Tesla Seems to Consistently Believe Its Customers Are Gullible as Fish

Multiple companies have the bad habit of downplaying their customers’ intelligence. They offer lame excuses for things that people with two working neurons will figure out in a heartbeat. However, in more than 20 years of covering the automotive industry, I have never seen a carmaker with more signs of believing its clients are gullible as fish than Tesla.
Tesla's attitudes and promises suggests it believes its customers are gullible as fish 7 photos
Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Creative Commons/Tesla/edited by autoevolution
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There is a long list of situations in which the EV maker will tell the buyers of its products things that require blind faith to be even remotely credible. Take Full Self-Driving (FSD) – a piece of beta software that is never ready and that has been promised for the next year since 2016. Making these folks pay up to $15,000 for it is just the most evident example of this culture. Tesla really seems to think its buyers will buy anything it states as a fact.

There is currently a great hype around Optimus Prime, the Tesla robot that should replace workers in the company’s factories. Elon Musk laughed while presenting the idea a little more than a year ago because it was impersonated by a skinny human being dancing on stage. Tesla investors are anxious to see what the company will present on September 30, possibly wondering how many will believe it. If you check Tesla’s record, that should not be a problem.

You may remember that Musk teased the second-generation Roadster in 2014, presented a prototype in 2017, and started collecting $250,000 from 1,000 customers willing to get the Founder’s Series soon after that event. That alone represented a $250-million revenue from its clients. We don’t know how many $50,000 deposits the company received for regular versions of the sports car. All of them were non-refundable. First promised for 2020, the Roadster is now expected for 2023 – if nothing changes.

At the same 2017 event, Tesla also presented the Semi, which would arrive even earlier: 2019. Ramon Laguarta, PepsiCo’s CEO, embarrassed himself after saying his company would get some of the 100 Semi units it ordered in Q4 2021. He’s still waiting. Rumors that this is about to happen presented photos of prototypes that have been around for ages.

What about the Cybertruck? It was presented in 2019, and deliveries were supposed to start in late 2021. Tesla took $100 refundable deposits for its electric truck and made a little less money with that than with Roadster pre-orders. With more than 1.5 million reservations for the Cybertruck, that’s $150 million. As you are well aware, not a single unit reached their pre-order holders.

One of Tesla’s excuses was that the “innovative” 4680 battery the Cybertruck, Semi, and Roadster needed was not yet ready for production. I wrote about how concerning it was to base all your future products on something you do not have yet. It is like committing to build a house on a lot you still do not own.

This new cell would not be just a larger format. It would have dry battery electrode coating (DBE) technology, no cobalt, a silicon anode, and no tabs. When Giga Austin opened on April 7, 2022, the Model Y made there received 4680 cells. Teardowns showed it was just a more prominent and ordinary NMC 811 battery, with the same chemistry as current Tesla ternary cells.

For the vehicles Tesla actually delivers, it states that its direct sales model is highly convenient to customers. The car is handed wherever buyers want, and there is no markup. What Tesla clients eventually faced were long wait lines, prices that changed when the EV was finally ready for delivery, order cancellations, and inspection lists in forums to refuse vehicles with too many problems.

When they decide to accept their cars and fix their issues later, what emerges is a service system that makes it difficult to talk to anyone and frequently cancels appointments. Musk promised F1-style service speed and spoke about a $100 compensation for cancelations made within 24 hours. Still, he suggested customers would have to pay Tesla the same if they canceled appointments in the same conditions.

The people who had their Teslas serviced during their warranty period frequently saw invoices with “goodwill” written for repairs or replacements that the automaker should cover. While most customers did not mind that, those with chronic problems discovered that this was a way to dodge lemon car claims. Some can consider that a plus: many customers have to hear that their cars are “within specs,” which means Tesla will do nothing about the issues they detected.

Recently, I wrote about the clients that sued Tesla when the company capped the voltage of cells in their cars. At that time, all EVs were still under warranty. Two years later, when most of them were not covered anymore, Musk said Tesla’s policy was “never to fight true claims” and that they were wrong in this case. The EV maker offered them a deal and paid each $625 for damages while pushing an over-the-air update with a new diagnostic tool for the battery packs.

Many of these owners are now getting a 50% restriction in capacity and estimates to replace the defective battery packs that may reach $22,000. They must deeply regret having trusted the deal Tesla offered. If they continued in courts against the EV maker, it would have to explain why it capped the voltage in these cars, prove it was not concealing fire risks, and eventually replace the defective battery packs under warranty.

That’s what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) forced Tesla to do with MCUs. These computers had a chronic problem with their eMMC flash memory card. With constant logging, these cards would fail. As Tesla did not predict replacing them, the entire MCU had to be substituted at up to $4,000 a pop when they were no longer under warranty. Tesla tried to escape the recall by saying that computers were wear parts, but NHTSA did not buy that.

If this was not enough, there is still plenty more on Tesla’s list of bold statements that do not stand a simple reality check. The EV maker likes to brag about selling the safest cars on earth. It releases a Vehicle Safety Report, which contains data about crashes when Autopilot is active. That has already been debunked by Noah Goodall because there are important distortions in the report that make Autopilot look safer than it really is.

To authorities, the EV maker states that Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). To customers, Elon Musk said Tesla cars are appreciating assets because they will be autonomous. Tesla wrote in official videos that its cars drove themselves: a driver was only there for legal purposes. Liza Dixon even coined an expression to define that attitude: autonowashing, which is pretending something is more autonomous than it truly is.

Many people believe what Musk and Tesla said about Autopilot, and some even died trying to prove it was true. When confronted with these stories, Tesla investors say it was their fault. They say the same when vehicles with FSD crash and even stress it is beta software as an excuse for the issues. The customers that crashed their EVs using Autopilot became moral crumple zones – those that get “damaged” to protect a company’s reputation.

To make matters worse, even the ratings that Tesla vehicles obtain in tests such as Euro NCAP are under suspicion after the white-hat hacker GreenTheOnly discovered the tested vehicles had a code that recognized the test conditions. Tesla never cared to explain that.

The EV maker and its advocates frequently argue that buying a Tesla helps the environment. However, do not dare to tell them that Tesla has multiple emission violations in its Fremont factory. Emitting formaldehyde, ethylbenzene, naphthalene, and xylene – chemicals that may cause cancer – is apparently forgivable. The EV maker also had a chemical spill at Giga Grünheide and a fire. Talking about the German factory, Tesla promised to make there the best paint job in the world, with unique colors. Until very recently, EVs made in Grünheide were only black or white.

The last example of how gullible Tesla thinks its customers are has to do with the EPA range sticker its vehicles present. Edmunds discovered these EVs are among the only ones always falling short of their estimated ranges. Anyone buying these vehicles based on how far they promise to travel will eventually get disappointed.

This extensive list of situations involving Tesla shows that the company either needs to improve how it treats its clients or stop talking about any competitive advantages it has. Apart from the Supercharging network, most ended up not being true despite the best efforts of its investors to pump the narrative. Unfortunately, Tesla’s major asset may prove to be pretty gullible customers. The demand drop the EV maker is facing in China may show some of them are getting more skeptical.

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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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