No More Tesla Referral Program, Now What?

by Denis Gurskiy

Will the lack of a Tesla referral program drive sales down? How will this affect the Tesla influencer community? Will Tesla channels and content go away with no more incentive to create?



Update:

Tesla has officially announced the return of their referral program with a few changes. As we already know, the original program was too costly with just 55 referrals earning you a next gen Tesla Roadster valued at ~$250,000. The Tesla Roadster will remain a prize following the new rules but with a bit of a twist. Instead of earning rewards with each new level, each referral will now earn you an entry into a monthly and quarterly drawing. Once a month, someone will win a Founder’s Series Model Y and once a quarter, a Founder’s series Roadster. The new program will offer both those who use the code and those who provided it 1,000 miles of free Supercharging. If you happen to already have free Supercharging, you’ll instead earn two entries into the drawings.




On February 2nd, 2019, the infamous Tesla referral program finally came to an end. The program allowed owners to refer friends and family through a simple Tesla referral link with each referral counting towards a prize. These referral rewards ranged from Tesla chargers to new rims to a time capsule sent to space. They fluctuated frequently and drove owners to refer as many friends and family as possible. Using a Tesla referral code also gave you free Supercharging. It was a win-win-win for Tesla, owners, and new customers.

After the first 5 referrals and prizes, you unlocked a “secret level” giving you 2% off the next generation Tesla Roadster with each new referral. The prize pushed many to try even harder as everyone wanted a free $250,000 car.

At first, it was slow and hard work. Very few reached 100% off the Tesla Roadster with Ben from Teslanomics being the first to do so. Once the Tesla Model 3 deliveries began, things quickly picked up. Referral numbers started to skyrocket as those who placed deposits with a Tesla referral code started to finally receive their cars. Many saw this as an opportunity and even more Tesla “influencers” sprung up. Tesla YouTube channels, Tesla podcasts, Tesla websites, all with a single intention: Get referrals so they could earn a free car. At least that’s what it looked like from the outside looking in. In reality, a lot of these Tesla specific outlets were made by genuine fans of the product.

Tesla relied heavily on this word of mouth as they have no marketing budget aside from their referral prizes. Some of these new influencers gained a decent following and fan base as they informed the public on Tesla’s products and mission. Since these outlets were created with the intention of earning referrals, most were not necessarily EV focused, but rather Tesla focused. Many saw this as an overall negative as it drove influencers to push out a narrative biased towards Tesla while ignoring their flaws.

The Tesla referral program finally ended after Elon Musk stated it was adding too much cost to the cars. Each referral code used towards a Roadster was costing Tesla upwards of $5,000. This puts Tesla near the top of the list on amount spent in marketing per sale. For some perspective, Ford spent under $900 in marketing per vehicle sold in 2017.

Obviously, not every car sold was put towards a Tesla Roadster as the majority of sales went without a referral code or towards the much smaller prizes. But it’s the only number we can work with as the true cost of the Tesla referral program is unknown.

Some sites tracked Tesla’s referrals but relied on having owners or users manually input their referral codes. There’s no real way to know how many referrals were made or how many prizes were given as Tesla doesn’t publicly publish such information. Tesla’s referral program overall could have cost them upwards of $100 million, possibly even more. Especially when you consider that many who purchased with a code received free lifetime supercharging. At current rates, we have used ~$800 worth of Supercharging in the last year. This number will differ for everyone as many mostly charge at home.

Courtesy of Reddit u/TeslaMecca

Now that the Tesla referral program is over, many are wondering what will happen to all of these new channels. Will they fade away alongside Tesla’s referral program or recast their content to monetize on the following they’ve created?

The Tesla referral program was great at the start. It helped educate the public on a product they didn’t know existed. As Tesla grew, they outgrew the need for the program. With the majority now aware of Tesla’s existence and a fan base following closely behind, a lot of those using Tesla’s referral codes would have bought their car regardless. Taking marketing into their own hands to reach a broader audience is surely the better route but in my opinion, they should bring back the program with much smaller incentives or only count vehicles with higher margins towards referral rewards. The Tesla referral program helped build some of the largest Tesla communities. Without it, who knows if Tesla would have reached their current levels of success.

