An Open Letter To Elon Musk: Would YOU Buy A $110,000 Taxi?

Dear Elon:

We all know and have come to accept that everything you touch turns to gold. You are the magician who at the same time is conquering space, the hole in the ozone layer, and the myth that electric cars are for former hippies. You are the modern day equivalent to Leonardo da Vinci.

And we all admire you for that. But may I share with you a concern I have regarding your celebrated Tesla Model S? My concern relates to the Sergio Zyman quote that “everything communicates” (Zyman was  Coca-Cola CMO in the late 1990s).

This is still very much true today. So what has me worried is that I read that the entire fleet of 167 Amsterdam Schiphol Airport taxis has been replaced with Tesla’s Model S. Just what will that communicate?

Amsterdam Schiphol airport is the fourth busiest airport in Europe and an important hub for (obviously) KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and its partners Delta and Air France. In 2013 (the latest full year numbers) it handled 52.6 million passengers, and The Netherlands only has 17 million citizens!



Schiphol (pronounced with an S, and then just clear as much phlegm from your throat as possible to get a proper-sounding Dutch “ch,” usually identical now to the sound we make for ”g”) is also an airport that is very active on the corporate social responsibility front.

It invests heavily in (green) infrastructure to maintain its enviable position in the industry. Schiphol recycles pretty much everything there is to recycle (and uses some of that material to build runways!) and is powered by solar and bio-gas, in short, it’s the Unilever of airports in the world.

So I get why Schiphol wanted the Teslas. They make a great green statement and are right on strategy with the airport’s sustainability efforts , while demonstrating to passengers that Schiphol is cool and current.

So, Elon, that ‘s what your taxis do for Schiphol. But what do the taxis do for your brand?

On the positive side, the move will expose a small percentage of those 52.6 million passengers to your product, of which an even smaller percentage might actually be a potential buyer of your cars. You could argue it is a great paid-for sampling opportunity.

But on the negative side, your car will now be seen as a taxi. What are your thoughts on the Ford Crown Victoria? Sure, they are apparently unbreakable, and even after being used as a police cruiser can still find a life as a NYC taxi (or so said Mobil 1 in this commercial).

But is that what you want for your beautifully designed and otherwise carefully marketed car? Or are you inadvertently placing it on par with other taxi workhorses from around the world? I give you the Mercedes E diesel (Germany), VW Beetle (Mexico), Mahindra Logan (India) and the newly introduced Nissan NV200 (New York).

To be honest, I would have thought twice before jumping on the opportunity to sell 167 Teslas on one order, because everything communicates. But what do I know? I am not Elon Musk!

5 comments about "An Open Letter To Elon Musk: Would YOU Buy A $110,000 Taxi?".
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  1. Alex Miller from ViaSat, October 27, 2014 at 1:58 p.m.

    I think the definition of 'what is a taxi?' is changing. I see a lot of taxi companies here in Denver using Priuses. If you buy a lot of gas, it makes sense.

  2. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, October 27, 2014 at 2:07 p.m.

    Mercedes Benz sedans are used extensively as taxis throughout Europe. The bigger story is the creation of a brand feature I reference as high quality green. It makes you feel good to drive and be driven in. What say you?

  3. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), October 27, 2014 at 2:34 p.m.

    I think a much better plan would have been to try something like Porsche is doing with Delta (or is it the other way around?) by transferring frequent flyers with high status between flights at Hartsfield Atlanta, Minneapolis and LAX ( and American Airlines now offers with Cadillac at LAX ( Less costly, more on target and perfect for the Tesla Model S brand image. Stephen Walker from Headmint made the same suggestion.

  4. Noah Wieder from SearchBug, Inc., October 27, 2014 at 8:27 p.m.

    Maarten, Interesting.. but when I fly and need ground transportation at say JFK, I really don't want to get into a dirty NY taxi. I prefer to hire a Car Service which use higher end vehicles. Personally, I book through and would love to see them have an option for a Telsa. If Amsterdam Schiphol Airport are going to use Tesla taxis and still charge the same fees, I think everyone wins. Heck if I flew into JFK or other NYC airports and I knew I could jump into a Tesla taxi... frankly.. that would be awesome.

  5. Nicholas Fiekowsky from (personal opinion), October 28, 2014 at 10:58 a.m.

    Tesla has already nailed the performance corner of their reputation. This will cement the opposite corner - reliability and low operating cost.

    Widespread adoption for taxi service is an important endorsement of vehicle reliability, practicality and long-run affordability. It doesn't necessarily tell us much about fun-to-drive.

    Taxi service is one of the most demanding automobile applications. Extended hours in all weather conditions, start & stop driving, high percentage of full-payload trips, all with varying levels of driver expertise.

    Taxi service is low-margin, fuel & maintenance are big drains on the bottom line. Successful operators are ruthlessly cold-blooded about vehicle choice.

    Someone in the Tesla organization figured this out. Either their vehicles will be winners in their first lap at Schiphol or the organization will quickly cycle lessons learned into the improvements that will make them winners.

    The first Space-X rockets did not meet objectives. The company learned from those failures to deliver very reliable launch vehicles.

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