About a decade ago, Tesla rigged the dashboard readouts in its electric cars to provide “rosy” projections of how far owners can drive before needing to recharge, a source told Reuters. The automaker last year became so inundated with driving-range complaints that it created a special team to cancel owners’ service appointments.
In March, Alexandre Ponsin set out on a family road trip from Colorado to California in his newly purchased Tesla, a used 2021 Model 3. He expected to get something close to the electric sport sedan’s advertised driving range: 353 miles on a fully charged battery.
He soon realized he was sometimes getting less than half that much range, particularly in cold weather – such severe under performance that he was convinced the car had a serious defect.
“We’re looking at the range, and you literally see the number decrease in front of your eyes,” he said of his dashboard range meter.
Ponsin contacted Tesla and booked a service appointment in California. He later received two text messages, telling him that “remote diagnostics” had determined his battery was fine, and then: “We would like to cancel your visit.”
What Ponsin didn’t know was that Tesla employees had been instructed to thwart any customers complaining about poor driving range from bringing their vehicles in for service. Last summer, the company quietly created a “Diversion Team” in Las Vegas to cancel as many range-related appointments as possible.
The Austin, Texas-based electric carmaker deployed the team because its service centers were inundated with appointments from owners who had expected better performance based on the company’s advertised estimates and the projections displayed by the in-dash range meters of the cars themselves, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The automaker’s estimates of its electric vehicles’ driving range have been among the most aggressive in the industry. It has faced thousands of complaints from customers disappointed by the vehicles’ real-world performance.
Inside the Nevada team’s office, some employees celebrated canceling service appointments by putting their phones on mute and striking a metal xylophone, triggering applause from coworkers who sometimes stood on desks. The team often closed hundreds of cases a week and staffers were tracked on their average number of diverted appointments per day.
Managers told the employees that they were saving Tesla about $1,000 for every canceled appointment, the people said. Another goal was to ease the pressure on service centers, some of which had long waits for appointments.
In most cases, the complaining customers’ cars did not need repair, according to the people familiar with the matter. Rather, Tesla created the groundswell of complaints another way – by hyping the range of its futuristic electric vehicles, or EVs, raising consumer expectations beyond what the cars can deliver. Teslas often fail to achieve their advertised range estimates and the projections provided by the cars’ own equipment, according to Reuters interviews with three automotive experts who have tested or studied the company’s vehicles.