We asked some of your favorite Tesla influencers their thoughts: why they started, their intentions, their thoughts on the program ending, and what they have planned. Below are some memorable quotes but you can skip to the full Q&A’s here.

It definitely helped for the most part, but I think the free Supercharging that they gave out to every single referral was unsustainable if they wanted the quickest path to profitability. I think even without the referral program the Tesla supporters will continue to spread the word and share content related to Tesla going forward. I believe the company can be successful without it.

– Andy Slye from Youtube


I will be spreading the Tesla love forever. I am fully on board with this company. I have the Model S 75D, Model 3 RWD, I will be ordering the Y, Two Roadsters coming and my even look at the Pickup truck when it makes it on the ground. All new videos for the viewers.

– Brian from i1Tesla


I understand why the program ended. However I think the program ended too soon. Many new owners would have liked to participate because it rewards those who put in the effort to help spread the Tesla brand. In terms of the rewards Tesla could have adjusted them such to eliminate the Roadster and lowered the value of the prizes and perhaps increased the amount of referrals to claim them. That would have satisfied many problems.

– Trevor Page from Model 3 Owners Club


yeah I think most of us that have Tesla focus channels likely won’t change much. The question I have is if anyone like Casey neistat or markiplier who did videos promoting their code will ever really talk about Tesla again.

– Ben Sullins from Teslanomics


I didn’t even know about the referral incentives until *after* I started my YouTube channel.

– Joy from TeslaJoy


The referral program was never a factor in starting the production of content. It is (and was) just something fun to do to share my feelings about the cars and community that I really enjoy.

– Michael from Teslatunity


I think owners liked the program and the possibility to get some nifty stuff, but we saw that the end result is Model 3 dropped its price by $1,100. That’s no small chunk of change. Even if I were eligible for the referral program, I’d rather have Model 3 be more affordable for everyone than be able to get some (albeit awesome) swag.

– D.J. Harbaugh from Tesla Tidbits

I am a big believer of Tesla’s mission statement and now that the program is gone, they need us, the true enthusiasts, supporters, and shareholders, to keep pushing hard. I do it because I believe in the mission. Since Q3 2018, I go on quarter closings to help deliver cars at my local Tesla delivery center. I’m part of the mission, and the team at Dania Beach, Florida is my extended family.

– Rafael from Teslatino

I completely understand why Tesla ended the program. While it does not effect my love or passion for the brand and creating content for people I think the program could have lived on at a much lower cost/scale. An idea I would have loved to see is a referral swag program where both parties get to win swag from hats, to shirts, to jackets, luggage etc. it’s a cool and much cheaper way to showcase your dedication to the company.

– Raj from Tesla Raj







Why did you start creating content catered towards Tesla fans and skeptics?

I fell in love with Tesla when the Model S came out in 2012, and soon after that I made a decision to save up and buy the affordable mass-market Tesla when it came to market. I have a tech YouTube channel so it made sense to share my passion for Tesla and specifically the Model 3 because they’re so tech-focused.

Would you have begun creating your content without the referral incentives?

Yes, in fact I was doing Tesla videos before I even had my own referral code. And I didn’t even realize I had any referrals until one random day I logged into my dashboard months after getting my own referral code. I didn’t actively promote my code at the beginning.

How much of a motivation was Tesla’s referral prizes?

Not much at the start because when I was doing my first few Model 3 videos my referral code didn’t even apply to Model 3 purchases (only S & X at the time) so the code seemed pretty worthless to me then. However, once it became a possibility for me to get enough referrals to win a future Roadster it became a factor of motivation, and I began to intentionally share my referral code in my YouTube videos about the Model 3 from then on. The bulk of my active code sharing happened over an 8-week period in late 2018.

