Published on February 11th, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan


“Dramatic” Tesla Model S Reliability Improvements, Elon Notes (Audio Recording)

February 11th, 2016 by  

Originally published on EV Obsession.

Much has been made of Tesla’s early issues with reliability. Elon has discussed a handful of problems the Model S drive unit faced in the first few years. Door handles have been known to act up. And other little things here and there have been common enough to get trolls highlighting them as supposed “canaries in the coal mine” regarding Tesla manufacturing and reliability.

Alas, trolls can harp on specific issues for only so long (right?), and Tesla looks set to outrun them by improving reliability year after year. On last night’s Tesla conference call for shareholders and the media, Elon noted that there had been “dramatic improvements in [Model S] reliability.” In the shareholder letter, he wrote:

Reflecting our philosophy of continuous improvement, we have not relaxed our pursuit of making the world’s most reliable cars. The cost of first year repair claims on cars produced in 2015 was at about half the level of cars produced in 2014, and about one quarter the level of cars produced in 2012.

Good news. Especially as this is happening:

Tesla sales projection 2016

Will people (especially bears) still bring up reliability and try to beat the issue to death? Of course. I expect years of this still to come. What else can they cling to in order to try to put Tesla in bad light?


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Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • vensonata .

    “Internal combustion engine”… it just hit me how weird that sounds. Say it out loud. It is so…so…antediluvian.

    • eveee

      Yes. After living with an EV for awhile, many drivers can’t stand the constant noise and vibration, not to mention the need to go to a gas station. Nobody misses having to remember to change oil.

      • Exactly! After driving my Leaf for a year, I borrowed my wife’s Solara to take my middle grandson to an event (she had the youngest grands and so needed the carseat-friendly Leaf).

        We stopped at the first traffic light, and without thinking I turned to my grandson with a concerned look and said, “What’s that noise?!?”

  • MorinMoss

    Regarding the door handles, Tesla did change the design to something simpler for the Model X.
    And saying “dramatic” without giving NUMBERS / PERCENTAGES is dramatically pointless. This is a call about company performance, ffs, give NUMBERS!!!

    • They provided general numbers in the letter.

      • MorinMoss

        “General numbers” and vague statements are almost always indications of dissembling. Otoh, the chart showing how the Model S was doing compared to the rest of the luxury market across 2 calendar years sales was precise to 2 decimal places.

  • JamesWimberley

    These are the screwdriver issues that can only be solved with experience and taking pains. If Apple or Google or Faraday think they can swan in and go straight to mass production of reliable and affordable cars simply by throwing billions at the problem plus geek awesomeness, they are in for a rude shock.

    • Ronald Brakels

      There are plenty of examples of automotive manufacturers with a century or more of experience having massive problems when introducing just a new model of an internal combustion engine car. For an existing car manufacturer to produce electric vehicles is much more difficult and for a company that builds mobile phones or leg warmers or whatever to start building electric vehicles will be even more difficult.

      That said, if all Apple and Google are aiming at currently is to build automated town cars to operate as self driving taxis they can get away with having a fairly cruddy car. Not too cruddy, but they can get away with vehicles that are heavier and less reliable than if they had been built by people with years of hands on experience. Of course, every quantum of crud will cost them money, but as long as they produce cars that work well enough so the replacement taxi sent to pick up people in a taxi that broke down doesn’t break down, then they have something that can be improved over time.

      But if they want to build a sports car… yeah, problems.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Heavier, not designed for highway use.

        Anyone remember the Checker?

        • Ronald Brakels

          I guessed that was a taxi before I looked it up and I was right.

          Back in the days when there were still a few heavy steel framed cars on the road without modern crumple zones we’d joke about how they’d be fine after an accident, you just had to hose them out. Fortunately, those sorts of horrible jokes no longer make sense since they’re all gone except for at classic car rallies.

  • Steve Grinwis

    That is seriously great news. I hope the new model 3 carries over the reliability lessons learned as well.

    • Frank

      Oh me too. I also think that will be very important for general market acceptence, and with less espensive cars, you aren’t going to want to pay mechanics to fix things that shouldn’t have broken.

    • eveee

      Yes. I think Musk was pretty contrite about the Model X delays, too. They have to get their act together. Every auto manufacturer goes through this. People won’t buy EVs just because they are electric. They have to be well made cars.

      • Steve Grinwis

        I’ll be honest. I think the Model X was a mistake.

        The Model X should have had normal doors, a normal air filter, and they should have tried to reduce engineering costs on the vehicle as much as possible. It should have been a Model S sedan, with a completely shared platform and software, with a larger body. Doing that would have let them accelerate the roll out of the Model 3, with lower costs. It’s not like people who are buying a Model X are buying it for the bio-weapon air filter…

        • Joe Viocoe

          I disagree that the Model X delayed the Model 3.

