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Would-be Tesla buyers snub company as Musk's reputation dips

The ranks of would-be Tesla buyers in the United States are shrinking, according to a survey by market intelligence firm Caliber, which attributed the drop in part to CEO Elon Musk's polarizing persona.

While Tesla continued to post strong sales growth last year, helped by aggressive price cuts, the electric-vehicle maker is expected to report weak quarterly sales as early as Tuesday.

Caliber's "consideration score" for Tesla, provided exclusively to Reuters, fell to 31% in February, less than half its high of 70% in November 2021 when it started tracking consumer interest in the brand.

Tesla's consideration score fell 8 percentage points from January alone even as Caliber's scores for Mercedes, BMW and Audi, which produce gas as well as EV models, inched up during that same period, reaching 44-47%.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. Musk in the past has blamed high-interest rates for curbing consumer demand for big ticket items like cars.

Caliber cited strong associations between Tesla's reputation and that of Musk for the scores.

"It's very likely that Musk himself is contributing to the reputational downfall," Caliber CEO Shahar Silbershatz told Reuters, saying his company's survey shows 83% of Americans connect Musk with Tesla.

Reuters spoke to five marketing, polling and car experts who said controversies surrounding Musk's increasingly right-wing politics and public statements are weighing on Tesla's brand and demand.

"It is hard enough to win sales without getting into politics," said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

Economic fears, the lack of affordable new models and rising competition from cheaper rivals like China's BYD have also been cited by