What are your thoughts on the program ending?

I know it couldn’t last forever the way it was set up, but I’m still sad to see it go because it was something that separated Tesla from other car manufacturers. Tesla has a strong influence in the digital content creation space. Their owners are usually tech savvy and create some type of content online. This gave Tesla a big advantage over their competitors because it’s one thing to create a great product (which Tesla does) but it’s another when there’s a fully-digital ordering process with a fully-digital referral program capable of exponentially increasing their product adoption on a global scale using the power of the internet.

How much of an impact do you think referrals were on Tesla’s sales?

It definitely helped for the most part, but I think the free Supercharging that they gave out to every single referral was unsustainable if they wanted the quickest path to profitability. I think even without the referral program the Tesla supporters will continue to spread the word and share content related to Tesla going forward. I believe the company can be successful without it.

Will you continue spreading Tesla’s mission?

Of course. I created Tesla content before I had a referral code and even a car of my own, and I will continue to make videos about my Model 3 and my future Roadster. I’ve shown my Model 3 to many strangers and given them rides, all without giving out my referral code to any of them. It’s fun to see the joy on people’s faces when they experience a Tesla for the first time. I love seeing EV adoption.

Now that there’s no incentive to stick with JUST Tesla, will your content cater towards other manufacturers as well?

Sure if/when other all-electric cars come to market that compete with Tesla in the categories I love the most (tech, self driving, enjoyment, UE/UI, Supercharger network, etc) then I will certainly try to get my hands on them and create videos. The biggest hurdle would be getting access to them since cars are high-ticket items, and a big reason I do Model 3 videos is because I own one myself. I plan to have a Roadster in the future as well. But I’d love to create content for any EV that looks promising.

Do you think other automakers should have some sort of incentive program for their upcoming EVs?

I’m a digital content creator so I’ve seen first-hand how beneficial a referral program can be for companies trying to sell online. I think it’s a great idea in this current era.

Will you be taking advantage of your discount on the next gen Roadster?

No I’ll probably just forfeit my once-in-a-lifetime chance to own the quickest Supercar in the world. TOTALLY KIDDING. Of course I’m going to take advantage of the 100% discount. I have big plans for it on my YouTube channel 🙂




Would you have begun creating your content without the referral incentives?

I did start the channel to have extra income in hopes for win stuff like chargers and at most a powerwall. That was my ultimate goal was to get a battery for the house. Never expected to get a car or two.

What are your thoughts on the program ending?

I think that they shoals have stopped the Roadster program but kept the smaller prizes going. Although that was the cheapest advertising anyone could get. I like the idea of giving to the people that help you sell the cars. My opinion is that Tesla will bring the program back this summer.

How much of an impact do you think referrals were on Tesla’s sales?

I think the people where going to buy the Model 3 anyway. They didn’t have to add that to the program (except the P3D) I am glad they did though. I still think I would have gotten one Roadster if they just had the S X and P3D. It would have been close.

Will you continue spreading Tesla’s mission?

I will be spreading the Tesla love forever. I am fully on board with this company. I have the Model S 75D, Model 3 RWD, I will be ordering the Y, Two Roadsters coming and my even look at the Pickup truck when it makes it on the ground. All new videos for the viewers.

Do you think other automakers should have some sort of incentive program for their upcoming EVs?

Other car companies are not going to do what Tesla has done until it is too late and then blame Tesla because it did not work for them. They just need to get their cars to market and stop acting like they are going to have the next “Tesla Killer”. You can’t kill something if you don’e produce something that people want.

Will you be taking advantage of your discount on the next gen Roadster?

I will be getting 2 Roadsters at 100% discount. The taxes are killer so I will be selling one to pay for the other one. Keep in mind that the car is going to be considered income on my taxes. Plus the base price is 100% free. All the other options like AutoPilot, Paint and more will be much higher. You are not looking at $2000 for paint on the roadster.