          Yes, it kept the Tesla engineers busy…. but the Model 3 waits for the Gigafactory. And even if Tesla never did the X, that would not build the Gigafactory any faster.

          • Steve Grinwis

            The Gigafactory is up and running now in limited capacity, but we’re likely looking at probably a year and a half more before we release the Model 3?

            We could be seeing the Model 3 launch now.

            I’ll quote Musk here, since, you know, he’s basically a god to you guys. Via a quote from Business Insider:

            “But along the way, Tesla CEO Elon Musk admitted that the Model X’s advanced technology caused major delays.

            Musk had already claimed that the Model X was “the most difficult car in the world to build.”

            But at the launch, he went further.

            “I’m not sure anyone should have made this car,” he said at a press conference just hours before the first Model Xs were delivered to VIP customers.

            “We probably should have just [modified the Model S],” he added. “There are so many more features and difficult to build parts on [the Model X] than it is necessary for us to sell the cars.””


            So, there you go. Even Musk thinks they should have gone with my plan.

          • Joe Viocoe

            I agree that the Model X caused delays…. with the Model X.

            Find a quote from him saying the Model 3 is delayed because of the Model X.

          • Steve Grinwis

            It follows logically. The number of engineers that Tesla can afford to pay is limited. By tying the up for an additional two years, the Model 3 is inevitably delayed. That’s just straight forward. Their business plan got shot to hell by delaying a major release by nearly two years.

          • Joe Viocoe

            What evidence is there that Tesla couldn’t hire additional engineers?
            The Model 3 isn’t waiting for engineers… it is waiting for the Gigafactory. Period.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Tesla has designed the ModX and the Mod3 at the same time. They just released the X and will introduce the 3 in a few weeks. Mod3 production is held up by battery availability.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Why release the Mod3 when there’s no ability to produce it in volume?

            I just don’t get this obsession on the part of some to push the release of a car before Tesla is ready to sell it.

          • Steve Grinwis

            They were able to ramp up Model S production… Why do you think they couldn’t ramp up Model 3 production? Even if they could “only” sell 20k cars a year, the ability to be first to market, and give Tesla time to work out the kinks with “Signature” models, or higher priced versions before the Bolt and friends drop on the market would be useful.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Tesla needs to be able to produce hundreds of thousands of Mod3s per year. It will almost certainly be a lower margin product. Tesla can make a lot more money selling 20k ModSs vs. 20k Mod3s.

            Why is important to be ‘first to the market’? GM may start selling a lower priced EV a few months earlier than Tesla will start selling the Mod3. The market is vast, if both cars are good cars they will sell and there will be waiting lists.

            Were I running Tesla I would not settle the design of the Mod3 until the Gigafactory was ready to produce batteries in large volume and only then would I quit innovating and send the final design to the production floor. —

            Tesla is not in competition with GM. GM is not offering an EV that can be driven long distances. GM is just increasing range and making the ‘neighborhood’ larger. When GM makes a 200 mile EV that can be rapidly charged and the chargers are in place then GM competes.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Correct. Without batteries in large volume it would have made no sense to release the Mod3. Better to create a different luxury model that will sell in lower volumes but at a much higher profit margin.

            Make a statement. Not just a version of the ModS with a crossover rear end rather than a sedan butt. Give it some features that will create buzz and get publicity.

            Now Tesla’s got two luxury models. Broader market. More sales. More income that can be used to support expansion.

          • Steve Grinwis

            “Make a statement”

            Yes, indeed. And the statement is “Tesla delayed the release of a key vehicle for nearly two years, due to stupid things like crazy expensive doors, and stupid air filters no one needs”.

            The car that’s a Cross-over based on the Model S and nothing more would have been wildly popular without the added bullshit. That’s all crossovers are. Small SUVs based on unibody car frames, and they’re one of the most successful car market in the U.S..

            Even if it just let them release the Model X two years earlier, it would have been incredibly useful.

            Edit: Elon even said he didn’t need to do that crap to sell the car. It’s in the quote. Feel free to look it up. So, on this one, you’re wrong Bob. Unless you think you know better than Elon yourself?

            Didn’t think so.

          • Joe Viocoe

            I wouldn’t call the Model X, a “key vehicle”. It was never even on the Tesla Master Plan.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Did it take longer to bring the ModX to market than Tesla originally thought? Yes.

            With hindsight does Tesla suspect that they would have been better to bring in less innovation? Yes.

            Did Tesla set out to make a statement and create more buzz? Looks like it to me.

