Alexandre Ponsin embarked on a family trip in his recently bought used Tesla, a 2021 Model 3. He hoped to enjoy the advertised driving range of the electric sedan: 353 miles on a full charge. However, he discovered the car often provided less than half the promised range, especially in cold weather.
Ponsin received two messages after contacting Tesla and scheduling a service appointment. The first informed him that “remote diagnostics” confirmed his battery was fine, and the second canceled his service appointment.
Tesla had implemented a strategy to deter customers complaining about poor driving range from seeking service for their vehicles. Last summer, a “Diversion Team” was created in Las Vegas to cancel as many range-related appointments as possible.
According to insiders, the Austin, Texas-based electric vehicle manufacturer launched the team because of an overwhelming number of appointments from owners who were disappointed with the vehicle’s performance compared to the advertised estimates. Employees celebrated canceled appointments by muting their phones and hitting a metal xylophone, which often triggered applause.
The company calculated that every canceled appointment saved Tesla around $1,000 and eased the workload on service centers. Instead, the company inflated customer expectations by overpromising the driving range of its cars.
The software Tesla used showed optimistic range projections with a fully charged battery. The estimates were more realistic once the battery dropped below 50 percent charge. A safety buffer of 15 miles was incorporated to prevent drivers from being stranded even when the display indicated an empty battery.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk drove the initiative to present these optimistic range estimates. These methods of inflating in-dash range-meter projections and setting up a range-complaints diversion team have not been reported before.
The driving range is one of the consumers’ main advantages when buying electric cars. “Range anxiety” – the fear of depleting the battery before reaching a charging point – has been a significant barrier to increasing electric vehicle sales.
South Korean regulators fined Tesla earlier this year for delivering vehicles performing at half the advertised range, especially during operation in frigid temperatures.
Further, a study by Recurrent, a Seattle-based EV analytics company, found Tesla’s range meters consistently overestimated the distance that the car could travel, ignoring significant factors affecting the driving distance, such as temperature. In contrast, other automakers’ battery distance range indicators, like those in Chevrolet Bolt, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and Hyundai Kona, were more accurate.