I love the Tesla YouTube community. They are for the most part a great, supportive group of people that like to help out others. I wish the rest of the internet was like that.




Why did you start creating content catered towards Tesla fans and skeptics?

I started creating content as a way to educate viewers on Tesla’s technology and products in advance of the Model 3 going into production so they would have a better understanding of the car and its capabilities.

Would you have begun creating your content without the referral incentives?

Indeed because I did. I started creating content 2 years before I became eligible to participate in the program.

How much of a motivation was Tesla’s referral prizes?

The only prize that really interested me were a set of wheels for my car because I liked the turbines. I likely would have purchased a set from someone else whoever.

What are your thoughts on the program ending?

I understand why the program ended. However I think the program ended too soon. Many new owners would have liked to participate because it rewards those who put in the effort to help spread the Tesla brand. In terms of the rewards Tesla could have adjusted them such to eliminate the Roadster and lowered the value of the prizes and perhaps increased the amount of referrals to claim them. That would have satisfied many problems.

How much of an impact do you think referrals were on Tesla’s sales?

Once they added all Model 3s to qualify it certainly had an impact. My referrals on account of what I do took off because of it.

Will you continue spreading Tesla’s mission?

Absolutely. With or without the program that would never have changed.

Now that there’s no incentive to stick with JUST Tesla, will your content cater towards other manufacturers as well?

We have an interest in some other cars but referrals or incentives don’t really impact our choice of content subject.

Do you think other automakers should have some sort of incentive program for their upcoming EVs?

Very unlikely. They rely on traditional advertising to generate demand through they franchised dealer network.

Will you be taking advantage of your discount on the next gen Roadster?

I won 2 free Roadsters so I don’t really have a choice !




Why did you start creating content catered towards Tesla fans and skeptics?

As a low VIN Model 3 owner, I saw an opportunity to start making content with my car. I really didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning, but it was a lot of fun. One of my first videos detailed my process for ONR wash (showing a water friendly way to wash the car) and reviews were generally positive so it really just started to grow from there.

Would you have begun creating your content without the referral incentives?

The referral program was never a factor in starting the production of content. It is (and was) just something fun to do to share my feelings about the cars and community that I really enjoy.

How much of a motivation was Tesla’s referral prizes?

I never thought a Roadster was remotely possible, but once Model 3 became eligible for referrals I saw a sudden increase in the number of referrals. I don’t think it changed my motivation from a content production aspect but it certainly got me excited each time a new referral came in. Not just because a Roadster became 2% more possible, but because it meant someone saw and enjoyed my content enough to use my referral code with their order.

What are your thoughts on the program ending?

I know this is a sensitive topic. Those who have 1 or 2 Roadsters seem to share the opinion that the program needed to end which is met with negative criticism that it’s an easy comment to make after one wins the grand prize. I myself fell short and feel the program needed to end. More in the answer to the next question.

How much of an impact do you think referrals were on Tesla’s sales?

This is the one that I really struggle with. My gut feeling is that for the big names in the space that produce great content (don’t get me wrong) they probably minimally sold people on buying a Tesla. I have a sense that most (90+%) of customers were already buying a Tesla and the video content was just something they enjoyed while waiting so using the referral to earn their supercharger perk made sense. I do think the word of mouth referrals are and were worth their weight in gold, but clearly the high volume counts came from content producers.

Will you continue spreading Tesla’s mission?

Of course! I have a roadmap of content planned for 2019!! I also continue to spread the mission daily with family, friends, colleagues and really anyone else that will listen!

Now that there’s no incentive to stick with JUST Tesla, will your content cater towards other manufacturers as well?

My channel is certainly Tesla first, hence the name Teslatunity. I will certainly sprinkle in reviews of competitors as they arrive though.

Do you think other automakers should have some sort of incentive program for their upcoming EVs?

