No electric vehicle manufacturer has done as much for the adoption of EVs, or their reinvention as the green transportation mode of the future, as Tesla. When the company’s Roadster debuted in 2008, it signaled a sea change in what the public thought of electric cars and what they could do. Over a decade later, Teslas can be seen on roads the world over, representing the pinnacle of luxury sustainable design.
But the company has generated plenty of controversy, too – for example, when it was revealed in 2023 that not only was Tesla’s driving range less than promised, but they’d even created a special team to suppress complaints and cancel service appointments from dissatisfied drivers. Below, we’ll take a look at what’s behind the issue.
Tesla Driving Range Explained
Tesla has always given slightly more optimistic estimates of its cars’ range, taking advantage of Environmental Protection Agency testing rules that bump up the average range estimates for their vehicles. This is because Tesla’s marketing team reasoned that customers would seek out cars that offered more range, and if the company’s profits are any indication, they were right.
That issue was compounded, however, by rigged software. Tesla cars’ onboard range-estimating software, at CEO Elon Musk’s direction, was equipped with algorithms that would show higher range estimates while the battery was over 50% charged. Once the charge level dropped below that point, drivers would see a more accurate estimate.
When drivers noticed a sharp decline in range as their batteries wore down, Tesla service centers were flooded with requests for service appointments from those who assumed there was a problem with the battery or simply expected better performance.
Tesla Suppresses Driving Range Complaints
Facing an unprecedented number of service center appointments, Tesla removed the option to make appointments on the Tesla mobile app. Instead, drivers were directed to a “diversion team” based in Las Vegas, NV. The diversion team was tasked with canceling as many of the appointments as possible.
To do so, team members were instructed to call complainants by phone. If no one answered, the case was marked “unresponsive” and closed. If they picked up, team members were to say that there was nothing wrong with the driver’s battery and to cancel the appointment within five minutes. And if the driver insisted on the appointment, service center technicians typically reported that nothing was wrong with the car.
And nothing was — it was the software all along. The diversion team is no longer handling range-related complaints, as that responsibility was handed over to a team in Utah. And it’s not clear if Tesla still uses the rigged software on new models, with most of the complaints involving Roadsters and the Model S, which was released in 2012.
Tesla Driving Range: The Reality
Tesla has gotten into trouble before when it comes to driving range estimates. Car and Driver, for instance, reported in April that Tesla “pursues an impressive figure for its window stickers, and ends up returning real-world results that are on average two times as far off the label value as most EVs.” Even the EPA, whose rules allow Tesla to advertise the exceptional ranges that first attracted buyers, required the company to reduce estimated ranges by an average of 3% following their own range auditing process.
Car and Driver’s data was also used in a study conducted by SAE International, which revealed that 21 different EV brands offered real ranges on the highway, an average of 12.5% less than advertised. Of those, three Tesla models were the worst performers, with an average shortfall of 26%.
As for why, experts like Gregory Pannone, who participated in the SAE International study, suspect that it’s because Tesla has become adept at manipulating testing processes and requirements to come up with the best estimates. “I’m not suggesting they’re cheating,” said Pannone. “What they’re doing, at least minimally, is leveraging the current procedures more than the other manufacturers.”
It isn’t that Tesla is producing substandard cars that fail to achieve their maximum range, but rather that their cars can’t achieve the ranges advertised. Were the company to adjust its testing methods, it’s likely that drivers’ experience would be more reflective of Tesla’s capabilities.
Until then, if you drive a Tesla or plan to get one, take the range issues into account and always make sure you plan longer journeys around public charging stations along the way.
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