James Whittaker’s green Tesla Roadster at Medlock & Sons garage in Seattle.
Andrew Evers, CNBC
Tesla has been reaching out to its earliest customers — Roadster owners — in recent weeks, acknowledging that service for their vehicles hasn’t been ideal, and promising them a new “dedicated channel” with its own service advisors, technicians and repair centers.
In an e-mail shared with CNBC by multiple owners of the original Roadster, Tesla’s President of Automotive, Jerome Guillen, wrote: “We appreciate your continued and pioneering support for Tesla. We realize that we need to improve service for Roadster.” Guillen also invited Roadster owners to trade in their old cars and put the value towards buying a newer-model Tesla, or a reservation for a next-generation Roadster.
As Tesla scales, service can become a bigger potential revenue and profit center for its business. But it’s not clear whether service will become a selling point for the company any time soon. During Tesla’s 2019 second-quarter earnings call, Musk acknowledged the daunting task before him. He said: “Obviously if we’re doubling our fleets every year, managing service, it is quite difficult.”
Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Roadster owners felt left behind
As CNBC has previously reported, many of the electric car enthusiasts who purchased Tesla’s debut vehicle felt neglected after the company began to focus on the Model S in 2012, and other models after that.
The original Tesla Roadster was made and delivered to customers from 2008 to 2012, meaning the cars are between seven and 11 years old today. Because the average age of vehicles in use in the U.S. is around 12 years, most automakers work to ensure their cars can be easily repaired for a dozen years or more.
But, as Tesla employees and former employees told CNBC, Tesla no longer manufactures spare parts for its original Roadsters, nor does it enable drivers to book Roadster service appointments through the same apps that other Tesla customers can rely on.
Jerome Guillen, vice president and head of sales and service for Tesla.
Uli Deck | AP
Delivering great service is increasingly important for automakers as new vehicle sales growth is slowing down overall, says Hans-Werner Kaas, Senior Partner at McKinsey and Company.
“OEMs [automakers] are taking a holistic view of service that includes the parts they offer, distribution channels, and in some cases non-dealer repair shops or service points,” Kass wrote in an e-mail to CNBC. “High-end OEMs constantly think about the customer service experience and view it as a key driver of customer loyalty. They seek repeat purchases rather than the sale of more parts.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk frequently says that electric cars require less maintenance than counterparts with internal combustion engines. That’s a big potential selling point for electric vehicles, and a reference to items like motor oil, oil filters, engine air filters, transmission fluid, spark plugs and more that require annual maintenance and habitual replacement.
But electric vehicle owners can face unique maintenance needs, as well. Aftermarket products like ride control and tires may require frequent service or replacement due to the higher curb weight and acceleration of electric vehicles, for example, notes Kass.
Electric vehicles also require fundamentally different skills from the technicians who work on them.
Here’s the e-mail that Guillen sent to original Tesla Roadster owners:
“Dear [Name removed],
According to our records, we believe you own Roadster [VIN number removed]. If you are receiving this email in error, no longer own a Roadster or need to update your contact information, please let us know by replying to this email.
We appreciate your continued and pioneering support for Tesla. We realize that we need to improve service for Roadster- we are putting in place a dedicated channel to help you with all your Roadster needs. This means dedicated Service Advisors, Service Technicians, and repair centers.
Reach us by emailing [e-mail address removed] to schedule a Service appointment, get status updates, request parts or speak with an expert. Note that this channel only services Roadsters and you should continue to use the Tesla app for all other Tesla cars.
You can also trade-in your current Roadster and apply the value towards the purchase of a Model S, Model X or Model 3- even a reservation for a next generation Roadster. Request a trade-in quote to get started.
In the case of an emergency, please continue to contact Roadside Assistance at [phone number removed].
Many thanks for your continued support for Tesla.