That’s a good question. I would say no, but primarily because the dealer network likely complicates things since they are not direct to consumer. It’s not an incentive program that they need so much as dealers that promote the cars rather than pushing the gas cars forward.

Will you be taking advantage of your discount on the next gen Roadster?

As the program ended I found myself with 24 referrals and 38% discount on a Founders Series Roadster. Before tax considerations that’s still $155,000 and that includes a healthy tax bill as well. So from a personal ownership standpoint I am out. There is an opportunity to consider flipping the car though and I owe it to myself to look at that option as the day comes closer.







Why did you start creating content catered towards Tesla fans and skeptics?

I convinced a coworker to get a Model 3 and she doesn’t read owner manuals. She always comes to me with questions on how to operate her Model 3. I also participate in Model 3 owner Facebook group and have seen some of her questions repeated by other new owners. I decided to start making videos to help answer some of these questions and share my own experience with others, because this is how I learned about the Model 3 before I took delivery (by watching other YouTube channels).

Would you have begun creating your content without the referral incentives?

I didn’t even know about the referral incentives until *after* I started my YouTube channel.

How much of a motivation was Tesla’s referral prizes?

0. I didn’t think anyone would actually use my referral since my channel is brand new and I don’t have many subscribers. The prizes I got are fun side benefits of my creating content on YouTube.

What are your thoughts on the program ending?

I think it’s a good sign that Tesla no longer needs incentives to sell their cars. They’ve proven their position in the auto industry as a disruptor. Us owners who are passionate about Tesla have been telling others about the brand even before we knew about the referral program, and that is not going to change. I continue to evangelize for Tesla whenever someone asks me about my car.

How much of an impact do you think referrals were on Tesla’s sales?

I don’t think it made much impact because people either “get” and love Tesla or don’t. Having supercharging credit was a “nice to have – thank you for your support” gesture but not a deal breaker for people making purchasing decisions. Not having free supercharging credit didn’t stop me from buying my Model 3.

Will you continue spreading Tesla’s mission?

Of course!

Now that there’s no incentive to stick with JUST Tesla, will your content cater towards other manufacturers as well?

No. My channel is about my Tesla Model 3 ownership experience to help new owners learn about this car and for future owners who are researching Tesla to make an informed decision on their purchases. This mission will not change in the foreseeable future.

Do you think other automakers should have some sort of incentive program for their upcoming EVs?

Sure, why not! Tesla owners aren’t just about Tesla but about the entire EV movement toward clean-air vehicles to reduce air and noise pollution (EVs are super quiet). If other automakers come out with great incentives persuading people switching to EVs, then we all win.

Will you be taking advantage of your discount on the next gen Roadster?

No. I only got 10% off at the end of referral program so it’s not financially feasible for me to get the Roadster. Frankly, I never intended to get a Roadster to begin with because that’s not the type of vehicle for me (unless I get it completely free – I won’t say no to free stuff!).




Why did you start creating content catered towards Tesla fans and skeptics?

Because if I didn’t have an outlet to talk about Tesla with someone other than my wife, I’d be divorced. She couldn’t possibly care less, and with nobody else really in my life that cares that much, I decided to create a show.

Would you have begun creating your content without the referral incentives?

I did, actually. I live in a state where the referral program is void, so I was unable to take advantage of it.

How much of a motivation was Tesla’s referral prizes?

None, for the above reason, and even were it a possibility for me, I was not an owner when I started the show. I didn’t become an owner for over a year after starting the show.

What are your thoughts on the program ending?

It’s bitter-sweet. I think owners liked the program and the possibility to get some nifty stuff, but we saw that the end result is Model 3 dropped its price by $1,100. That’s no small chunk of change. Even if I were eligible for the referral program, I’d rather have Model 3 be more affordable for everyone than be able to get some (albeit awesome) swag.

How much of an impact do you think referrals were on Tesla’s sales?

I think referrals of any kind, through the program or not, were and will continue to be a significant portion of Tesla sales.

Will you continue spreading Tesla’s mission?

