Tesla’s PR Nightmare: the “Bricked” Roadsters

February 23rd, 2012

Tesla battery reminder

There are 2,200 Tesla Roadsters out there, and you can only wonder what their owners are thinking today.

Reports are circulating of five cars that have “bricked”—that is, their batteries have fully discharged and become inoperable. You can’t recharge them from that state, and the wheels lock up. Your car is a brick. Yes, you were a dummy to let it get to that point, but still….

Tesla will replace the dead batteries at a cost to owners of about $40,000, and the company has offered a very tepid response to the situation, which you can read here.

There is no provision in the warranty to cover the damage, though Tesla has buyers sign a disclosure statement warning them about zero warranty coverage for permitting a zero state of charge. It’s kind of a fine-print thing.

Tesla Roadsters chargingA story on Green Car Reports more or less defends Tesla; Jalopnik claims that the company, or someone, is trying to smear the whistleblower who broke the story. So, controversy and bad publicity are all over the car media.

There are said to be no countermeasures that can prevent this short of keeping your car topped up, and while that may sound simple enough, it becomes tricky if you need to put the thing in storage for a few months.

The stories, which reflect owner stupidity and company negligence in warning them, are here. There are statements in the owners’ manual about the problem, but they don’t specify the extensive and expensive damage that could result from full discharge. We understand the same problem could apply to the Model S sedan and the upcoming Model X.

Tesla should have put a big red boldface sticker on its cars telling about these consequences and urging owners never to leave their cars unplugged. Instead, it offered the cutesy “reminder” shown at the top of our story.

Now, a real PR nightmare is brewing, and the company has to begin serious damage control. Nissan, incidentally, was quick to claim that this sort of zero-discharge couldn’t happen to a Leaf.

Will this story prove a real setback to the electric car business, or will it blow over?

—jgoods

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  1. Randy
    | #1

    $40,000 at $4 a gallon will buy 4000 gallons of fuel, or enough gas for a car getting an overall mileage rating of 25mpg and driving 5000 miles a year (like you might expect in a car like the roadster) the ability to drive the car for 20 years. The thrill is gone. Or maybe it was never there in the first place.

  2. | #2

    I think it will be a big setback because people will notice this and want a warranty over this because some cant afford to dishout almost half of the cars cost on a new battery

  3. Randy
    | #3

    One has to wonder why the cars don’t have battery alarm systems that go off when the car sits too long without being charged.

  4. jgoods
    | #4

    @ Randy
    From the Green Car Reports story I linked to:

    Q: Will a Tesla Roadster warn its owners if the pack is dangerously low?

    A: Yes. And owners of Roadster 2.0 and 2.5 vehicles (the vast majority of the total) can set their cars up to send alerts to the owner as well. Tesla said:

    “Tesla avoids this problem in virtually all instances with numerous counter-measures. Tesla batteries can remain unplugged for weeks (even months), without reaching zero state of charge. Owners of Roadster 2.0 and all subsequent Tesla products can request that their vehicle alert Tesla if battery state of charge falls to a low level. All Tesla vehicles emit various visual and audible warnings if the battery pack falls below 5 percent state of charge.”

    If the car is in storage (as happened to one owner) or parked long-term at an airport, those warnings won’t help much.

  1. | #1
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