Edmunds Raises Tesla Reliability Questions

Busi­ness Week, July 31, 2014

As Tes­la  pre­pared to swing by Wall Street for a finan­cial update Thurs­day evening, the upstart automak­er was bad­ly dent­ed on Edmunds.com. The Cal­i­for­nia-based car crit­ic just sold its Tes­la sedan and pub­lished a lengthy list of main­te­nance issues it encoun­tered in its 17 months of own­er­ship.

Here’s the litany of com­plaints accord­ing to Edmunds: The touch­screen froze twice, the steer­ing wheel start­ing creak­ing, the sun­roof wouldn’t open at one point, the hinges on the van­i­ty mir­ror cracked twice, the tail­lights fogged up, and the car sim­ply died on the side of the road on two dif­fer­ent occa­sions, requir­ing a dri­ve unit and a main bat­tery. Per­haps most omi­nous­ly, the dri­ver-side door spon­ta­neous­ly opened, which Tes­la addressed by installing a new han­dle.

All the fix­es were cov­ered under war­ran­ty, but peo­ple spend­ing six fig­ures on a cut­ting-edge car don’t have much tol­er­ance for these kind of glitch­es, no mat­ter how beau­ti­ful and green and fast the vehi­cle is. The solace for Tes­la dri­vers (and share­hold­ers) is that Edmunds got one of the ear­li­er sedans. Many of the prob­lems it encoun­tered have been ironed out in the months since.

Edmunds Exec­u­tive Edi­tor Ed Hell­wig said about 25 of his review staff tossed the Tes­la keys back and forth on a dai­ly basis. “Obvi­ous­ly, it’s a brand-new car from a brand-new com­pa­ny, so it’s not that sur­pris­ing it had some issues,” he said. “But the types of issues and the recur­ring fre­quen­cy of some of them were odd.”

Edmunds review­ers had a lot of nice things to report about its Tes­la, as well—most notably, its resale val­ue. The com­pa­ny put 30,300 miles on the car and sold it for $83,000, recoup­ing 80 per­cent of the orig­i­nal out­lay. Hell­wig said Edmunds typ­i­cal­ly gets only 75 per­cent of its pur­chase price back after a year of dri­ving.

There still isn’t any car quite like a Tes­la, but the silent sedan is start­ing to get a lit­tle long in the tooth, which means main­te­nance issues in ear­ly mod­els are like­ly to mul­ti­ply from here. On TrueDelta.com, an online resource that gath­ers reli­a­bil­i­ty data on about 33,000 cars, own­ers of 2013 Tes­las are report­ing repairs at four times the aver­age rate among car own­ers. The 30 or so Tes­la sedans that TrueDelta tracks have been going into the shop for unsched­uled main­te­nance once a year, on aver­age.

TrueDelta’s Michael Karesh said he has been expect­ing Tesla’s reli­a­bil­i­ty rat­ing to rise, but it has floun­dered for months. “The real ques­tion in my mind is will they get their qual­i­ty issues in shape by the time they burn through the ear­ly adopters?” he said. “Some­one like my father, for exam­ple, wouldn’t put up with these issues.”

As for the new­er cars, one line of think­ing is that Tesla’s fac­to­ries have tight­ened their process­es and now stamp out more flaw­less cars after learn­ing from expe­ri­ence. The oth­er the­o­ry is that ear­ly cars were giv­en the white-glove treat­ment and more recent mod­els may be more prone to glitch­es, con­sid­er­ing they were made as Tes­la pro­duc­tion accel­er­at­ed.

Edmunds, mean­while, is look­ing to see if either of those ideas hold water—the com­pa­ny already has a deposit down on the Tes­la Mod­el X.



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