In a high tech startup, whether small or large, a lot of the challenges come in scaling the business. Scalability challenges hit you on many fronts from how many batteries you have access to to the number of service centers you can get going. Recent service experiences have me asking the question, can Tesla service scale with the rest of the business?
We’re still pretty early in Tesla’s history and the service centers are still going above and beyond when it comes to service. Some of this is to make up for early design and quality challenges, and some of it is to make up for how few service centers they have. Either way, Tesla has done a stellar job with customer satisfaction this point — for the second year in a row Tesla has topped Consumer Reports satisfaction index.
But as more people own the Model S, and with its hefty price tag, the expectations for service remain high or are even growing as time passes. Tesla is on a mission to set up as many Superchargers as possible to enable the EV transformation of the planet, but are they keeping up with Service Centers as their customer base grows?
When you buy a car of any type, but especially a $100K car, you don’t really expect the vendor to be uninterested in routine maintenance. That was my experience when I called for my first tire rotation. Sure, a whole lot of routine maintenance is gone thanks to the marvels of the Model S design, but I still need to get those tires taken care of. In my experience, Tesla would rather you went somewhere else.
Tesla doesn’t want to do routine maintenance.
The other thing we’ve all gotten used to is reasonable scheduling for service when an issue comes up. Generally when I need to take my ICE cars in for service the most I have to wait is 1-2 days. My recent experience with Tesla was 13 days to get a 12V battery issue taken care of. Some of that was due to weather and a holiday but there were at least 7 normal business days where they could not do the service as they were overloaded.
Scheduling service at some SCs can be a terrible experience.
From talking to other owners it sounds like things with service are a mixed bag. Another owner who had a similar issue called their SC in a different area and got a call back in 15 minutes and scheduled for service the next day. My experience was 3 phone calls, 2 emails and over 8 business hours waiting for an answer on when Tesla could schedule for my car to be repaired. The actual service they did was excellent, but the scheduling process was abysmal.
The other experience I had was on the loaner front. I got this friendly note from Service when they finally schedule my appointment:
Thank you for informing us that you will not be needing a loaner.
They never asked or offered a loaner and had none available. I told them it was fine to pick it up and bring it back but I would be stranded at work until they brought it back. The technician arrived by Uber as scheduled at 10:30am, took down the basics, and then drove away in my car. The service department had promised to have it back by 3:30pm. I finally got it back at 7pm and fortunately I had no other pressing plans that evening. While there were other things on my list beyond just the battery issue, they had the full list in writing before the appointment was set.
Don’t rely on getting a loaner if your SC is overloaded.
The Downside of Selling Direct
I’m a huge fan of cutting out the dealers in the sales process and streamlining things, taking the pain out of negotiations, having fixed pricing and all the other benefits we’ve enjoyed in purchasing the Model S.
However, we did lose one thing that is pretty important — additional potential points of service. The Tesla way requires dedicated (and so far reportedly non-profit) service centers owned and run by Tesla to service the Model S. This is much harder to scale than financially incented third parties.
When I bought my Model S 7 months ago there was 1 service center serving all points north of Connecticut on the East Coast. At the time the local Tesla Store said they had sold 900 Model S’s in this area. Today there is still only a single service center supporting the entire area and many more Model S’s on the road.
A second service center in Massachusetts is planned for Dedham, MA but is not online yet and both are geographically close to each other which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
This is a LOT of area for a single (or even two) service center to cover. Also given the distances involved in covering such a large area the technicians are running all over New England to pick up or service cars which also eats into their time.
I believe, at least in New England, that Tesla has fallen behind in scaling its service centers supporting the Model S roll out. Tesla needs to watch more closely how many Model S’s are covered by a given service center and what the response times may look like and perhaps be more open about future plans for service centers and growth in this area.
In addition to watching how fast Tesla is setting up their Supercharging network Tesla owners should also be watching the rate Tesla is deploying service centers.