Absolutely!

Now that there’s no incentive to stick with JUST Tesla, will your content cater towards other manufacturers as well?

No. My show is geared toward Tesla fans, and will continue to be. I bring in news occasionally about other manufacturers if it relates to Tesla in some way, but I have no desire to start covering other manufacturers. I’m a Tesla guy through and through.

Do you think other automakers should have some sort of incentive program for their upcoming EVs?

I don’t think they can due to the dealership model. Even so, I don’t think it’s necessary. Tesla had to do that to get the word out as a fledgling manufacturer, and they wanted to reward early owners in some way for their efforts to spread that word. I don’t think the big manufacturers have any trouble getting the word out about anything.

Will you be taking advantage of your discount on the next gen Roadster?

No Roadster credits, so no! 🙂




Why did you start creating content catered towards Tesla fans and skeptics?

The first thing that made me start posting videos was the anticipation of getting my new Tesla. I wanted to show anyone with the slightest interest, what it was really like to own a Tesla. I wanted one since 2012, but it wasn’t util 2018, six years later, that I finally became an owner.

Would you have begun creating your content without the referral incentives?

Absolutely. The referral program was a second thought to me. I always thought it would be near impossible to win a Roadster. If you see my videos and their description, I never really pushed hard on the referral program. I was having too much fun with the other stuff I was doing.

How much of a motivation was Tesla’s referral prizes?

The referral prizes available were great motivation, but when I was able to start participating on the program, the prices became different and to some, with less monetary value. To me, they were more than enough. Send a picture to space (not sure how much value can be given to that), Tesla high powered wall charger ($500 to the general public), set of wheels (I only own a 3, so no arachnids for me), priority software updates (that’s just a flip of the switch to Tesla, so I think it should cost them under $50), and an unveiling invitation for two, are a small token of appreciation from Tesla for helping them become profitable.

What are your thoughts on the program ending?

I’m ok with it. Maybe a bit too soon, but Tesla is not a not-for-profit company, so this should be a good thing for them if the momentum continues. I would rather see true Tesla advocates promote the product than traditional marketing campaigns.

How much of an impact do you think referrals were on Tesla’s sales?

I think the impact was big enough to move the needle in the right direction. However, too hard to keep if they are going to move quickly to continue on the profitability. I think what Tesla’s intent is already accomplished. Most of, if not all, the true advocates will continue spreading the word without the prizes.

Will you continue spreading Tesla’s mission?

I am actually doing it now more than before. I am a big believer of Tesla’s mission statement and now that the program is gone, they need us, the true enthusiasts, supporters, and shareholders, to keep pushing hard. I do it because I believe in the mission. Since Q3 2018, I go on quarter closings to help deliver cars at my local Tesla delivery center. I’m part of the mission, and the team at Dania Beach, Florida is my extended family.

Now that there’s no incentive to stick with JUST Tesla, will your content cater towards other manufacturers as well?

I have actually done a couple of videos about other manufacturers. But my channel is very much Tesla-oriented. I want other manufacturers to be successful, but regardless of what the Tesla deniers say, I know Tesla is ahead of everyone else by at least 10 years. Most likely more. If I feel another brand is doing good, I can try it out. Rivian looks promising. Until then, it’s the Tesla Kool-Aid for me.

Do you think other automakers should have some sort of incentive program for their upcoming EVs?

Sure. The should try anything that can help them. The problem is that they don’t seem to have much to offer.

Will you be taking advantage of your discount on the next gen Roadster?

I have a very small discount to buy the roadster. I would like to get one. I used to race cars and I think the new Roadster is amazing. However, it just seems like an impossible dream to reach at the moment. My Model 3 is the most expensive car I have owned, and it is 4 times cheaper than the Roadster. I am not sure I will be able to afford it even with the discount. Or at least that I could justify it.



Well it seems like everyone is in it for the long-haul. We just want to thank everyone who took time out of their busy day to answer these questions for us!

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