Christoph Lindner became a prolific source about new and old Tesla issues. The German lawyer created the website TeslaAnwalt (Tesla Attorney) and got on our radar in March 2022, when the BEV maker was sentenced to buy back a Model 3 because "Volles Potenzial für autonomes Fahren," – the German version of Full Self-Driving – did not work as it should. Lindner has revealed several other issues with Tesla vehicles since then. One of the most shocking was a brand-new Model 3 delivered with cracked jacking points.
Photo: Antonia Lindner
With so much to say about the American BEV maker, the German attorney deserved to tell his stories. I asked him a few questions about how he turned into the TeslaAnwalt, the cases he and his team are currently dealing with, and what he recommends fans of the BEV maker should do to avoid surprises. Lindner was kind enough to answer them. You can check our chat below and keep an eye on the new cases he will undoubtedly reveal in the future, such as Tesla trying to convince judges its cars only last 210,000 km (130,488 miles). For now, learn more about the man trying to get Tesla to do the right thing: as a lawyer and as a customer.
autoevolution – Please tell me when you started working with consumer rights and more about your experience before the first cases involving Tesla emerged.
Christoph Lindner – That was actually a while ago: when I started out as a young lawyer in 2014, I was already interested in consumer rights on the one hand – and responsible corporate conduct on the other. And for David vs. Goliath scenarios, I always had a special preference! Things really took off in the following years with the Volkswagen diesel scandal. While Volkswagen quickly gave in out of fear of the damages and penalties in the US, the corporation is still trying to defend itself legally in Germany wherever possible. Volkswagen hires the most expensive law firms, and they write hundreds of pages in every case. We have learned a lot there: how corporations without a code of business ethics behave in court, what to do to win against them, and how to use your resources most effectively.
Photo: Antonia Lindner
ae – What made you specialize in Tesla cases and create the TeslaAnwalt (Tesla Attorney) website?
Lindner – In 2019, I needed a new car and started looking into electric mobility. Tesla fascinated me! I started reading all about Elon Musk and the Tesla story and spent many nights watching YouTube videos about Tesla. But in the process, I kept coming across reports from customers who were bitterly disappointed with the quality of the vehicles, especially the service. I decided to try it out for myself and bought a used 2016 Model S 90D directly from Tesla. What a career-changing decision (it was). I can't give any details due to confidentiality commitments, but already with this car, there was one or the other legal dispute with Tesla. With the experience gained and the great demand from disappointed Tesla customers, things moved quickly: one case after the other came in, and our Tesla Litigation Team grew. Then, in early 2021, we launched our TeslaAnwalt.de website. Today, our firm consists of 18 team members, more than a third of whom primarily deal with Tesla. However, one thing is important to me: just because we are suing Tesla doesn't mean we don't love Tesla. On the contrary: I just did it again. I bought a Tesla Model X Raven LR because the vehicle is basically the best seven-seat electric vehicle out there. But Tesla finally needs to learn to treat their customers in a fair way, and that process is what we're helping to speed up with our lawsuits.
ae – Do you see any patterns with the defects Tesla vehicles present?
Lindner – We work in a very structured way and always try to form categories and find out a pattern. The first category certainly is processing defects that reasonable quality management at the factory could avoid: for example, defective paint, loose components, damage, and gaps in the bodywork. The second category comprises software defects of all kinds, but, above all, the problems with Autopilot and Full Self-Driving. The third category would follow from this: it simply includes guaranteed features that are missing from the vehicles, such as the promised top speed of the Tesla Model S Plaid, which is only around 260 kph (161.6 mph) instead of 322 kph (200 mph). The topic of the sudden omission of the ultrasonic sensors and the terrible Tesla Vision also falls under this. The fourth category involves cases in which Tesla later intervenes in the software via over-the-air (OTA) and not only uses updates for improvements but also, for example, to limit the charging power. The law in Germany is not yet well prepared for this because these technical possibilities and the fact that they are also radically used are new. And the fifth category consists of blatant individual cases: defective batteries that are not replaced for months, vehicles that are damaged by Tesla during repair, disappeared payments, delivery delays, and so on – I could go on for hours!
Photo: Christoph Lindner
ae – How many different issues have you dealt with related to Tesla vehicles?
Lindner – Between 50 and 100 different issues, I would say, and there are more almost every day. We'll have about 1,000 mandate requests for Tesla problems this year if it continues like this. Based on last year's sales figures in Germany, that would mean that more than 1% of all Tesla customers in this country are so desperate that they turn to our law firm.
ae – You probably receive complaints about other EV makers. How do you compare them to what you see with Tesla vehicles?
Lindner – Yes, there are more and more: Mercedes, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Skoda, Renault, MG, Polestar, and so on. There are currently far fewer cases than Tesla because the other manufacturers are trying harder to please their customers. The processing quality is usually good there, but here it is more about software errors and battery problems. I am very excited if US companies like Fisker, Lucid, and Rivian enter the European market now or soon. I think they're smart and innovative enough to engage with customers better than Tesla.
ae – You must receive several consultations from Tesla customers in the US, Canada, and other European countries, don't you? How do you deal with them?
Lindner – We always have inquiries from the US and, of course, from other European countries. It usually makes sense to use a lawyer from the respective country, but we are watching proceedings against Tesla with great interest, such as in the US, the Netherlands, and Norway.
Photo: TMC Forum
ae – Do these foreign situations help you deal with local cases? What comes to my mind is establishing when a defect started happening, from which factory it came, and things like that.
Lindner – Of course, we are always learning, and the whole technical side is super interesting. Valuable information comes to us through the Tesla owners' communities in many countries. But we would like to take a special step in the future. As I indicated at the beginning, the European and, especially, the German legal system is too lax when it comes to enforcing consumer rights. In addition, we have many cases in which Tesla Germany claims that it is not their fault, if at all, Tesla Inc. is responsible for all the problems presented. We would therefore like to sue Tesla Inc. for the defects on the vehicles of German customers in the US. In Germany, we have no real class action lawsuits, no discovery process, and no punitive damages. But corporations will only become more honest and fair when it becomes really expensive to be dishonest and unfair to consumers. So, if you know of a US law firm with experience with Tesla, get in touch with me! As you know, Germany is still the country of unlimited Autobahn speed, so we have quite some Tesla Model S Plaid customers who want to have the promised 322 kph max speed...
ae – Which is the scariest case you have ever seen with Tesla vehicles?
Lindner – This is a tough question. We really hear a lot of different issues every day. But the most frightening thing for me is probably still how many shortcomings Autopilot and Full Self-Driving have, even after quite some years when they should have seriously improved. Phantom braking or steering into oncoming traffic is scary and can become very dangerous very quickly.
ae – After dealing with so many cases involving Tesla vehicles, what would you recommend to anyone wondering about having an electric car from this brand?
Lindner – If you are in Germany: don't buy a Tesla without first obtaining legal protection insurance – you may need it. Germans love security, so, fortunately, many customers have such insurance, which often makes it possible for consumers to take such a large corporation to court in the first place. Otherwise, if you buy a Tesla, you will most likely have incredible driving fun and be impressed by the efficiency – but possibly you will also suffer if problems occur and Tesla does not solve them. But we're working every day to make Tesla a fair company. So, if we are successful, someday, we hopefully can move on and sue other corporations to respect consumer rights!