Elon Musk Defends Tesla After Getting A Terrible Review

Posted: Updated:
ELON MUSK TESLA
Tesla Motors Chairman and CEO Elon Musk defended the Tesla Model S after a blistering review of the car's performance over 17 months. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images) | ROBYN BECK via Getty Images

Elon Musk stammered out a hasty defense of Tesla’s Model S Thursday night, two days after facing blistering criticism over the car's maintenance problems.

A 17-month review of the $105,005 sedan, published this week by car-critic Edmunds.com, yielded one chief complaint -- parts of the car needed to be replaced too frequently. Tesla's chief executive countered the critique, saying the electric carmaker's Formula 1-trained service teams were overattentive, swapping out parts that had even the potential to be faulty.

“This maybe ended up being counterproductive, but the service team was ultra proactive with the Edmunds car, so they were doing their best to make Edmunds happy,” Musk said during an hour-long call with analysts after announcing the company's second-quarter earnings. “Unfortunately that resulted in them changing things out just on the off-chance that something might go wrong.”

Among the most serious complaints: The driver side door automatically opened just a crack when the car shifted into park. The sunroof wouldn’t open. The tires wore out prematurely. The vanity mirror hinge cracked and the touch-screen froze at one point. The car once died on the roadside, requiring separate replacements of the drive unit and battery.

Regardless, Musk said, the model driven by Edmunds' drivers was old. Tesla continuously tweaks its vehicles -- from updating software to shaving “a few hundred pounds” off the body of the Model S since its inaugural edition -- and cars produced in the last year have outgrown the glitches that Edmunds’ drivers experienced.

“There were definitely some genuine issues, but they had one of our early production units,” Musk said. “In fact, most of the problems they encountered are not present in our current cars.”

Edmunds concluded that the car was “hard to recommend,” largely because the battery-charged drive unit, which powers the car in lieu of a combustion engine, was replaced three times -- once when the car died roadside, twice for suspicious noises. Musk blamed the latter two re-installments on his service department’s overkill.

“We take these actions with the customer’s convenience and satisfaction top of mind and strive to go above and beyond the expected level of service,” Alexis Georgeson, a Tesla spokeswoman, said in a statement to The Huffington Post on Friday. “In addition and as we would with any owner, we also paid an unusual amount of servicing attention to the Edmunds car because it was under warranty, meaning we were able to make the improvements and deliver a high level of service to the customer at no extra cost.”

On Thursday, Tesla posted a second-quarter loss of $62 million, double what it lost in the same period last year, as the company upped spending to expand its reach in China and develop its next-in-line Model X. Earlier on Thursday, Tesla announced a deal with Panasonic to build its Gigafactory, a plant that will mass produce the lithium-ion packs that power its cars.

Though states are still competing to attract the roughly $4 billion factory, Musk confirmed that the company broke ground on a preliminary site in Reno, Nevada.

Before moving on to the next question, Musk -- who publicly walloped the New York Times over a flawed negative review of the Model S last year -- leaped in on the call to stump for the car once more.

“We’re going to be at it hardcore,” he said, “until our car is 10X better than any other car on the road.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story wrongly stated the number of times the car died on the roadside. It died only once.