            Are the falcon wing doors and unusual windshield going to create buzz and gain Tesla a lot of free advertising? Almost certainly.

            Are you engaging in a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking? Looks like it.

          • Steve Grinwis

            We agree on all of this Bob. Your cult-mates, less so. They will defend these poor decisions to their deaths, against all rational thought.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Steve, are you really that angry because Tesla did not make the choices you would have like it to have taken?

            Why don’t you turn your anger on companies like Mitsubishi who have done nothing more than turn out a few limited range EVs in order to meet compliance regulations?

            I don’t get you people who are all pissed off at the company that is far ahead of everyone else in driving the move to EVs simply becase they aren’t “perfect” in your eyes.

          • Steve Grinwis

            I’m not angry at Tesla, even in the slightest. I have some hesitations about some of the things they’ve done, sure. However, I may yet buy myself a Model 3, assuming I have the money to do so when they release it.

            Mentioning anything here about any misgivings about Tesla, including things that Elon has even said himself results in a bunch of people here attacking me irrationally, a classic sign of fanboi-ism.

            That upsets me, and potentially makes me want to kick the beehive a bit more than I should, I confess But people should be able to realize that Tesla isn’t perfect. That Tesla has made mistakes, and will probably make mistakes in the future.

            That doesn’t take away from any of Tesla’s accomplishments, in releasing the Model S, or in building the supercharger network, or in their unlimited mileage warranty, or their ludicrous mode performance… These are all things that are unmatched in the industry, and for which no one has even announced viable competitors yet. These are all awesome. We can all like / love Tesla for all these *very* real accomplishments, without making up fake technical accomplishments, like proclaiming that no one else could even build a Supercharger if they wanted too, or that no one else could build an electric motor as powerful, or trying to convince ourselves that the falcon wing doors will revolutionize the automotive industry. They won’t. We should be honest with ourselves. Making cars electric was the revolution. Trying to redesign the door… not working so well..

            In any case, the group I’m upset by is the irrational fan boys, not with Tesla.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Do you see people denying that the X was delivered late? That Tesla had transmission problems with the Roadster that delayed its release? That early ModSs had drivetrain problems? That some ModSs have had door handle problems?

            I have seen no denials of any of these problems.

            Have you seen anyone claim that no other company could build a Supercharger? That no one else could build as powerful an electric motor? That falcon wing doors will revolutionize the automotive industry?

            I haven’t seen anyone making those claims. Granted there might be someone who said something along those lines sometime, but you talk as if that was a common occurrence.

            Feels to me as if you’ve built yourself an army of fanboy strawmen and gone into battle with your creation.

          • Steve Grinwis

            Yes, I’ve seen lots of denials of the reliability problems.

            There were lots of examples of: “Those only applied to the first cars”, and the like. You might not remember them. I do. They aren’t denying them as much any more, sure, but only after Elon fixed it.

            And yes, I’ve seen lots of claims of Tesla’s infallible technological lead on things, from erroneously quoting the stupid “Miles per hour” charging rate, instead of C rate which is something Zach likes to do in articles, to people claiming that Tesla has a massive lead in charging technology, to people claiming that no one can match them for performance… There was that one guy who argued a Tesla was faster around a track than a Formula E car… I’d go through and find specific comments, but the comments aren’t easily google searchable, and I don’t feel like reading a few months worth of comments to find good examples.

            Neroden just claimed that the Falcon wing doors were necessary a few comments from here.

            I recall Zach calling me a “Tesla Denier” because I refused to acknowledge that Tesla had a lead in charging technology, or something like that, which was annoying…

            Here’s a couple of other false statements from the Cult, that I could find in a few minutes of searching…

            Neroden claiming Tesla faster reaction time / better braking, can’t do that in a gasmobile:

            “Better road hugging” :

            Here’s a comment where Jo Borras summarized a Tesla letter to a super charger user, and got attacked for it:

            Meh. Anyways, the Tesla fanboy cult is definitely here. Don’t kid yourself. Even in this very thread. I don’t think it’s a strawman at all.

            I’ll probably just stay off the Tesla articles. Ya’ll can have your little orgy, and I’ll meet up with you when the dust has settled. Wouldn’t want to let facts get in the way, or something else terrible like that.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Steve, you might be happier not reading Tesla articles.

            You’re blowing things up far out of proportion. You’re taking discussions in which someone made a claim and then it’s discussed and turning that into a squad of cheerleaders flouncing their pompoms while making unrealistic claims about Teslas.

          • Steve Grinwis

            “What claims? Oh, those claims. Ignore those claims”

            It still stands that I can’t a negative comment about a certain company, including with backing from the founder of said company, without having people jump on me for it. And ya, I’ll just skip these for a while I think.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Steve, you need to understand that sometimes claims are made and then shown to be incorrect. You gave examples where a claim was made and received pushback.

