Tesla owners plagued by service delays

Tesla Motors is expanding quickly, and current vehicle owners have front-row seats to witness the small automaker’s growing pains.

Model S and Model X owners report long waits to schedule service appointments — from routine checkups to more pressing issues such as faulty door latches and suspicious engine noises.

“With my early Model S, they did a good job and fixed every issue immediately,” said Ethan Shapiro, a project manager at an information technology company in Miami. “Now that the company has grown, service has become a problem.”

Shapiro, 39, bought a Model S in January 2013, which he sold in 2015 to buy a Model X.When a window on the electric crossover would not close properly in September, Shapiro said his local service center did not have an opening until 10 days later.

“That’s a long time for a $ 130,000 car,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro previously had waited nearly a week to get a door latch fixed. He said the delays have been a major hassle because the service center is about an hour’s drive away in Dania Beach, Fla. Tesla has notified him that a center is opening closer to his home in Miami, but Shapiro said he has yet to receive more details.

‘Coming soon’

Other owners have experienced even longer wait times. Chris Terry, a 31-year-old platform engineer at Kenzan Media in Denver, was told in August that it would be five weeks before the service center could repair the cracked windshield on his Model S. Tesla advised him to take the car to Safelite, which ended up breaking the rearview mirror and cracking the windshield in another area. Though Tesla replaced the mirror and Safelite agreed to fix the windshield for free, Terry still is waiting on the glass repair because of a shortage in parts specific to his 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.”

There are 61 service centers operating in 24 states, with 10 additional locations listed as “coming soon” on Tesla’s website. In its earnings statement released Oct. 26, the company reported opening 17 service centers in the third quarter.

However, the growth in service centers may not be able to keep up with Tesla’s volume plans. The automaker is on track to deliver 50,000 vehicles in the second half of 2016 and aims to manufacture 500,000 cars annually, starting in 2018 after the $ 35,000 Model 3 becomes available. On Tuesday, Nov. 8, the company agreed to acquire Germany-based Grohmann Engineering to aid in the development of automated manufacturing systems.

Strict control

“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 automaker continues to expand, “they’re going to have a much bigger challenge maintaining an adequate network to handle consumers.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Whether Tesla can increase its service departments in time for when Model 3 deliveries begin in mid-2017 depends on how long it takes to train qualified technicians or if it will be open to allowing independent service centers to work on its cars, Brauer said.

As an owner, Shapiro said it is not clear that Tesla is aware of the consistent backups in its service centers or taking any action to mitigate it.

“I don’t think it’s on their radar screen,” he said. “They aren’t communicating anything to customers.”

Forgiving owners

The delays haven’t had a major effect thus far on the Tesla brand because early owners are less likely to rely solely on their Model S or Model X for transportation, Brauer said. They’re also more forgiving.

“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.

Dunne said 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.

Terry — who also waited three weeks to have a noisy engine checked out in the spring — said his experiences haven’t affected his positive view of Tesla. However, it does make him hesitant to suggest the brand to customers expecting service on par with high-volume manufacturers.

“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.”

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