Bad day for Tesla: Sales VP Blankenship out, NHTSA threat

Tesla woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. First, the NHTSA issues a new set of publicity rules for its cash-testing results that explicitly threatened Tesla. Then, Sale VP George Blankenship reportedly left Tesla. What's next for Tesla? 

Paul Sancya/AP Photo/File
George Blankenship, Tesla Motors Vice President, Worldwide Sales & Ownership Experience speaks at media previews for the North American International Auto Show in January. Blankenship reportedly left Tesla Motors earlier this week.

There must be days where Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk feels his multiple burdens more acutely than others.

Today may be one, because yesterday was not a good day for Tesla.

First, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a new set of publicity rules for its crash-testing results that contained an explicit threat to Tesla.

You may remember that the Model S performed very well on those tests--so well, in fact, that it broke some of the NHTSA's testing equipment during the process.

Then you may recall that the NHTSA rebuked Tesla for a Tesla press release that said, NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, however safety levels better than 5 stars arecaptured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars. 

Yesterday, that rebuke was underscored bynew and stricter rules issued by the agency. In its press release, the NHTSA says:

Updated guidelines now explicitly state that ratings are always whole numbers and that NHTSA does not award a rating higher than 5 stars. Manufacturers or advertising agencies, therefore, should not advertise ratings with decimal points or ratings over 5 stars, and advertisers who claim more than 5 stars are misleading the public.

The guidelines also clarify that advanced technologies are not part of the star ratings. Advertisements that do not conform to these guidelines may result in "Buyer Alert" warnings, removal from the ratings program or referral to other federal or state authorities for appropriate action.

It's quite rare for an agency to threaten to revisit ratings for publicity infractions.

Since Tesla Motors is apparently the sole carmaker that has ever claimed a decimal-point rating over five stars, the company can justifiably feel targeted by this new policy.

Tesla: Consider yourself on probation.

But that's not all.

Yesterday, the San Jose Mercury News broke the story that George Blankenship had left Tesla.

The visible and much-heralded vice president of sales was hired by Tesla in 2010 to roll out its Tesla Stores, in which potential buyers and the public at large can see the Tesla Model S and learn more about electric cars.

Blankenship had previously launched the groundbreaking Apple Store retail outlets, after many years with clothing retailer Gap.

The tip apparently came from Blankenship's LinkedIn profile, which now includes a line saying: " November 2013 -- Done at Tesla".

Blankenship's new position is listed as "Director of Smiles, Blankenship FamilyPlanner."

He was frequently the second face of the brand, after CEO Musk, and often MCed media updates and other public events.

As of this morning, Blankenship is still listed as Tesla's vice president for sales and ownership experience on the company website's "Executives" page.

Green Car Reports reached out to Tesla yesterday for comment on both these matters. The company has not responded.

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