theunderstatement by MICHAEL DEGUSTA

Tesla Motors has responded to my "It’s a Brick" post with a blog post of their own, “Plug It In”. I’m genuinely very glad to hear that the Model S and Model X are apparently going to be substantially less prone to “bricking” than the Roadster.

Unfortunately, the rest of Tesla’s response has been a somewhat bizarre mix of paranoia, smearing, “blame the customer”, and non-denial denials. It’s not clear to me why Tesla wouldn’t want to just be open and honest about a situation it is clearly working to improve, but that’s not how they decided to handle it.

In my opinion, Tesla is now facing at least five problems, all of which are of their own making:

1. Tesla is deceiving themselves, or us.

In their blog post, Tesla calls “bricking” an “unfounded rumor”. Yet here is a written letter from Tesla’s VP of Worldwide Service J. Joost de Vries where he states for a fact that a car had “complete discharge (and therefore complete failure) of your battery pack” and offers to “replace the complete battery pack at a price of around $40,000.”

So Tesla thinks bricking is an unfounded rumor, but one that definitely happens. How does that make any sense? I don’t know and I’m not sure they do either.

2. Tesla won’t disclose even basic information.

Why not say how many bricked Roadsters there’ve been? Tesla doesn’t even make this car anymore. They’ve made it clear their next cars will be better. Why not just disclose this so that customers, investors, partners, and other stakeholders can have peace of mind on the matter — “Only seven bricks? Well, that was just 0.3% of the cars after all, and they’ve made a lot of strides on the matter since then.”

The logical guess is either they’re being paranoid or the number is bigger than we think. I said in the article there were at least five Roadster bricks. Since then more information has rolled in. For example, a Tesla owner told me about another brick in a barn in Wyoming (despite having the automatic warning system Tesla mentioned), more details cropped up about the “Japan” brick (a used car buyer who ergo never got Tesla’s verbal warnings nor signed a disclosure form), and, intriguingly, former Napster Chairman & CEO John Fanning commented on a TechCrunch post saying that he too was aware of another Tesla Roadster brick:

Fanning wouldn’t confirm who he was talking about, but there’s definitely one person he knows who has a Forbes List friend who owned a Tesla Roadster.

3. Tesla tracks their customers’ location.

As mentioned in my original article, Tesla’s Service Manager stated that Tesla had activated a customer’s GPS in hopes of locating the customer’s vehicle before it bricked. That might be acceptable — except the service manager also stated Tesla doesn’t tell customers about this tracking. How is that acceptable? Hopefully customers sign a document that clearly gives Tesla authority to track them, but Tesla ought to disclose it, if it exists.

It has also come to my attention that Tesla logs contain GPS locations of a vehicle’s charging locations in many circumstances. Tesla ought to publicize its policies on what happens with this data, as there seems to be some confusion.

4. Tesla leaks their own customers’ private information.

Tesla inexplicably leaked the name of one of my sources1 – their own customer – and the email he sent Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The blogger they leaked it to then tried to portray my article as nothing more than a “shakedown” for warranty money, which Tesla in turn promoted on its Twitter feed:2

This is how Tesla treats its customer’s privacy? If you complain about Tesla, they feel entitled to leak your name and impugn your motives? It’s hard to imagine any other $3.5 billion company so backhandedly smearing an individual customer, regardless of what that customer had said or done.

5. Tesla expects more of their customers than they do of their CEO.

Ah, “Plug It In”. In other words, “RTFM”. Why in the world would anyone ever leave their car with less than 10% charge? Or ever use an extension cord? After all, this form they’ve had buyers sign3 so explicitly says not to do either of those. Every owner should know better than that, according to their post.

Well, watch as Tesla CEO Elon Musk tells Jay Leno that the Tesla Roadster “doesn’t actually care about the state of charge”, “you can leave it at 5%”, and if you ever want to plug it in, “you just need an extension cord” — exactly the kind of behavior Tesla would later say is unwarrantied “neglect”. Elon’s tips for voiding your warranty start just on the 3 minute mark.

When I look over all these self-inflicted problems, I’m left with the feeling that Tesla simply isn’t the mature, open, and honest company that ought to be leading the electric vehicle charge. Perhaps with one forthright interview by any journalist of their choosing, Tesla could put this all behind them and be stronger than ever. I hope they do that.

  1. It is verifiable from the email timestamps that it was Tesla’s copy of the email that ended up on the web.

  2. Tesla also later deleted its tweet, opting for a retweet of Green Car Reports instead. Subsequently, Green Car Reports retitled their post, though the URL still retains the “shakedown” title.

  3. It’s not clear when Tesla began having new Roadster buyers sign this form.

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    corporate belief structure isn’t...surprising if you consider
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