As an IT professional, I always felt an eager for technology and lust for new gadgets and hi-tech toys. When first electrical vehicles appeared on the roads, it was not an exception. However, lack of charging stations and high cost coupled with a need to own some backup vehicle for road trips and low battery emergencies were the stoppers that kept me from doing the step toward hitting the road powered by lithium battery energy. As everything else in my life, the chain of unpredictable random events queued up to create the story I am about to tell.
On a hot summer Friday of July 29, 2016 I got my kids to the City. Two hours drive and one hour in a city traffic were hard, but manageable. My GPS told me that I have only one mile left to the destination parking lot, when I stopped on intersection waiting for a man to cross the street before turning right. Next second, I got a nice gentle push from the back. When I got my legs back to the pedals and stopped the car, I found that rear bumper is still laying down on the crossing and the car became few inch shorter. That is how I lost my good old Impreza WRX served me for the last nine years. Skipping the boring part dealing with insurance companies, I ended up with no car and some cash on my hands.
We have been looking to Tesla Model S before, but always considered them a bit overprices. During the test-drive appointment at Santana Row showroom we found this vehicle is interesting to drive, but have not felt the luxury of $100K++ car in general. A few days later… when I was thinking about replacement vehicle, my wife sent me a link to store inventory with a vehicle she likes. This was a beautiful 2016 pearl while 90D, which was used as a demo vehicle and had few thousand miles on odometer. Almost all possible options along with $15K showroom discount was very attractive, so I paid $1000 deposit and we started to wait. Inventory said that the vehicle is located in San Francisco Bay area, but for some reason it took Tesla Inc. two weeks to locate the vehicle in Santa Barbara and get it prepared for delivery. So, on remarkable day of a huge 600 acres forest fire near HWY-154 (August, 18) we drove to Santa Barbara to get this white beauty home.
What people doing when they are getting a new car? Yes, they are hitting the road! We are not an exception. On a foggy morning of September, 3 we left our sweet home to pursue our goal to drive coast to coast on electric power and visit our friends in NY.
We were more than happy with our new car. It is nice and comfortable, very good steering and accelerating, nice streaming music, quiet and soft ride with good sense of the road, smart and convenient navigation. Back sit is wide enough to fit three kids in car seats, front and rear trunks fit all our stuff along with compact stroller and two kid’s bicycles.
First four days of the trip we headed east hopping from one supercharger station to another enjoying mountain passes of Colorado and Nevada, farms of Kansas and Missouri. We even had a time to stop near famous Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.
Until we reached Ohio….
We still were a little sleepy this morning heading to our next charging stop, when strange chime sound appeared in cabin confusing us. What the heck?
First time this message was up for less than a 10 seconds, so we had no chance to react much. Later during the drive, it popped up again for about 30 seconds. Once I pulled down to the supercharger station, I gave a call to Tesla headquarters. In total, it took about two hours to pull the logs off the car and route us to the nearest service center in Columbus, OH. This was the day of first bitter truth of Tesla: even you have a new car covered by warranty, you will need to wait in line for a few days to get it checked up. It took me a long phone call with service manager in Columbus to convince him that wait for a week is not a big option for us. We safely made to the service center seeing this message pops one more time. However, quick diagnostic gave no results. We were offered a complimentary gas powered Kia SUV from enterprise, but without permission to drive to NY and back while our white beauty being deep inspected. We had to refuse this loaner and rented another Ford SUV from Avis using our own funds.
In three days we returned to Columbus, but found no good news. Service manager assured us the car is safe to drive back home.
Here I will fast forward the story: we safely made it back home to our usual boring life. However, first “Car need service” message appeared 50 miles away from Columbus, and another one hit us back in California about 150 miles away from home. Next Monday after a short phone conversation I was invited to visit Sunnyvale service center for another checkup.
The brave service managers were nice to replace the Tesla with another weird gas powered SUV from Enterprise for the next 10 days. And nothing again… There were a lot of questions about possible rain exposure, but there were drought times in California… remember? And it was quite confusing for me: should I use my new car during nice sunny days only while keeping it garaged during the rain?
During this time, my coworkers gave me stories of their experience with their luxury gas powered vehicles: Audi, BMW, Infinity. Most of the stories ended up with vehicle either being complimentary repaired or replaced with the same or better vehicle. So, I was calm and confident that I am in good hands and young innovative company caring about their customers and reputation.
The following weekend Tesla spent on driveway while we were enjoying the sun in our backyard. Next Monday brought new surprise with same old messages. This time my wife took a straight path to the Fremont service center hoping the headquarters professionals will figure out this mystery.
Another 10 days apart from new toy. Another 10 days of driving a loaner. This time it was one of the very first Model S, which seen a lot of things in its life. The most noticeable was very sticky steering wheel. I do not want to guess what kind of grease was there. At the end, the invoice looks more promising:
On another weird Friday, October 7 we got our Tesla back home and parked it until Monday. This Monday was quite busy for us, and at the end of this long day my wife headed back home from Fremont. She decided to get a cup of coffee before 50 miles stretch ending through mountain pass and curves of CA-17. First, the usual “Car need service” message appeared. She was thinking to herself, “OK, looks like I have to take another trip to Fremont Service tomorrow”. And when she went back to the car with her coffee the message was different.
