Could Now Be a Good Time to Buy a Tesla?

2015 Tesla Model S

Tesla has seen a lot of time in the news during the past couple of weeks over crashes involving its Autopilot system. Low gas prices also might be hurting its business plan, and there are some growing questions about reliability. This all begs the question: is now the right time to think about buying a Tesla? The answer is a qualified “maybe,” because the decision essentially comes down to how much risk you’re willing to assume.

Maybe the first issue to consider is the recent crashes. It’s certainly a bit frightening that a man in Florida may have died because the Autopilot failed to recognize a truck turning left in front of the vehicle on a bright, sunny day. Sun, however, is actually a great unknown when it comes to assisted-driving technologies. A few years back I was driving a Subaru Legacy with an early version of Subaru’s EyeSight safety system. As I crested a hill and hit the setting sun at just the right angle, the system started giving me warnings and the car slowed considerably. Turns out EyeSight’s sensors had been overwhelmed by the sun. Did Subaru fix it? Yes, and now it’s no longer an issue.

How about low gas prices? Will they hurt Tesla? That would be a good thing if you were considering buying one, because nothing hurts a dealer (or, in Tesla’s case, the automaker itself) in its bottom line like economic forces it can’t control.

But as the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports, Tesla isn’t necessarily targeting the typical EV customer. It’s after buyers who are interested in becoming part of a larger plan to capture solar energy and store its power for use in their Teslas. In effect, Tesla is hoping to broaden its vehicles’ appeal by developing new technology–in partnership with a solar energy company it hopes to acquire–that will allow power from the sun to be stored in home batteries until needed.

Much has also been written about technical problems in Tesla vehicles. Call these growing pains, if you will. As a columnist at Road & Track points out, a lot of this criticism has come from people with little, if any, knowledge of the intricacies of EVs.

So how do you judge the reliability of Tesla models? A good source might be the company itself. Its founder, Elon Musk, said during a February conference call with investors and the media that 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. Granted, Tesla is a private company; but a downward trend in first-year repair claims does point to improving quality.

How much do current Tesla owners like their cars? One driver was involved in an accident, according to CNNMoney, because he used the Autopilot system in conditions that are not recommended (i.e., no defining yellow center line or white line on the side of the road). What was his reaction afterward? He wants to get another Tesla. The car may have let him down, but it’s not a deal-breaker. He, like a lot of people in the industry, believes the issues Tesla’s Autopilot is experiencing in its beta-testing stage will eventually be addressed.

– Keith Griffin

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