            If you look objectively you will see some of the people you put in the “fanboi” group pushing back against inaccurate claims.

            The Tesla issues that are real are acknowledged. The Roadster had transmission problems. The S had drivetrain problems. The X arrived late.

            Were the falcon wing doors a mistake? Neither we nor Tesla knows yet. All we know is that they were harder to build than Tesla expected. Will there be problems with them? We don’t know. Will they be popular and drive a lot of sales? We don’t know.

            Claim that the falcon wing doors were a mistake and you are likely to get pushback because we do not yet know.

            Take a break from Tesla articles. It would probably make you a happier person.

        • neroden

          (1) We’ve explained the doors before. They were necessary due to the desire to have an “SUV-like” vehicle (so “normal doors” were out) and the aerodynamics (so sliding doors were out).
          (2) I doubt the air filter was any significant trouble, given what I know about those thing.
          (3) The crazy windshield was probably a mistake but I understand what they were thinking — still trying to reinvent the sunroof, since sunroofs have been very problematic.

          The engineering changes from Model S to Model X have mostly been fed back into the Model S — they’re platform changes. They are probably part of the improvement in gross margins.

          And bluntly they are probably improvements which Tesla had to figure out how to do before designing Model 3.

          • Steve Grinwis

            So, you think that Elon should have built the Model X as is, but he disagrees with you. I’m going to side with Elon on this one.

            And no, most of this crap has not been fed back to the model S. No crazy doors on the Model S, and we know those were redesigned at least twice. No crazy windshield. No crazy air filter. The Model S is just a car. A car with a big electric motor, and a big battery, that goes like a bat out of hell.

            Turns out, that’s enough to sell them like hot cakes, topping the luxury large car market. Why on earth do you people think that Elon needed to do any of this crap for the Model X, when HE EVEN SAYS THAT HE DIDN’T NEED TOO…

            tl;dr: No, you’re wrong, and obviously so, and even Elon agrees with me.

  • Frank

    And because a bunch of these were sold, nobody can take them back and crush them. Sorry for the EV1 visual.

  • onesecond

    Well, in Germany the headlines are “Tesla tripples its loss in 2015”. Even on the green sites. Then this is usually followed by an astonished comment that Tesla stock still went up.
    To be fair, it is an extremely unusal thing to see any German automaker post a loss. Mercedes posted record profits in 2015, as well as BMW I think, and VW’s numbers are very good too (because they didn’t have to pay any damages for caught cheating yet).
    It might take some years until the German public sees Tesla as an competitor, but I’m sure the autobosses took note, hence the billions going into EV development, but they surely won’t take the lead and protect their gasoline revenue bringers as long as they can, that is why it is so important what Tesla is doing. I think Tesla will make them dance to the EV tune quite soon (well 2018/19 at the soonest and onward I guess).

    • Bob_Wallace

      So some articles were written by people who didn’t know enough? That’s nothing new. Remember, Dewey defeated Truman.

    • lol. that’s pretty funny.

    • “To be fair, it is an extremely unusal thing to see any German automaker post a .loss.”

      How is that fair?

      It is just as unusual for a German automaker to post YoY growth rates of nearly 100%. Compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Tesla is still a startup that is in “extreme expansion mode”. And you have to invest before you can earn money. It’s as simple as that.

      • neroden

        Apparently a lot of people don’t understand the difference between fixed costs and variable costs.

      • onesecond

        Yes I know, I justed wanted to state that it is easy to see why they would write it that way not that they are right of course.

  • eveee

    Oooh. I got 104,000 units for my estimate and pool bid. We need to open another pool, post Tesla estimate, to make it fair. Gawwsssh. I never expected to get it that close. Tesla is estimating about

    187-197k minus this years 107k, or about 90 to 100k units next year sales.

    • No way

      I’d say 80 to 90 😉
      Generally they set their guidance to high but I think they might be able to hit 80k this year, at least 75k.

      • They’ve also gone well over guidance a few times. But I think they’re being a bit cautious after 2015. We’ll see.

      • eveee

        Jump in the pool with your estimate.

        • No way

          I meant that Tesla’s guidance is 80-90k for next year. You had some bad luck when you did the aritmetiks. 😉

          But I can jump in the pool to, will you keep the pool and results running? 😛

          How about 186 893 for me. =)

          • eveee

            Sounds good. I think its total sales this year, not cumulative. I take it that would be about 86k, if my aritmetik is right.

  • Mike333

    Near geometric growth rate.
    I wonder if Amazon/Goggle are salivating.

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