $7,200. That’s if you refer new Tesla cars. Referring new Tesla solar will get you $400 in cash, or $750 in credit, per referral.
Electrek’s Jameson Dow has twenty referrals. Depending on when he made them, and the conditions of each program, we could be talking about more than sixty thousand dollars in items that can be easily resold for cash. Fred Lambert has six referrals, for a total of ten grand or more. This is all direct from Tesla. We’re not talking the kind of paid vacations against which this site has traditionally railed, nor are we talking about freebies like Jonny Lieberman’s no-cost year in a $65,000 Cadillac station wagon. We’re talking cold hard cash possibilities.
When notorious cross-country speeder Alex Roy and a few other autowriters called Lambert out, this was his response:
He has a point. The breathless, fawning content written by Electrek regarding Tesla is regularly picked up by other outlets. Which helps boost Tesla’s stock price, making them money. And the links lead to referrals, which put highly valuable freebies in the hands of Fred and his editorial staff. It’s a pyramid of cash that just keeps growing.
Should you care? Only if you are interested in an electric car and want to know the truth about the products. Do you really think that new electric vehicles from Ford, Toyota, and other companies are going to get a fair shake on Electrek when there’s a five-or-six-figure incentive for them to keep pushing Tesla? Do you think that Electrek will report fairly and honestly on Tesla’s problems when they are holding the stock?
Our readers have often expressed a bit of ennui with TTAC’s occasional insistence on showing you how the autojourno sausage is made. But this should make you sit up and pay attention. What’s the right thing for Electrek to do? I suggest that they sell their “gifts” from Tesla and donate the money to charity. That would be a good start. And it would provide a strong counterpoint to the people who will say that electric auto journalism is nothing but advertorial content under another name. Is it gonna happen? Given that Mr. Lambert has blocked his critics on Twitter and refused to respond to my inquiries, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
[Images via Twitter]