What good is owning a car if you can’t actually drive it?
Some Tesla owners across the country are asking themselves that very question after collisions sent their electric vehicles to the shop — where the cars remained, and remained, and remained.
Elon Musk’s Tesla has wowed fans and critics alike for the speed at which it has transitioned from an upstart car company to the preeminent manufacturer of electric vehicles in the United States, thanks to the well-received (and well-reviewed) Model S sedan and Model X SUV. But with growth comes pains.
The wait to receive a shiny new Tesla has in some ways only added to the prestige of ownership, as the lengthy pre-order lines for the upcoming Model 3 show. However, the experience of a number of individuals suggests that — at least for some customers — the waiting doesn’t stop after the car arrives.
Imagine dropping $92,000 on a brand-new car only to have it sit in the shop for five months after a crash. Yeah, we’d be pretty upset too.
The problem is that, unlike many other car manufactures, The Economist reports that Tesla manufactures many of the parts for its vehicles in-house. Tesla produced 83,922 vehicles in 2016, and those cars all need at least some Tesla-manufactured parts. What happens when the manufacturing plants can’t keep up with demand?
With the Model 3 — the “affordable” Tesla that starts at $35,000 — expected to arrive within the next year, the problem could get a lot worse as the number of Teslas on the road skyrockets. And skyrocket it will, if Musk has anything to say about it. The company has publicly stated that it intends to produce 500,000 cars in 2018.
To help with those ambitious goals, Fortune reports that Tesla plans to build up to three new Gigafactories. An existing Gigafactory outside of Reno, Nevada, currently makes battery cells but will soon produce electric motors for the Model 3 as well.
From bad to worse
Tim Dorr was driving his Model S through Atlanta on the morning of Oct. 3rd, 2016, when he broadsided an SUV that he said ran a red light. Despite the SUV getting turned on its side, no one was injured in the crash. Dorr told Mashable in an email that his car was eventually towed to a Tesla-certified shop, where the mechanics were “aware of the variability on Tesla Parts availability, so they had said anywhere from December to mid January [to complete the repairs]. We’re now two months past their worst-case estimate.”
The repair shop, Dorr explained, just wasn’t able to get the necessary parts from Tesla in a timely fashion. While essentially any repair that doesn’t require body work can be done by Tesla’s in-house repair team at a Tesla Service Center, that didn’t do Dorr any good.
“[The] issue appears to entirely be the fault of the parts supply chain,” he observed. “The service centers, which handle non-accident issues, are definitely getting improved and remain a positive point of the Tesla ownership experience (at least over the past 4 years I’ve had the car). But the parts supply is a serious issue.”
And Dorr isn’t the only one to have experienced parts-related delays. Evan Niu and his wife purchased a certified pre-owned Model S on Jan. 27, 2016, and could not have been happier with their decision.
“[We] immediately fell in love with it,” he explained in a blog post on The Motley Fool. “We started taking road trips more often (within the bounds of the Supercharger network, of course), and frequently found excuses just to drive and enjoy the instant torque.”
Things took a turn for the frustrating on July 11 of last year when the car was rear-ended. Thankfully, everyone was OK and the damage wasn’t that bad. Niu had his Model S brought to a Tesla-certified shop where the mechanics went about diagnosing the problem and ordering the necessary replacement parts from the manufacturer. Unfortunately, Niu says, the parts didn’t come.
“After three months had passed and the body shop had still not received all the necessary parts, we began reaching out to Tesla directly through their customer service channels, which serves as a liaison to the internal parts department,” wrote Niu. “Initially, no customer service representative that we interacted with was willing to take ownership of our issue.”
The parts arrived by late January, but Niu wrote by this point the 12V battery needed to be replaced. As of earlier this week, Niu’s car had still not been fixed.
What’s going on?
Tesla owners have taken to Reddit and Tesla forums to complain about similar extended wait times for what ought to be relatively straightforward repairs. This is not just a potential problem for existing owners, but could affect future Model 3 owners as well.
“Even though [the Model 3] is designed as an easier car to build and to scale production rates, the focus on fulfilling the 400,000+ pre-orders is going to mean they won’t have a sufficient pre-production of replacement parts on hand for the initial wave of repairs (people taking joyrides and crashing their brand new car),” Dorr speculated. “I am not a Model 3 reservation holder for a variety of reasons, and this parts issue is the biggest one.”
If and when people do crash their cars, they will likely need some body work. Of note is the fact that both the Model S and Model X use aluminum in their bodies, and aluminum tends to crumple easier than metals like steel when in a collision. This is actually a feature, not a bug, as the large crumple zone absorbs more of the shock and is safer for the car’s occupants. It could also translate to the cars needing more body work, however.
So what does Tesla have to say about this? The company declined to go on the record, but acknowledged hiccups in the supply chain in 2016 and insisted that going forward the issues have been mostly resolved.
In Niu’s case, the company claimed that the main problem was with the Tesla-certified shop — not with Tesla. Essentially, the company alleged, the shop was blaming its own delays on Tesla.
So, it’s all good?
Tesla assured Mashable that it is actively working to eliminate what it considers to be underperforming shops, while simultaneously expanding the total number of certified repair shops.
While current and future Tesla owners can take heart at this news, it doesn’t directly address the alleged lack of replacement parts keeping cars off the road. And even though the company says the issue has mostly been taken care of, with production of Tesla’s Model 3 expected to start late this summer Tesla is going to have its hands full.
This may put the company in a situation it knows all too well. In 2016 Tesla blamed its own “hubris in adding far too much new technology to the Model X in version 1.0” for delays in sourcing parts. In the same statement, reported in the Financial Times, a company spokesperson said the company did not yet have “broad enough internal capability to manufacture the parts in-house.”
But that was then. Tesla, a company spokesperson assured Mashable, today has very low wait times for parts. Which is good news for owners as well as Tesla, as the company will face increased competition as it tries to break out of the luxury market with the Model 3.
Whether or not the experiences of owners like Dorr and Niu will keep diehard fans away from Tesla’s latest creation is anyone’s guess, but many may just see this as a symptom of what Tesla does best: Promise the moon, struggle, and somehow manage to deliver — if only a little late.