Service Center Delays Frustrate Tesla Owners

For a company that started building cars less than 5 years ago, Tesla is doing a wonderful job of building and selling cars, but it is doing a less wonderful job of servicing them. Complaints from Tesla owners about long delays getting service appointments are rising. Some people are worried that things could get out of hand quickly once the Model 3 arrives. Elon says Tesla will be producing 500,000 cars a year by the end of 2018.Tesla Service Center

“With my early Model S, they did a good job and fixed every issue immediately,” Ethan Shapiro, a project manager at an information technology company in Miami tells Automotive News. “Now that the company has grown, service has become a problem.” He had to wait 10 days to get an appointment to have a malfunctioning door on his new Model X fixed.

Shapiro is also less than thrilled that the nearest Tesla service center is located more than an hour away. Tesla has told him it plans to open a service center closer to his home, but details about where it will be and when it will be ready have not been provided. He thinks Tesla is doing a less than adequate job of communicating with owners about how it is planning to reduce waiting times and expand the network of service centers. “I don’t think it’s on their radar screen,” Shapiro says. “They aren’t communicating anything to customers.”

Chris Terry, a 31-year-old platform engineer at Kenzan Media in Denver was advised that it would take 5 weeks to repair a crack in his windshield. In his case, Tesla authorized him to take the car to Safelite, but the repair did not go well. He is still waiting for the repair to be completed because of a shortage of parts for his specific vehicle.

“It worries me, in a sense,” Terry said. Though his delays have been with “low-priority issues,” other Tesla drivers have told him that “long delays in scheduling aren’t any better when you do have a high-priority problem.” Tesla has 61 service centers operating in 24 states. 10 more are listed as “coming soon” on Tesla’s website. In its Q3 earnings report, the company said it opened 17 new service centers in the third quarter.

Part of the issue is Tesla’s insistence that all repairs and maintenance be performed at its service centers, not independent repair facilities. “Tesla’s position is that their cars are so advanced, they want to have strict control over the work being done on them,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher at Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader. As the company continues to expand, “they’re going to have a much bigger challenge maintaining an adequate network to handle consumers,” Brauer says.

So far, owners have been very forgiving of the trials and tribulations that go along with getting their cars serviced. “I’m not alone when I say many Tesla owners go into ownership eyes wide open, knowing they are part of this experience of the first breakthrough electric vehicles,” said Michael Dunne, president of Dunne Automotive, an investment advisory firm.

Dunne was told in September that it would take three weeks to schedule an appointment for his annual service checkup in San Diego. When he brought his Model S in three weeks later, the service technician said it would take four days to complete the routine maintenance.

He decided to wait until the service could be completed within a day, which he was able to do about a week later. Despite the wait, Dunne said he was satisfied with his service experience. “If I were a Mercedes owner, I might have stricter standards,” Dunne said. The staff may be overwhelmed, he said, but they are still pleasant to deal with.

Chris Terry says his service experience hasn’t lowered his positive attitude about Tesla, but it does make him less likely to recommend the company to others. “I completely love it,” Terry said. “But the length of time it takes to get a service appointment makes me less preemptive about recommending it to people.”

That’s a problem for Tesla. The whole point of building high end electric cars first rather than mass market cars was to establish a customer base of people who are opinion leaders. Tesla owners are supposed to be the ones who are talking up the goodness of electric cars in general and Tesla in particular.

If Tesla wants to become a mass marketer, it will need to address the service issue aggressively. Customers are very fickle people. There is a familiar saying in sales, “It takes months to find a customer but only seconds to lose one.”

Source: Automotive News  Photo credit: Tesla

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.