Tesla Cyberwhistle toys sold out immediately after being promoted by CEO Elon Musk on Twitter. This, despite their inflated price and what they appear to represent: A poor-taste joke about whistleblower lawsuits the company has faced.
Shaped like Tesla’s delayed Cybertruck EV pickup, the stainless steel, noisemaking inside jokes went for $50 each and appear to come in a nice box. Tesla has not said how many were sold, nor has the company said whether the item will be restocked or when; the website for the item also now 404s, meaning it was taken down. The whistles do not appear to come with a lanyard, but incorporate an “integrated attachment feature for added versatility,” which could be a very obtuse way of saying “lanyard”—specifically, one that isn’t included.
Typical whistles used by coaches and referees are usually made of brass and can be bought at any sporting goods store for around $5. Plastic pieces are even cheaper. The material cost between brass and stainless steel is generally negligible, though stainless steel is more difficult to work with, which might justify a somewhat higher final price. Not being made of iron, brass is actually more resistant to corrosion than stainless steel, hence its use in a device that gets a lot of moist air blown through it.
The item description does not specify how loud the whistle is, what note it plays, or if it contains a ball for that classic whistle tremolo.
If you’re wondering why Tesla is suddenly selling whistles in its apparel store (or was), there are several reasons, most of them gags. More than anything, it appears to be a response to the surprise popularity of Apple’s $19 “Polishing Cloth” for cleaning fingerprints off your various screens. Such cloths used to be included free with some Apple products and can be bought elsewhere for a few dollars. Replying to his original Tweet, Musk said “Don’t waste your money on that silly Apple Cloth, buy our whistle instead!”
Musk’s original Tweet also is tongue-in-cheek and reveals the ugly joke aspect of the Cyberwhistle. “Blow the whistle on Tesla!” Musk wrote, a reference to the automaker’s various whistleblower lawsuits and investigations. Tesla is currently facing a whistleblower suit from a woman who alleges rampant sexual harassment at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory. Back in October, the company was ordered to pay $137 million to Owen Diaz, a Black man who alleged rampant racist abuse at the same factory.
One year ago, the company won a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former employee who alleged massive material waste at the company’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, after an ugly two-year battle that involved stolen data on the part of the employee and corporate retaliation on the part of Tesla. Musk and Cyberwhistle purchasers apparently find all of this un-savoriness funny.
Whistleblowers are protected under federal law from nearly all forms of corporate retaliation when they report illegal activity by their employer. The Whistleblower Protection Act gives enforcement power to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the Department of Labor. Tesla has previously run afoul of OSHA, having been fined in excess of $230,000 for at least 54 violations at its Fremont facility between 2014 and 2018. More than two dozen other violations were cited at other Tesla facilities during that time period. For context, Tesla accounted for three times as many violations in this time period as the ten largest auto plants in the nation combined.
It’s hardly the first time Musk and Tesla have gotten in trouble with federal regulators, nor the first time Musk has made crude jokes about such run-ins on Twitter. He is famous for waging a Twitter war against the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) after a massive $40 million fine for securities fraud. That settlement required all his Tweets to be vetted by Tesla’s board, which is either very permissive or not doing so.
Besides the dumb jokes, the Cyberwhistle is another opportunity for Tesla to cash in on its rabid fanbase. No one needs a whistle that’s ten times more expensive than any other, but people are willing to shell out wads of cash for novelty collectibles, especially if they’re perceived to be higher quality than usual whether they are or not. Tesla isn’t balancing its books on the back of Cyberwhistle sales, but the profit margin is likely obscene enough to essentially make it free cash, and more than anything, it keeps the hype alive for the Cybertruck more than two years after its reveal as other electric pickups beat it to market.
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