Tesla Refutes Suspension Issues As U.S. Senators Ask For Recall

It’s the last Thursday of 2023, which means today is the last iteration of Critical Materials until 2024. Despite it being the slow news week between Christmas and the New Year, we still have a lot to talk about, so let’s get right into it.

Today we’ll discuss Tesla’s refute to claims of its suspension-related problems. U.S. lawmakers have gotten involved now, which means that an investigation by the NHTSA could be spun up if it continues to receive reports of the alleged defect. Tesla also has been warned by investors that if it continued to tease its cheap $25,000 car and robotaxi (both of which don’t technically exist on the market today), it could lose future sales. And, lastly, dealerships are finally coming around to selling EVs.

30%: Tesla refutes claims of mass suspension-related problems with its cars, U.S. senators advise Tesla to recall anyway

ICYMI: Reuters recently published a damning investigation into whether Tesla attempted to sweep suspension-related failures under the rug. Moreover, the report claims that Tesla not only knew about these failures, but also blamed customers for them by citing “abuse” and “prior damage,” resulting in out-of-pocket repair costs instead of warranty work being performed.

The automaker has since publicly refuted these claims and noted that it performed “most” of the repairs under warranty. Reuters previously noted that Tesla performed 120,000 repairs of just the front upper control arms between January 2021 through March 2022. Reuters says that vehicle owners paid for 31,000 (26%) of the repairs.

 

Regardless, the more concerning figure is that 120,000 of these types of repairs were performed. The number of repairs indicates that Tesla installed an average of 264 front upper control arms every single day. Tesla had sold approximately 1.9 million vehicles globally between its inception and the end of 2022, which means that these repairs occurred for roughly one in sixteen vehicles on the road in the time that Reuters specified.

Even today, that number represents around 2.4% of Tesla’s global fleet, which may still be an alarming enough figure to warrant a recall. As such, Democratic senators Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have penned a letter to Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk concerned that there could be a safety risk based on the investigation and urged the company to issue a voluntary recall:

We write with extreme concern following recent reporting about Tesla’s knowledge of safety flaws in its vehicles and concealment of the causes of these flaws from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This reporting puts your statement from January that “Teslas are the safest car on the road” at stark contrast with reality. We call on you to swiftly recall all Tesla components that pose a safety risk and correct the record with NHTSA to ensure it can properly do its job.

The senators also expressed concern that Tesla blamed its customers for these failures, alleging that Tesla may be using this excuse to skirt reporting the problem to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

We are disturbed that you would blame your customers for these failures. Reporting notes that Tesla repeatedly attributed the suspension failures to “vehicle misuse” or “driver abuse,” including when justifying to NHTSA why it was not pursuing the aforementioned suspension recall in the United States. It is unacceptable that Tesla would not only attempt to shift the responsibility for the substandard quality of its vehicles to the people purchasing them, but also make that same flawed argument to NHTSA.

Now, as Tesla has admitted, it is no stranger to its suspension-related issues. The automaker was China Forces Tesla To Recall Most Model S, X Models, Company Responds. Tesla called the recall “unnecessary” but complied anyway.

Meanwhile, NHTSA says that it is aware of both the recall in China and the suspension-related issues of some Tesla vehicles, however, it has not received a significant number of complaints to take action.

NHTSA is aware of the Tesla recall due to suspension problems in China. At this time, the agency has not received significant complaints related to these issues in the United States. The agency is in contact with Tesla and monitoring the situation closely, and will not hesitate to take action to protect the public against unreasonable risks to safety.

A quick browse of complaints for the Model 3 yields mostly forward collision warning and phantom braking concerns. There were four suspension-related complaints filed for the 2021 Model Year, 19 complaints for 2020, 43 complaints for 2019, and 102 complaints for 2018. The NHTSA has previously opened an investigation into a steering-related defect for 2023 Model 3 and Model Ys after just 12 reports, so it’s not clear why the agency has not probed this particular issue.

NHTSA encourages people who currently have (or retroactively had) a safety-related issue with their car to report it so that the agency can determine if it needs to investigate further. If your Tesla has had these types of issues, you can file a report online.

