With More Teslas on the Road, Tesla’s Legendary Service Program Gets Less Convenient, More Costly

When Tesla’s first electric cars rolled off the production line, it made an active decision not to sell using the traditional dealership model. As a consequence, it managed to avoid the pain that other automakers face on a daily basis: poorly trained sales and support staff, dealers who are reluctant to promote electric vehicles, and those all-powerful auto dealer associations. Not only that, it’s given Tesla much a more granular control over what might be called “The Tesla Experience”, ensuring that wherever the customer is, the sales and service experience meets Tesla’s exacting standards.

Tesla says the Model ≡ is on track for production in 2017.

Unlike the pop up show rooms, you can’t pop up a service center

In fact, every part of Tesla’s after-sales experience has been engineered to be as far from the stale coffee, oil stained linoleum and shabby couch of the off-brand dealer network as the Model S was from the Model T. Buy a high-end Tesla, and there was a time when you could look forward to having your regular car service not at the local service centre but at your home or work. And when your car needed work that was beyond the service that Tesla’s peripatetic “service rangers” could offer, Tesla would arrange to pick your car up and take it for repair, leaving you with a suitable Tesla courtesy car for the duration of the repair. More often than not, it would be a high-end Model S.

And so it was with Green Car Reports’ David Nolan and his first experiences of Tesla service back in 2013, a few months after he purchased his Model S.  “If this is the future of automotive service, count me in,” he wrote of being informed his car had a fault he’d not even identified and then having it fixed by a Tesla Ranger who arrived at his home a mere two hours later.

More Teslas on the road is a good thing -- but it's affecting service centre wait times.

More Teslas on the road is a good thing — but it’s affecting service centre wait times.

The system seemed flawless and perhaps even magical. For those used to the inconsistent behaviour of even high-end automobiles, with the intermittent faults that appear the bane of the internal combustion engine, the concept of faults being identified remotely and rectified without hassle – sometimes before the owner was even aware of them – seems a giant leap.

Back in 2013, Tesla had far fewer cars on the road, and its service centres were in far less demand. But with with the 100,000 Model S sale milestone predicted to be reached by the end of this year, can Tesla offer the same kind of premium service it once could?

Sadly, it seems, the answer is no. Tesla has become a victim of its own success.

Writing this week for GreenCarReports, Noland notes that in the past two years while Tesla has taken steps to increase the number of service centres in his area, there are now so many Tesla Model S cars on the road that even with expansion taken into account, Tesla’s service centres are responsible for twice as many cars as they were in 2013.

2012 UK Tesla Model S Interior

That translates to longer wait times for a service, and calling multiple service centres to find one with a space. Even when a service centre can fit a customer in, there’s not always a free loaner car available.

“I haven’t been offered the pickup service for more than a year now,” he writes. “Loaners have to be scheduled well in advance.”

Whilst the quality of the service provided by Tesla often seems to be considered to be excellent, a quick scan of the Tesla owner’s forums suggest that many are dissatisfied with recent changes to the service system. The popular option of a valet collection and delivery of your car, accompanied by a loaner top of the range Tesla Model S appears to have all but disappeared. Whilst the valet collection remains an option, the price is no-longer the flat-fee Tesla once promised of just $100. Instead, $100 is the starting fee, with some owners being charged far more for the privilege. Indeed, one owner complained that for a valet collection for an under-warranty repair he’d been informed it would cost over $500.

Both inside and outside the US, availability for routine service appointments is now considered to be weeks rather than days. And owners in Norway are complaining of repair slots needing to be booked months in advance. And as with Noland’s experience, other owners note the fleet of courtesy car Model S’s seem to also be fully booked, leaving them stranded at the service centers until work on their cars is complete.

Tesla owners love their cars -- but Tesla needs to step up its service provision.

Tesla owners love their cars — but Tesla needs to step up its service provision.

Whilst there are rumours of Tesla setting up new service centers, the capacity currently being built doesn’t bode well for the introduction of the Model 3, or even as sales progress, with current demand for Model S service.

And that leaves Tesla with some difficult choices. Does it continue building service centers that it controls, but risk alienating their existing, and new, customers with insufficient capacity? Or does it dare to become like every other car manufacturer and franchise service operation?

Either way, the future for Tesla’s service division is challenging, but we’re guessing Tesla knows it has just one choice if it wants to continue as the automaker which is happy to challenge the status quo. After all, who wants to experience the woes of franchised dealerships when they can own a Tesla — even if they may have a longer wait than Tesla initially predicted?

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