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Report: Tesla Blamed Drivers for Defective Parts

Reuters just published a lengthy investigation claiming EV maker Tesla knew of defective components in some of its cars. But, rather than recalling the parts to fix them, the automaker reportedly instructed technicians to blame drivers for parts failures.

Reuters interviewed drivers who experienced failures on most of the automaker’s lineup, including the Model 3, Y, S, and X.

“Tens of thousands of Tesla owners,” Reuters says, “have experienced premature failures of suspension or steering parts.” They can occur on cars with as few hundred miles on the odometer. They include collapsed suspensions, lost wheels, and failures of steering control.

“Records and interviews reveal for the first time that the automaker has long known far more about the frequency and extent of the defects than it has disclosed to consumers and safety regulators,” Reuters alleges.

 “Engineers ordered repeated redesigns for several parts and discussed seeking money back from suppliers because of the defects,” the news agency reports.

Tesla does not operate a public relations department or answer reporters’ questions. So, we haven’t been able to reach anyone at Tesla to confirm or dispute Reuters’ reporting.

Suspension Parts Recalled in China Only

Many incidents involved “persistent problems with low-tech suspension connections, such as upper and lower control arms, and fore and aft links,” Reuters says.

The report says that China-based technicians identified a particularly problematic aluminum alloy suspension arm in its Model S sedan. They asked the company to issue a recall. “Tesla delayed a recall for four more years, until Chinese regulators pushed for one.”

The company, however, “never recalled the part in the United States and Europe despite reports of frequent failures globally.”

Memo Reportedly Instructed Staff to Blame Abuse, Misuse

The news agency alleges “memos sent to technicians globally” instructed them “to tell consumers that broken parts on their cars were not faulty.”

“The company also instructed service centers, in a February 2019 ‘talking points’ memo, to use the same explanation with customers,” the report says. Service centers were told to blame “abuse” and “misuse.” Both are terms included in Tesla’s warranty language that “allow the automaker to decline claims for repairs or damage.”

The report mirrors a July investigation in which Reuters alleged that Tesla created an internal team to divert customer complaints about range limits and talk customers out of service requests.

The timing of the 2019 memo is critical, Reuters says. “Tesla employed this deny-and-delay strategy as its ballooning costs of warranty repairs threatened the company’s profitability at a critical juncture — when investors were scrutinizing its long-term prospects.”

U.S. Government Investigating the Issues

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into the issue and “asked Tesla for more information on fore-link failures, including any reports of fires related to the part breaking,” Reuters says.

The agency has a second open investigation related to power steering failures in Tesla vehicles.

Tesla’s Unique Structure

Most automakers sell and service cars through dealerships that operate separately from the company that builds the cars. Reuters notes Tesla sells its vehicles directly and operates its service centers, which “gives the automaker extraordinarily detailed real-time visibility into parts failures, repairs and warranty claims, which Tesla engineers meticulously tracked and analyzed for years, the company records show.”

But it also eliminates a layer of accountability, as other automakers learn about defects from business partners with reputations to protect.


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