Opinion: Tesla has a service problem, and it needs to get addressed as soon as possible

Just recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was reminded of the fact that the company needs to expand its network of physical service centers. This is a point that needs to be highlighted these days, especially as Tesla’s vehicle production and deliveries reach new records. With Tesla poised to start producing vehicles by the millions in the near future, it is time for the company to acknowledge its service issues and ensure that its service network expansion sees the same level of dedication as its Supercharger Network ramp. 

Tesla may be evolving into a robotics and AI company, but at the end of the day, it is also an electric car maker. And while EVs require far less service than their combustion engine-powered counterparts, they still need service and maintenance from time to time. This is especially true in cases of physical repairs such as the replacement of upper control arms, which are better suited for actual service centers. 

It should be noted that while Tesla’s mobile service team is excellent and universally appreciated, they cannot address every single concern and repair. This could become a pain point for owners today, especially those who require repairs and maintenance that could not be accomplished by the mobile service team. Some Tesla owners have shared on social media that at times, they could end up traveling for hours just to get to the nearest service center. This system creates a negative ownership experience that could be detrimental to Tesla in the long run. 

Credit: Tesla

“Good Service” is Better Than “No Service” — At Least for Now

The company, after all, is producing vehicles at a scale that would have scared the pants off EV skeptics just a handful of years ago. Tesla will likely produce and deliver over a million vehicles per year within the next year or two, and by that time, the repair and maintenance needs of customers would likely be more substantial. A good portion of the company’s fleet would also be comprised of older vehicles then, some of which would likely require more maintenance and repairs. 

The issue of the company’s lack of service centers has been brought up in past earnings calls, and most of the time, Tesla’s executives would respond by pointing to the growth of the company’s mobile service network, which could address an increasing number of repairs and issues from the comfort of owners’ homes or workplaces. Tesla also adopts the idea of the “best service” being “no service” at all. These goals would likely be attained in the future — especially as its factories become more automated and batteries become more advanced — but for now, Tesla has to focus on ensuring that existing customers, both new and old, are supported in the near-term. 

Granted, the margin of error for physical service centers is substantial. There is a big human factor that determines if customers are provided a negative or positive experience during a service center visit, after all. This was highlighted recently by @JeffTutorials, the Model 3 owner Elon Musk recently responded to on Twitter, who reported that his experience with the company’s Princeton, NJ Tesla Service Center was nothing short of horrible due to the site’s staff. Such negative experiences could be prevented, however, provided that Tesla adopts strict policies for its service employees. 

(Photo: Andres GE)

A $360 Billion Upside

Ultimately, there seems to be little downside to Tesla ramping its service centers at a similar pace as its Supercharger Network, which is already one of, if not the, best rapid charging system in the world. Apart from improving its customers’ overall ownership experience, expanding its service network would also allow Tesla to tap into a large, lucrative market. In Europe, for example, Tesla could breach the company car segment, which is worth $360 billion annually. Company cars are huge in Europe, with 60% of all new vehicle sales being made through corporate channels. 

SAP SE, a German software maker and one of Europe’s largest tech companies, noted back in May that its employees are actually very interested in Tesla’s electric cars. And while it provides vehicles to its workers, SAP SE simply cannot commit to Teslas just yet because of the company’s poor service center network in the region. The same was true for chemicals giant BASF SE, which noted that it could not offer Teslas as a company car option for its 50,000 German employees until service centers are expanded. 

It’s important to note is that improving service is not an “either/or” situation. Yes, mobile service could be ramped to address an increasing number of issues, but the company could also expand its physical service centers at the same time, and just as aggressively. Fortunately, Tesla does seem to have this in its plans, as confirmed by Elon Musk on Twitter. And if Tesla is indeed expediting its service center openings, then the company would effectively address one of its customers’ most persistent pain points.  

Plus, in the long-term, wouldn’t service centers be a good site for Tesla Bots to practice their physical work capabilities?

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