60%: Investment group tells Tesla to stop pushing its cheap robotaxi that isn’t coming next year

 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been fairly vocal about the company’s push to create an EV even more affordable than its Model 3. Figures of $25,000 have floated around the internet and even in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk, potentially combining the architecture of its affordable vehicle with the company’s driverless robotaxi.

It has been rumored that Tesla will tease or even reveal its $25,000 mass-market EV sometime in 2024. But even if it is revealed, it’s unlikely that Tesla will release the vehicle in a timely manner—and that, according to investment group Deepwater, is a problem for investors.

[I]ts in Tesla’s best interest to stay quiet on the Robotaxi. The new vehicle’s selling “feature” is its price and Tesla showcasing the upcoming vehicle would likely have a cooling effect on current low-priced Model 3 sales, a risk not worth taking in a year where EV sales will continue to muted. On top of that, the car will likely be produced in Giga Mexico which we believe won’t be operational until 2027.

The problem is that Tesla, or, rather Musk, isn’t exactly known for keeping a good eye on the clock. The Cybertruck was two years late, we still don’t have one million robotaxis on the road three years after it was promised, and most of the company’s livestreams haven’t even started on time. So if Tesla were to tease its vehicles and continually miss manufacturing targets, the dream of a cheap car might cause people to hold off purchasing Tesla’s most affordable Model 3 in hopes of a cheaper entry.

Either way, the timeline and viability for the project is an unknown to anyone not directly involved within the company. But with sales projected to slump and more market players joining Tesla in the EV space, the automaker has to walk a thin line between hyping up a new product and continuing to sell its existing models.

90%: More than half of new car dealers are now selling EVs

Dealerships Selling New EVs

Dealerships are finally coming around to selling EVs. A new study by ISeeCars reveals that the number of non-Tesla dealerships selling new EVs has skyrocketed over the past three years. In fact, the figure has more than tripled: from 16.5% of dealers in November 2020 to 55.1% in November 2023.

Used EVs have experienced an uptick in dealer adoption at a significantly slower rate. During the same time, this figure rose from 17.1% of dealerships to 29.4%. But growth is growth.

Delaware, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maine, and California represent just under one-third of the new EV market share. They also make up the highest concentration of new car dealers that sell EVs, from 81.8% of dealers in Maine to 65.3% of dealers in California. Inversely; Idaho, Louisana, Mississippi, Wyoming, and Montana have the lowest percentage of dealers selling new EVs and make up just 12.6% of the market share.

A dealership’s monthly sales are also correlated to the adoption of EV sales. As the number of new vehicle sales increases, the dealer is more likely to sell EVs. In November 2023, only 34.1% of smaller dealerships with less than 50 monthly sales peddle electric cars, while 87.2% of dealers with more than 1,000 monthly sales sell EVs. Likely, this can be attributed to the up-front cost of vehicles and the supporting challenges of service and charging requirements.

Selling EVs seems to be a rather polarizing topic for new car dealers. Ford dealerships pushed back against changes enough for the automaker to change its mandatory requirements in the dealership program. Likewise, almost half of GM’s U.S. Buick dealerships took a buyout instead of choosing to sell battery-electric cars.

Despite this, these metrics collected by ISeeCars clearly show that the majority of dealerships are interested in whatever keeps the green rolling in—and with upcoming time-of-sale tax incentives (plus federal money bolstering the charging experience), it’s a clear up-front win for many.

100%: What’s in store for dealerships in the future?

Nissan starts using BEV Class 8 trucks to deliver cars to dealerships in the LA area

The auto industry is changing with time. Automakers have explored going direct-to-consumer with sales, but regulation has stymied that movement across the country. That leaves some tweaking to be done for the dealer model to handle the decrease in service revenue with less complex EVs.

A new white paper was published earlier this month from CDK Global that explored how EVs are serviced today and how they could be serviced in the future, and the biggest takeaway I got from it is that dealers need to get into the tire game. (No surprise, especially given that I have chewed through a set of Pirelli P-Zero tires in my Model 3 Performance in just 13,000 miles.)

So how can automakers and dealerships compensate for the reduction in overall service needs for EVs in the future? Increased sales? A cut of software upgrades or subscriptions? What say you?