That is. The car finally executed the treat and did not start. The number of messages changing each other was large, claiming 12 volts battery problem and other failures I cannot recall in detail. Customer service representative on the phone told that he is seeing all those messages in logs and sending a tow track to pick up the car.
10:00PM is not the best time for a girl to be alone with broken luxury car on the empty parking lot, especially if it is a border of Newark and Fremont full of weird people and homeless. It was just few miles away from Tesla headquarters, but I managed to drive back from Santa Cruz 40 minutes before tow track. Now, it was a nice learning curve for us.
Lesson 1: Tesla is heavy, very heavy.
Lesson 2: Tesla could not be loaded to the tow track bed from the back, so no head in parking unless you like to push the vehicle in the night.
Lesson 3: Do not trust customer service representative saying “Just leave the keys inside and lock your car from the phone: tow company will take care about it”. Tow truck driver arrived alone, which not surprising me, and he had no chances to manage this on his own.
This was the last time we drove our beauty, but not the end of the story.
Next morning, my wife stopped by Fremont service center to collect another loaner. This time it was another Enterprise loaner (Ford Fusion Hybrid). In couple of weeks my wife stopped there to check a status, and persuasively complained about the loaner. As a result, those folks found a Testla Model S, which was almost the same as ours, but in blue color. After a few days, we’ve been told that the car is working with no problems again. Hence, it was fourth service visit and 30 days cumulative service time, I sent an e-mail to Tesla Inc. saying I am claiming to lemon law, and want this vehicle replaced. However, in response I got that big bosses have approved refund, and that is the only option I could move on. I decided to see how it works without diving into the hassle of Arbitrage or Supreme Court. We are living in busy times, and our time cost some money too.
What surprised me in dealing with Tesla during those month that this company does not have formal Customer Support. There is no single phone number you can call with your concerns or complaints. There are no representatives in charge to handle complicated cases. Service centers are the front lines of representation without any chance to breakthrough this defence. And every time I used to talk with new person telling my story over and over again. It was trending to become harder and more irritating as the story was developing. I cannot blame any specific person for being unprofessional. They all did their job within their knowledge and authority. As I found, it was not sufficient this time.
In a few weeks, I got notified that my refund was approved, and I got contacted by another guy, who suddenly offered to rebuild my vehicle Of course I agreed to that generous offer saying I’d love to have the same vehicle.
I was thinking to myself: what a great company! Despite it was a little slow heading to the holiday season. I had to wait for another four weeks, until I got a call from Tesla Service. A nice young voice on the other end told me that they sold (I had to ask twice if I understood this correctly) the loaner I am driving, and they are asking me to return it back. Next day, I took another trip to Fremont. New loaner was 2014 Model S with 123K (wow) miles on odometer. I asked for update about my new vehicle being produced, and service manager was nice enough to say he will contact me as soon as he checks it out.
This new loaner was great. It could randomly turn off either or both headlights at any moment. Soon, I learn how to reset them even without looking to the famous 17” screen. Anyway, I still was excited waiting for my new white Model S.
On December 7 I got the news: manufacturing will start next week. After a couple of corrections to the order, the delivery was scheduled to December 29. I was a little surprised that nobody was contacting me prior to this date about the paperwork, but I still was under impression that I am in good hands.
At the day X, I’ve entered Fremont delivery center with a smile on my face. I handled loaner keys to the guy beyond the counter while checking in. In 20 minutes, another young guy invited me to the side table to talk. “Looks like you have a balance of $116,000. How are you going to pay them today?” I was shocked, but not surprised. I had to spend another few minutes of my life telling him the short version of this story. He asked me to wait and disappeared. In about an hour another guy showed up with quick drafted letter saying I am getting my refund in two-three weeks, and if I want my new vehicle I have to pay for it in full. Surprisingly, the same person who offered me to rebuild the car was signing this letter. I felt enough of this customer service and I said “No way”. I am taking the refund, but I will not be buying this car at a full price. You have to understand that for $116K I have a huge selection of luxury vehicles with much better customer appreciation. He said no more but “OK”.
I called my wife asking to pick me up back home with no new car. Yes, it took them ANOTHER 40 minutes to finish up the paper work. Why I refused to pay for my new car? There were two reasons. First, I had to pay $16K extra. Yes, it was a showroom discount I got for the first time. After all those months, Tesla decided to not offer me 10% discount on this new vehicle. Even more, the letter itself stated:
That’s it! NO DEFECT! For all those days I lost driving to service centers, waiting in their lounges, waiting for tow track, hanging on the phone… I was just a noisy customer complaining about the vehicle that has no problems. Or ... they were able to fix the problem, but forgot to tell me about that.
Tesla is still very young company that has more customers that it can handle now. There are no real competitors on the market of electric vehicles so far. Hopefully, it will not be forever. So far, I will be driving good old gasoline powered cars.
And this is not the end of the story! Two days later, at the last day of 2016 we had a little party with our friends when I got this e-mail.