Few entrepreneurs have as much “nerd cred” as Elon Musk, a real-life Tony Stark who seems to be on the cutting edge of everything, from electric cars and solar panels to space flight. So you’d think a guy like Musk would understand that Tesla Model S owners are going to modify their vehicles, for better or worse.
Buried in Tesla’s latest financial report though are a couple of paragraphs raising the possibility that owner-modified vehicles could harm the automaker’s bottom line. The context of these paragraphs are a list of potential obstacles facing Tesla in the coming years, from supply constraints to quality-control issues. It says;
“If our vehicle owners customize our vehicles or change the charging infrastructure with aftermarket products, the vehicle may not operate properly, which could harm our business.
We have not tested, nor do we endorse, such changes or products. Such unauthorized modifications could reduce the safety of our vehicles, and any injuries from such modifications could result in adverse publicity which would negatively affect our brand and harm our business, prospects, financial condition, and operating results.”
That’s…kinda silly, and kinda not. See, Tesla is a fresh, new automaker still, and considering how a couple of early battery fires created an international media frenzy, it’s understandable that the automaker is worried about what might happened if an occupant of a modified Model S were seriously injured or died. Or worse, somebody electrocutes themselves on the battery pack trying to boost power or range.
Can you imagine the firestorm? Anti-EV advocates would jump at the chance to blast dangerous battery packs, Tesla sales could take a hit, and the government could end up conducting another investigation and forcing a recall. So far Tesla has managed to avoid any such recalls despite a record-number of recalls faced by the conventional auto industry, but that doesn’t mean the automaker isn’t on thin ice.
So I really do get Tesla’s concerns, and again this is more a “cover our ass” kinda statement than necessarily discouraging owners from adding rims or racing seats. Of course, Tesla would prefer you leave your car alone, and it’s even gone so far as to warn customers who are “hacking” their cars to stop or their warranty will be voided. Automakers routinely void the warranty of cars with unauthorized performance modifications that don’t come directly from the manufacturer’s parts catalog, but only Tesla has gone so far as to call a customer and tell them to stop.
Eventually, that’s just not going to fly with EV owners. Sure, you can void their warranty, but if you’re the kind of person who can afford a $115,000 P85D version of the Model S, maybe that warranty just isn’t as big of a deal to you. Car enthusiasts are always trying to get something more out of their vehicles than came from the factory, and Tesla is going to have to accept the fact that people are going to tear into their vehicles. Because it’s their vehicles. Short of voiding the warranty, Tesla can only do so much. It also has a pretty stellar safety record and can put up with some pretty extreme abuse. It’s a tough car, and there’s only so much Tesla can do.
Tesla has to walk a fine line here, but at some point it also has to step back and let go. Customer service has always been a top priority for Tesla, and ultimately buyers are gonna do what they’re gonna do.
Sometimes, it’s better to embrace the inevitable than ask the impossible.