Why Tesla 'has a problem appealing to women': Electric cars, Elon Musk may be off-putting

Nathan Bomey


Published 5:01 AM EDT Jul 8, 2019

Jane Reed, a special education advocate in Indianapolis, calls herself an “old hippie” who cares about the environment and likes the idea of electric cars.

But shes not ready to buy a Tesla or any other electric car at this point.

And in that respect, shes not alone. Women are notably less likely than men to buy EVs.

“No offense to men – because I love you guys dearly – but when it comes to buying a car, women are a little more practical when looking at those needs than men are,” said Reed, who drives a Kia Soul throughout the state of Indiana for her job. “I think we tend to look at Tesla more as toys.”

Thats a problem for electric vehicle makers as they invest heavily in battery-powered cars, seeking to popularize them as alternatives to internal combustion engine vehicles. But its particularly troubling for Tesla, which is facing significant pressure to jolt sales amid concerns among investors that interest in the companys electric vehicles is peaking.

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To be sure, the vast majority of Americans arent in the market for electric cars, which represented only 1.4% of total vehicle sales in 2018, according to Morgan Stanley. Tesla accounted for about 53% of the total electric car sales in 2018, according to industry data source InsideEVs.

Are you a woman who has considered buying a Tesla or owns one? Or would you never purchase a Tesla? Send your reasons to Nathan Bomey @NathanBomey.

And Tesla reported good news on Tuesday: Its second-quarter sales outperformed expectations in what Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives called a “major step in the right direction.”

But questions linger about demand in the long term, Ives noted, in part because it appears that many people purchased Tesla vehicles in the quarter to get ahead of the July 1 halving of Teslas federal tax credit for electric car purchases. What's more, competition is coming from the likes of Cadillac, Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and others, in addition to cars already on the market from Jaguar, Chevrolet, Honda and Nissan.

Concerns about practicality, price

Worries about the practicality of electric cars – notably the fact that they can run out of a charge and carry a higher sticker price – and a distaste for the macho image projected by Tesla CEO Elon Musk are among the reasons why the company is struggling to sell vehicles to women, analysts said.

“I think Tesla, in general, has a problem appealing to women,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with car-buying research site Edmunds. “Having vehicles that attract more women buyers is something theyre going to have to do as they roll out into the mainstream market.”

While Musk said in June that demand is “absolutely not” waning, Tesla cant afford to ignore half of the population as it tries to achieve profitability. More than 60% of women “are the sole decision-maker when it comes to purchasing their next car,” according to a recent survey.

To be sure, women cannot be grouped together as a monolithic set of consumers. Each individual has her own motivations and justifications for making purchases.

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But statistically speaking, Tesla is trailing its competitors when it comes to getting women to purchase its cars.

In the first quarter of 2019, 69% of Tesla vehicles were registered by men, while 31% were registered by women, according to Edmunds.

Among luxury auto brands, Teslas breakdown compares with 51% men-49% women for Lexus, 54%-46% for Acura, 56%-44% for Lincoln, 57%-43% for Mercedes-Benz, 58%-42% for Cadillac and 60%-40% for BMW, according to Edmunds.

Only two luxury brands performed worse than Tesla among women – Porsche at 72%-28% and Genesis at 74%-26% – and those are niche lineups.

An electric car problem

Whats particularly troubling for Tesla is that the companys failure to appeal to women might not have much to do with the brand.

“I dont know that its a Tesla problem as much as an electric vehicle problem,” said Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst and founder of

Indeed, the most popular non-Tesla electric cars also have a similar problem in appealing to women: The Chevrolet Bolts registrations split is 69% men-31% women, while the Nissan Leafs is 66% men-34% women.

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Yet the issue is most pressing for Tesla since the company sells nothing but electric cars. Unlike Chevrolet, theres no Silverado pickup truck to generate profits.

Key to Teslas challenges among all consumers: Theres a perception that electric vehicles are a hassle because you need to regularly charge them to avoid getting stranded.

But for women, its even more problematic because they "tend to be more practical than emotional when it comes to vehicle purchases,” Lindland said.

Caldwell said automotive research indicates that women are more likely than men to focus on functionality and cost of ownership when shopping for a car – rather than macho-sounding features like Teslas so-called “ludicrous mode,” which enables aggressive driving.

Some women, however, have embraced Tesla.

San Diego-area resident Elaine Borseth has been driving a Tesla Model S ultra-luxury sedan for the last four years. Shes become an evangelist for the brand, saying theyre “very sleek and sexy” and she was “blown away by the performance.”

“To me, when I bought it I didnt care that it was electric – I just thought it was amazing,” she said.

She has completed multiple cross-country road trips in her Tesla and takes potential electric car customers on test drives.

Despite her love of the brand, shes noticed “theres a lot of misinformation out there” about electric cars. For example, its easy to charge at home by installing a high-powered outlet or paying a few hundred dollars for a charging unit, she said.

She also praised Tesla vehicles cargo space and safety, which she said could appeal to women with children.

Elon Musk's persona

But concerns about electric cars might not be the only problem for Tesla when it comes to appealing to women.

Musks tendency to project machismo and bravado has generated a frenzied following a

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