As it continues to defy common sense and the laws of economics with its lofty stock price, Tesla has again shown it has little corporate competence in the ability to deliver a consistently functional product that satisfies customers.
The latest evidence comes in the recently rolled out Model X, which is allegedly an SUV, but looks like just another car. Retailing at a price only the extremely wealthy can afford ($138,000), the all-electric follow-up to the similarly troubled Model S automobile has stumbled out of the gate. The problems were outlined in a Consumer Reports article posted online Tuesday, which spurred a number of similar follow-up stories in other media, and temporarily caused Tesla’s stock to dip. Long-time followers of the company know that is only a temporary condition, however.
Nonetheless those who actually own a Model X – as opposed to those who own a certificate of stock in the company – registered their displeasure with their new vehicles. Among the problems cited were the failure of its DeLorean-style falcon wing doors to close; sensors in the doors that didn’t detect overhangs and thus caused collisions; windows that don’t close properly; frozen infotainment screens; and various other maladies.
“Tesla message boards are already swelling with complaints from Model X owners regarding balky doors, interior trim-piece tolerances, paint-spray quality, malfunctioning second-row seats, sheet-metal panel gaps, and climate control issues,” Consumer Reports reported.
The magazine conceded that such problems “are expected” from a brand-new model, which Tesla claimed “are not widespread.” The company’s “excellent” customer service was said to mitigate some of the customers’ frustrations.
But that only goes so far. The Wall Street Journal reported the experience of a California financial adviser, Brad Ledwith, who loved his new Model X that he received less than a month ago – for a few days at least, until the falcon-wing doors broke. He was told it would be two weeks before they could be scheduled because Tesla’s service center was overbooked with repair appointments.
“I think to myself, I am willing to concede a couple of things, but it is just I’m leasing this car for $1,350 per month,” Ledwith told the newspaper. “If it is out two weeks, that costs $700.”
Then there was the Model X owner who reported that its AutoPilot hands-free driving feature failed when a road’s shoulder ended, requiring the driver to take control. And Consumer Reports noted a design problem with the SUV’s long, curved windshield, which gives a “double-vision” effect on headlights, taillights and streetlights. An owner interviewed reported that the vehicle’s heating system was inadequate also.
It would be easy to dismiss all the Model X flaws as “beta” problems that will be worked out, except many of them were predictable – and even forecast by auto industry experts.
“The Model X appears to be unbuildable with those automatic gull-wing doors, which everyone in the industry always said were not going to work,” said former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz on CNBC last year.
The SUV rollout follows similar reports of complaints and glitches with Tesla’s introductory all-electric vehicle, the Model S. After Consumer Reports issued glowing reviews for “performance” and “comfort” in 2013 and then again in 2015, reality bit when the actual customer feedback was weighed in. After the magazine received 1,400 survey responses, the results showed that Model Ss were “likely to involve a worse-than-average overall problem rate” that affect reliability. Issues cited included problems with the drive train, power equipment, charging equipment, the giant iPad-like center console, and body and sunroof squeaks, rattles, and leaks.
“This extensive data allows us to forecast that owning a Tesla will likely mean worse than average reliability, a decline from last years average prediction,” said Consumer Reports’ head of automotive testing, Jake Fisher, last year. “As a result the Model S will not receive the ‘recommended’ designation.”
The experiences with the Models S and X foreshadow a likely problematic introduction of what is supposed to be Tesla’s broadest appeal vehicle yet: the “affordable” electric Model 3, to be introduced in late 2017 or 2018. With more than 300,000 pre-orders taken with $1,000 deposits, the Model 3 is supposed to expand Tesla from niche manufacturer to producer for the masses.
As reported previously by NLPC, one area where Tesla and CEO Elon Musk have shown great competence is in convincing governments at all levels to award them billions of dollars in subsidies, grants and loans. Without all the taxpayer “investment” there is no green energy “industry,” as Steve Moore explains in the current issue of The Weekly Standard.
“Current battery costs for a Tesla and other electric vehicles are roughly $325 per kilowatt-hour (kWh),” Moore wrote, citing researchers from the Journal of Economic Perspectives. “How does that cost fare against standard gasoline in the tank? ‘At a battery cost of $325 per kWh,’ the authors wrote, ‘the price of oil would need to exceed $350 per barrel before the electric vehicle was cheaper to operate.’”
Which goes to show that regardless of whether your luxury electric vehicle has doors that work or don’t, or an infotainment system that freezes or functions, what you’re running on is the fuel of taxpayer subsidies.
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.