Can Tesla service scale?

In a high tech startup, whether small or large, a lot of the challenges come in scaling the business. Scalability challenges hit you on many fronts from how many batteries you have access to to the number of service centers you can get going. Recent service experiences have me asking the question, can Tesla service scale with the rest of the business?

Early days

We’re still pretty early in Tesla’s history and the service centers are still going above and beyond when it comes to service. Some of this is to make up for early design and quality challenges, and some of it is to make up for how few service centers they have. Either way, Tesla has done a stellar job with customer satisfaction this point — for the second year in a row Tesla has topped Consumer Reports satisfaction index.

But as more people own the Model S, and with its hefty price tag, the expectations for service remain high or are even growing as time passes. Tesla is on a mission to set up as many Superchargers as possible to enable the EV transformation of the planet, but are they keeping up with Service Centers as their customer base grows?

The Basics

12V service noticeWhen you buy a car of any type, but especially a $100K car, you don’t really expect the vendor to be uninterested in routine maintenance. That was my experience when I called for my first tire rotation. Sure, a whole lot of routine maintenance is gone thanks to the marvels of the Model S design, but I still need to get those tires taken care of. In my experience, Tesla would rather you went somewhere else.

Tesla doesn’t want to do routine maintenance.

The other thing we’ve all gotten used to is reasonable scheduling for service when an issue comes up. Generally when I need to take my ICE cars in for service the most I have to wait is 1-2 days. My recent experience with Tesla was 13 days to get a 12V battery issue taken care of. Some of that was due to weather and a holiday but there were at least 7 normal business days where they could not do the service as they were overloaded.

Scheduling service at some SCs can be a terrible experience.

From talking to other owners it sounds like things with service are a mixed bag. Another owner who had a similar issue called their SC in a different area and got a call back in 15 minutes and scheduled for service the next day. My experience was 3 phone calls, 2 emails and over 8 business hours waiting for an answer on when Tesla could schedule for my car to be repaired. The actual service they did was excellent, but the scheduling process was abysmal.

The other experience I had was on the loaner front. I got this friendly note from Service when they finally schedule my appointment:

Thank you for informing us that you will not be needing a loaner.

They never asked or offered a loaner and had none available. I told them it was fine to pick it up and bring it back but I would be stranded at work until they brought it back. The technician arrived by Uber as scheduled at 10:30am, took down the basics, and then drove away in my car. The service department had promised to have it back by 3:30pm. I finally got it back at 7pm and fortunately I had no other pressing plans that evening. While there were other things on my list beyond just the battery issue, they had the full list in writing before the appointment was set.

Don’t rely on getting a loaner if your SC is overloaded.

The Downside of Selling Direct

Limited SC OptionsI’m a huge fan of cutting out the dealers in the sales process and streamlining things, taking the pain out of negotiations, having fixed pricing and all the other benefits we’ve enjoyed in purchasing the Model S.

However, we did lose one thing that is pretty important — additional potential points of service. The Tesla way requires dedicated (and so far reportedly non-profit) service centers owned and run by Tesla to service the Model S. This is much harder to scale than financially incented third parties.

When I bought my Model S 7 months ago there was 1 service center serving all points north of Connecticut on the East Coast. At the time the local Tesla Store said they had sold 900 Model S’s in this area. Today there is still only a single service center supporting the entire area and many more Model S’s on the road.

A second service center in Massachusetts is planned for Dedham, MA but is not online yet and both are geographically close to each other which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

This is a LOT of area for a single (or even two) service center to cover. Also given the distances involved in covering such a large area the technicians are running all over New England to pick up or service cars which also eats into their time.

Summary

I believe, at least in New England, that Tesla has fallen behind in scaling its service centers supporting the Model S roll out. Tesla needs to watch more closely how many Model S’s are covered by a given service center and what the response times may look like and perhaps be more open about future plans for service centers and growth in this area.

In addition to watching how fast Tesla is setting up their Supercharging network Tesla owners should also be watching the rate Tesla is deploying service centers.

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