Few cars have received as many rave reviews as the Tesla Model S. Since its launch, just about every media outlet that covers cars has sung the praises of the luxury EV – many named it Car of the Year, and some bestowed even grander titles. Recently however, two of the most respected auto industry sources have reported embarrassing litanies of problems with their Teslas.
Auto reviewer Edmunds.com reported that its Model S “amassed quite the repair résumé during the last 17 months.” It needed to have its drive unit replaced twice, and also suffered about twenty smaller problems beyond normal maintenance, from a malfunctioning display screen to a faulty door, sunroof and windows, and various mysterious noises.
Edmunds was prepared to cut the startup automaker some slack, however: “We expected some hiccups from the Model S. Not only was the car an all-new display of emerging technology, but it was also Tesla’s first shot at building a car from the ground up.”
Edmunds also noted that it had an early production car, and several of the issues were fixed on later production models. Most of the repairs were taken care of quickly, and covered under warranty.
Consumer Reports gave the Model S its highest possible rating in May 2013, and praised it again last January, saying it was “still impressed” after a year. Last week however, the consumer watchdog wrote that, after 15,743 miles, the Tesla has had “more than its share of problems.”
CR reiterated that all of the many staff members who’ve driven the Model S have raved about it, but said that it has “displayed a few quirks, some unique to Tesla.” There was trouble with the automatically-retracting door handles, which Tesla fixed with an over-the-air software update. The center screen went blank, requiring a “hard reset” to restore the car’s functions. There were also problems with the front trunk lid, a charging adapter, and a seat-belt buckle.
As did Edmunds, CR found that the problems were fixed quickly and free of charge. “One of the cool things about this car is that when it does need to be serviced by a mechanic, a company rep comes with a trailer and picks it up, delivering it back when the work is done – all free.”
CR notes that problems with one test unit don’t necessarily indicate a pattern. The yearly owners’ reliability survey tells the real story. The Model S earned an “average” score in last year’s survey, based on input from 637 owners of 2012 and 2013 models. This year’s results, which will include the 2014 model, are due in September.
Perhaps in response to the negative publicity, Tesla has announced that the 85 kWh Model S now has an 8-year, infinite-mile warranty on both the battery pack and drive unit. There is no limit on the number of owners during the warranty period, and the new terms apply retroactively to all Model S vehicles ever produced.
Elon Musk defended his magnum opus in a conference call with stock analysts. “The service team was ultra-proactive with the Edmunds car,” said he. “Unfortunately that resulted in them changing things out just on the off-chance that something might go wrong. There were definitely some genuine issues, but they had one of our early production units. In fact, most of the problems they encountered are not present in our current cars.”