Eric Peters: A Tesla owner speaks

By Eric Peters

I’ve been accused of being unfair to Tesla, that I am infected by personal animosity toward Musk (true; I loathe rent seekers) and a general dislike of electric cars (not true; I merely dislike the way subsidies have distorted the market for them).

Well, here’s some owner testimony for you. This guy bought a new Model S – an $80,000 car. He was champing at the bit to get the keys. He most definitely did not have any ax to grind.

Listen to what he has to say about his car:

This does not bode well for Elon – whose company this week had to ‘fess up to a hemorrhagic cash bleed – $671 million, the worst yet.

Wait. It is going to get even worse.

Many of the “issues” detailed by the unhappy owner in the video – swirls in the paint, poor panel fitment, squeaks and rattles – may not seem major to the casual reader.

And wouldn’t be  . .  . if it were 1978.

In those days, it was actually common for even luxury-brand cars to have swirls in the paint, poor panel fitment, squeaks and rattles. The general quality control was terrible and people had much lower expectations. Cars routinely fell apart – or began to – within sight of the dealer’s lot. And within five years of leaving the lot, almost all of them were looking hairy and feeling worse.

The problem for Tesla is it’s 2018.

Such things are no longer tolerated  . . . by people who buy $15,000 Hyundais.

Or even by Teslians, for that matter  – who are, after all, affluent people. People with money don’t like feeling gypped – and won’t put up with it, even when they desperately want the car to be everything it was advertised to be.

The new ’78 Chevette! Er… Model 3…

The swirls in the paint, the poor panel fit, the squeaks and rattles – all betoken fundamentally slipshod quality control and poor engineering. If they can’t get trim lined up correctly, what about things more complex – and critical?

If the car in the video above were not a sainted Tesla – if it were an IC-engined $15,000 economy car and forget an$80,000 luxury-sport sedan – the problems described would be (first) a public relations catastrophe and (next) the probable end for the car, possibly the brand.

Consumer ReportsAutomotive News and every car journalist in the country would savage the thing. The damage would almost certainly be irreparable because in the car business, as in the love business, trust is like a fresh piece of paper. Once you crumple it up, there’s no way to un-crumple it.

Examples abound.

One that comes to mind is the Cadillac Allante – RIP. Like the Tesla, it was beautiful to look at and touted a plethora of technology. GM had the bodywork farmed out to Italian exotic car crafter Pininfarina –   and had the partially assembled bodies shipped across the ocean 747 airliners modified for this specific purpose.

GM promised a lot.

Less was delivered.

The cars suffered from erratic quality control and sub-par engineering. The convertible tops sometimes leaked and always rattled. There were issues with the “high tech” electronic systems.

Sound familiar?

Well, probably not – because the general media and even the automotive media has been unbelievably indulgent toward Tesla. For basically the same reason that it is almost impossible to speak ill in the workplace of a differently abled Cablinasian in the midst of transitioning – no matter how awful his/her/their work happens to be.

One will find the occasional story expressing some much-couched doubts about the car – or about Tesla, the company. But these are whitecaps on an otherwise calm ocean. All is well. Teething pains. The range is always increasing, the recharge times decreasing. The sun will come out, tomorrow . . . bet your bottom dollar.

Underneath, however, the waters are roiling.

Elon is having more and more trouble explaining away the constant, increasingly predictable juggernaut of misfires and miscues – including the extremely embarrassing production delays of the endlessly hosanna’d Model 3, which has been adulated by the car press before the car press even got its hands on one. Whatever Elon says – whatever Elon promises – is accepted with wide-eyed gratefulness, almost like a seal anticipating a mackerel only the snack never actually finds its way to the beast’s salivating maw.

The Model 3’s failure to launch may well be due to the same problems that plague the  Model S – but which Elon knows will be much, much harder to talk away or cover up, because the Model 3 is supposed to be a mass-market car, built in volume. It will be hard to shut up that many mouths.

While the car press may continue to cover for Elon, people used to the near perfection of $15,000 Hyundais – trim that isn’t falling off at delivery, paint that doesn’t need to be manually buffed out by a detailer to efface shoddy application, doors that close properly, the utter absence of squeaks and rattles – are going to prove a harder con for Elon.

The only question remaining is: When the whole thing implodes – as is inevitable – will the taxpayers be bayoneted in the back to pick up the tab for that, too?




Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at



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