I’ve developed a passion for reading automotive trade publications. These outlets are staffed by talented men and women who were born with gas running through their veins and hearts powered by internal combustion engine technology, so they have the knowledge and smarts to understand the formidable challenges involved with automotive electrification. These journalists keep their ears to the ground, and they hear rumblings long before they become ear piercing cacophonies.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s warning earlier this month that it was investigating reports of “catastrophic engine failure” with the Ford Bronco is but one example. The Drive, among the most sophisticated of the automotive trades, reported on the issue two months earlier, taking note of growing complaints posted on an online forum for Bronco enthusiasts. I referenced The Drive’s story in a May 1 posting, so the NHTSA’s Bronco warning was old news to regular readers of this blog.
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Old school journalism, which is how I was trained, has a rule that governs our news judgment: Three makes a trend. We are always mindful of individual stories that could be symptomatic of something much bigger, and three is the magic number signaling a Eureka moment. This morning I had a Eureka moment regarding serious production issues with Elon Musk’s Tesla Y and Model 3.
It’s well known that the Model Y and Model 3, which as of this writing respectively have base prices of $65,000 and $46,990, are poorly manufactured vehicles prone to repeated recalls. What’s news is that some of Tesla’s once most die-hard enthusiasts have lost their tolerance with these persistent problems and are aggressively trashing the vehicles. Some are urging people not to accept delivery of them.
The Tesla travails of Dylan Hong
Dylan Hong once embodied the die-hard Tesla loyalist. He so loved his 2021 Tesla Y that he traded it in for a 2022 model because he wanted the company’s latest and greatest technology. But as reported by the trade publication autoevolution, Hong very much regrets his decision, and he’s soured on Tesla.
From autoevolution’s report:
Besides receiving a poorly cleaned vehicle, (Hong) found windows with black smudges that can’t be washed, loose components in the cabin, improperly placed trims, weird noises coming from the center console, a glovebox that doesn’t close properly, scratched leather on the dash, and even a slightly damaged mirror housing.
“You know, it doesn’t really feel like you’re getting a $65,000 car when you are taking delivery of it,” said the YouTuber.
But while driving for the first time on the highway, he heard an annoying noise coming from the back of the Tesla.
Hong also points out that he’s not the only one experiencing this disappointing situation. Other Model Y owners that create a lot of content revolving around Tesla’s products are looking at the same problems. The high-pitched whine coming from the motors on the back axle is one issue that often occurs with the updated Tesla crossover.
Among his followers, there are other Tesla customers who shared surprisingly similar grievances. Many underlined they had similar quality issues, but most of those who wrote about their recent delivery experiences confirmed something worrisome. They more or less underlined that “uneven panel gaps were within spec.” That’s not something a customer of any type of new car wants to hear, especially in this current market condition. This is even more true as we remember that Tesla somehow kept having this alignment issue since the Model S came to fruition.
Hong also says that the service center didn’t help with his problems as comprehensively as he would’ve wanted. “I’ve had continued issues getting Tesla to properly address the things that are wrong with this car. This is not the customer experience that I was expecting or hoping for,” said the man.
Other people that watched (Hong’s) video said they have Model Ys waiting for them and are now worried they might have to not accept the delivery. Nobody wants to delay getting their beloved all-electric car. Also, stepping away from internal combustion engine vehicles for a while is what most Americans who commute want right now.
The most valuable car company in the world, a disruptor in a very conservative industry, and such a resounding brand name should never make its paying customers feel what a low-quality product is like.
Great White North Model 3 Warning
MotorBiscuit last week weighed in with its Tesla warning featuring Edmonton-based car enthusiast Mark Hulubetz, who has a You Tube channel called ExoticCar PlayPlace. Hulubetz made a video trashing his 2019 Tesla Model 3.
Hulubetz’s litany of beefs include what he claims is a subpar camera system, an auto-roll stop that’s more roll than stop, windows that don’t defrost properly (a very big deal in Edmonton), panel gaps, water leak issues, poor paint quality, and problems with rust.
As an aside, I’m outraged that Tesla even offers an auto-roll stop feature, which prevents a vehicle from making a full stop at a stop sign. When I first got my license, a Toronto police officer pulled me over after I rolled a stop sign and he explained the importance of coming to a full stop and checking the intersection before moving ahead. Rolling a stop sign was (and hopefully still is) illegal in Ontario but the officer gave me a break. I’ve never rolled a stop sign since, and I’m forever grateful for the officer’s safety lesson.
Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but what resonated with me about Hulubetz’s video was his argument that electric vehicles are works in progress that aren’t yet ready for prime time.
“Do you want to be the pioneer seeing (electric vehicles) through perfection? he asks. “I’m not looking to be a lab rat – I don’t know about you.”
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The most alarming Tesla production problem story was published by autoevolution on June 8. It featured an unidentified 34-year-old engineer who discovered while replacing the tires on his 2021 Model 3 that the underbody had dents and that most of the jacking points were fractured. Autoevolution published photos of the damages.
The engineer discovered that other customers had experienced the same issues and learned that a robot at the Freemont factory in Northern California caused them. Tesla first argued the issue was merely cosmetic and tried fixing the problems by painting the defects. When the engineer complained that was unacceptable, Tesla advised him that the only alternative was to replace the battery pack, a repair costing $15,963. Instead, the engineer filed a lawsuit in Munich District Court.
The court ordered a safety expert to check the engineer’s Tesla; the expert filed a report in April saying the Model 3 would never pass the first of regular safety inspections. The case is still pending.
The engineer has retained an attorney named Christoph Lindner, who created a slick website for dissatisfied Tesla owners. The German media seems to be taking Tesla potential liability issues seriously.
Literal headline translation: “Become arrogant”: Lawyers of many German Tesla customers see problems at a high level.” I suspect some of the meaning is lost in translation.
What’s notable about the German engineer’s case is that he doesn’t want his money back. He wants another Tesla Model 3, only one built in China.
China: The gold standard in EV manufacturing?
Tesla has had serious manufacturing problems in China, so much so that the company asked the Communist government to censor the automaker’s most vociferous critics on social media. Musk isn’t a “free speech absolutist” when it comes to social media criticisms of him and Tesla.
China’s government appears to have zero tolerance for shoddy electric vehicle manufacturing. Tesla a year ago last April was forced to publicly apologize for the poor quality of its vehicles in that country after a high-level regulator called Tesla arrogant and posted on WeChat that, “Tesla has to face up to the torment of its Chinese customers” and stop “pretending to be oblivious to hidden dangers of which it’s well aware.”
There’s evidence that Tesla’s China manufacturing has improved. A viewer named Pascal Weintzen posted this comment under Mark Hulubetz’s Tesla video diatribe.
I own a Model 3 build (sic) in Shanghai…a way different car than the model built in USA. Absolutely no issues and perfect build. FSD (full self-driving) is still not allowed in Europe so no issues too. And perfect gaps.”
There’s a fine line between unmitigated confidence and arrogance, and Elon Musk has long straddled the boundary. I’ve learned never to bet against him, but it seems reasonable to ask if Musk can forever sell problem-plagued vehicles typical of GM and Ford without serious brand and financial consequences.
Regardless, it’s a sad commentary on America’s stature in the world when Europeans regard China as the gold standard in electric vehicle manufacturing.
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