John Morello said:
Interesting article but a technical point on tire rotation.
Rotating or moving tires around on your Tesla would reduce the handling performance of the car, in other words do not rotate your tires.
Leave them in the configuration they were in when you received them from the factory.
Rotating tires disrupts the alignments of fibres in the tires from the movements they have bedded into and been performing at each corner of the car.
Change the position of the tire on the car and you hammer the tire trying to realign fibres into a new position due to a different location on the car, especially if you altered the direction of rotation that will destroy fibre alignment. You will see bumps form in the tire sidewalls.
Rotating tires is the fastest way to upsetting the handling of your Tesla. My recommendation is do not rotate run them.Leave them in the same position on the car for the life of the tire.
For example on a racing car where maximum tire performance is critical there is no way any tire rotation would be performed. It is no different for the Tesla Model S, it is a highly tuned sports handling machine where tire performance is critical to the handling of the vehicle.
John, Tesla Model S owner.
All other advice (from Tesla Service, other auto places and the net in general) seem to disagree with you there. Everyone rotates tires and there seems to be a lot of good advise as to why. Perhaps with the high performance (P) model and very low mileage but even then you’ll be burning through tires quickly. So unless you’re racing or doing very low miles I have to disagree on that one.
This is one thing that has me concerned about getting a Tesla. I am very interested in my next vehicle being one. I see a few around town and I hoping one day to see one parked rather than driving so I can strike up a conversation, especially in this regards. The closest SC (and showroom btw) is 175 miles/3 hours away from me. While I am ok (given the warranty) that the car may have some hiccups, I am concerned about scheduling anything that far away!
Meanwhile, affordability is another thing holding me back. Value-wise I think it’s a great car, but that still doesn’t mean I can easily afford it. I already know I will spend more than my last car (bought 8 years ago), but the Mode S will cost more than twice that and a good bit more than my expected increase in budget. But I understand long-term savings because lack of service, paid repairs, and fuel costs. It will probably be another 1.5 years before I can pull the trigger on one and then, the Model III may be a choice (especially given there is only two of us here). Hopefully by then, the SC picture will be very different!
In the meantime, thank you very much for this blog. I have it as an open tab for about three months and have read every post. I love a fellow engineer’s postings about the vehicle!
Thats pretty far from service. There are people that live that far out but it would make me very nervous. Even with one 50 mins from home, 20 mins from work scheduling is tough just because they’re so busy.
The Model S is definitely expensive but if you look at it over a 7 year period it may not be as expensive as you think:
Thanks for the feedback. Its been quite a learning experience but i’ve loved all of it.
I remember that article. It was quite poignant to me as the MDX is one of the vehicles on my list. We currently have a 2006 4Runner 4WD (bought new) and a 2010 Lexus IS 250 (bought 2 years used). If the 4Runner ever were to be replaced, the MDX is a good contender. For a while we had a VW Eos, but that car was fraught with problems and we decided to get rid of it before the warranty ran out.
As for you, the numbers for long-term ownership make sense. That said, we prefer to not finance such a large amount (or any if we can help it), so saving up for the purchase. Meanwhile, no “need” for another car, so putting this on the back burner.
But yes, I agree it makes me nervous to have a service center so far away. Maybe one day I will see a Model S parked somewhere to ask another owner. Might be a challenge as the nearest Supercharger is 80 miles away, though there are EV chargers in a couple places around my city.
Overall, as I wait to pull the trigger, I watch the expansion and hope it reaches my major metropolitan area sometime sooner rather than later.
EV chargers aren’t too practical except for overnights etc. Other than CHADeMo and SuperChargers the rest are really only good for long stays. Who wants to sit for an hour to get 17 miles of range? (Level 2).
Definitely wise to make sure you can afford it. A car is not a good investment so only get it when/if you can or wait for the 3. While you’re saving up look at $TSLA stock, it may be a way to grow that savings but can also be risky 🙂