To put it mildly, the Tesla Model S has been a resounding success.
The New York Times has called the all-electric luxury sport sedan a game-changer, comparable to the Model T Ford. It’s won virtually every 2012 “Car of the Year” honor, including the only unanimous Motor Trend award in the magazine’s 65-year history.
Tesla Motors has a waiting list of nearly 20,000 eager buyers. Its production line is now humming at full capacity. And the 3,000-odd customers who’ve taken delivery of their cars are, for the most part, ecstatic.
But nobody’s perfect.
In fact, it would be something of a miracle if there weren’t at least a few teething troubles from a revolutionary, clean-sheet-of-paper design, built by a fledgling startup company, relying heavily on software, and assembled on a brand-new production line.
The Tesla Model S, too, has had its share of glitches, quirks, and peccadilloes.
For a few owners, rebooting has become almost a daily occurrence.
In an ordinary car, these minor blips would likely pass unnoticed. But the Model S is no ordinary car.
Under a microscope since the prototype was revealed four years ago, the car has attracted a devoted clique of fanatical followers who pore over every scrap of Model S minutia.
(Count me as one of them; my 2013 Model S, with the 60-kilowatt-hour battery pack, is now due to arrive in just a couple of weeks.)
Here, in any case, are some of the handful of blemishes sighted on the otherwise happy face of the Tesla Model S, as recounted by owners on Tesla Motors’ own online forum.
* Self-opening door locks. Several owners report having returned to their supposedly locked cars to find them unlocked, with one door slightly ajar. This has occurred both after manual remote locking with the key fob, and in the “walkaway” auto-lock mode, where the car locks itself when the key fob recedes to a certain distance.
* Software glitches. Model S software update 4.1 was designed partly to offer a “sleep” mode to reduce power consumption when shut down. But it has proven prone to bugs, with numerous reports of unpredictable glitches with the panoramic roof, door handles, locking, wipers, displays, and controls. (In fact, the two problems listed above are likely software problems, not mechanical.)
Rebooting seems to resolve many of these malfunctions, but for a few owners, rebooting has become almost a daily occurrence.
Laments one owner on the Tesla on-line forum, “You shouldn’t have to look to the east, raise your right hand, do the hokey-pokey, and tap the screen randomly to make something work!!!”
Responded another owner, wearily, “You obviously have no experience with software. The hokey-pokey is a basic required user skill.”
Tesla is currently remotely downloading Model S software version 4.2, to cars in the field. It eliminates the sleep mode that apparently caused most of the problems. “Reduced power sleep mode remains a high priority for future software releases,” says Tesla.
* Fogged windshields. Numerous owners have reported poor defogger/defroster action in cold or humid conditions. Tesla has already come up with a new vent design, and expects to have retrofit kits available at its service centers soon. Estimated installation time is less than an hour.
* Balky charge port doors. Owners report that the doors, disguised as part of the left taillight, occasionally don’t open or close properly, and sometimes pop open repeatedly. One poor fellow had his charge cord jam in the socket, immobilizing the car. He had to be rescued by a Tesla service rep.
* Substandard Floor Mats. Even top-of-the-line Model S cars come with no mats for the back seats, and cheap, low-quality mats in the front footwells. “They are the crappiest ever,” complains one owner. If you want nicer ones, Tesla will sell you “premium” mats for the front and rear footwells for $400.
* No regenerative braking in the cold. The recent Midwest cold snap has revealed an odd characteristic of the Model S: In subfreezing temperatures, the regenerative braking doesn’t kick in until the car has been driven 10 or 15 miles.
This is apparently because Tesla engineers don’t want a cold battery to receive the sudden charge that occurs when a Model S driver suddenly backs off the throttle, or descends a steep hill. So the regen is automatically disabled or limited until the battery warms up.
This has proven disconcerting to a few owners who weren’t expecting it. “I was caught off guard by this over the weekend,” commented one owner on the Tesla forum. “It’s not hard to adjust to, but with something as important as braking, the car should stop in a consistent, predictable way.”
“It’s a wart on what is otherwise a superior, consistent driving experience,” commented another. And, oddly, the Chevy Volt suffers no such quirk. Its regenerative braking functions consistently in all temperatures. Do Chevy engineers know something that Tesla’s don’t? Or vice versa?
A few Model S owners have suffered more than one of these problems.
One unfortunate buyer who took delivery in late December–when Tesla was rushing to deliver as many cars as possible before year’s end–reported multiple problems with his car’s paint, GPS system, body trim, and door handles.
“I am so frustrated with all of these problems,” he wrote recently on the Tesla forum. “Had I known about this before I made a final order I never would’ve purchased this car. I wish I could take this car back to them now. Be forewarned.”
But the vast majority of Model S owners aren’t suffering any problems, or seem far more willing to cut Tesla some slack and give the company time to work out the few bugs.
One of them summed it up this way: “The car is just too awesome to whine about little problems that will (eventually) be taken care of.”
David Noland is a Tesla Model S reservation holder and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.