Tesla Exaggerated EV Driving Range; Directed Complaints to “Diversion Team” that Received Up to 2000 Complaints/Week

By B.N. Frank

Tesla vehicles seem to remain popular despite the many problems that have been associated with them – some inconvenient, some fatal.  Investors and owners have filed lawsuits numerous times.  Perhaps a new report will provoke owners to take legal action against the company again.

From Ars Technica:

Tesla exaggerated EV range so much that drivers thought cars were broken

Inundated with complaints, Tesla created “Diversion Team” to cancel appointments.

Jon Brodkin

Tesla has consistently exaggerated the driving range of its electric vehicles, reportedly leading car owners to think something was broken when actual driving range was much lower than advertised. When these owners scheduled service appointments to fix the problem, Tesla canceled the appointments because there was no way to improve the actual distance Tesla cars could drive between charges, according to an investigation by Reuters.

In mid-2022, Tesla started routing range complaints to a “Diversion Team” that fielded up to 2,000 cases a week and “was expected to close about 750 cases a week,” Reuters reported.

“Tesla years ago began exaggerating its vehicles’ potential driving distance—by rigging their range-estimating software,” the article published today said. “The company decided about a decade ago, for marketing purposes, to write algorithms for its range meter that would show drivers ‘rosy’ projections for the distance it could travel on a full battery, according to a person familiar with an early design of the software for its in-dash readouts.”

Once the battery fell below 50 percent, “the algorithm would show drivers more realistic projections for their remaining driving range.” The order to exaggerate car range allegedly came from the top, Reuters wrote:

The directive to present the optimistic range estimates came from Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, this person said.

“Elon wanted to show good range numbers when fully charged,” the person said, adding: “When you buy a car off the lot seeing 350-mile, 400-mile range, it makes you feel good.”

“We would like to cancel your visit”

Reuters said it “could not determine whether Tesla still uses algorithms that boost in-dash range estimates,” but reported that Tesla “last year became so inundated with driving-range complaints that it created a special team to cancel owners’ service appointments.” Reuters also noted that “automotive testers and regulators continue to flag the company for exaggerating the distance its vehicles can travel before their batteries run out.”

Tesla Model 3 driver Alexandre Ponsin “was sometimes getting less than half” of his 2021 vehicle’s advertised range of 353 miles, particularly in cold weather, leading him to believe the car had a serious defect, according to Reuters. He booked a service appointment a few months ago but later “received two text messages, telling him that ‘remote diagnostics’ had determined his battery was fine, and then: ‘We would like to cancel your visit.'”

The cancellation was in line with instructions Tesla employees had received “to thwart any customers complaining about poor driving range from bringing their vehicles in for service,” according to Reuters. “Last summer, the company quietly created a ‘Diversion Team’ in Las Vegas to cancel as many range-related appointments as possible.”

Diversion Team members reportedly “often closed hundreds of cases a week and staffers were tracked on their average number of diverted appointments per day.” Managers reportedly told employees that each canceled appointment saved the company $1,000, while easing pressure on service centers with long waits for service appointments.

Managers allegedly told employees in late 2022 “to stop running remote diagnostic tests on the vehicles of owners who had reported range problems,” speeding up the process of canceling cases. “Thousands of customers were told there is nothing wrong with their car” by advisers who had never run diagnostics, Reuters quoted a source as saying. Advisers offered tips to customers on how to increase their mileage by changing driving habits.

According to Reuters, supervisors also told employees to call a customer once and close the case as “unresponsive” if there was no answer. “When customers did respond, advisers were told to try to complete the call in no more than five minutes,” Reuters wrote.

Tests show Tesla underperforms estimates

Despite his appointment being canceled, Ponsin brought his car to a service center in Santa Clara, California. He told Reuters that the visit “lasted 10 minutes” and that technicians “didn’t even look at the car physically.” A technician at the center told Ponsin his car was fine.

Reuters was told by a source that Tesla recently stopped using the Nevada-based diversion team and instead now has range cases handled by “service advisors in an office in Utah.”

In April, Car and Driver reported that its testing showed 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.” BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and Porsche “typically provide a relatively conservative range figure, allowing us to meet or even at times exceed the range numbers in Car and Driver’s real-world tests.” As a result, “400 miles of stated range for a Tesla and 300 miles for a Porsche is pretty much the same number at real highway speeds.”

Car and Driver data was used in a recent study by SAE International. One of the study co-authors reportedly “told Reuters that three Tesla models posted the worst performance, falling short of their advertised ranges by an average of 26 percent.”

In January, South Korea’s antitrust regulator fined Tesla $2.2 million, saying the company exaggerated the “driving ranges of its cars on a single charge, their fuel cost-effectiveness compared to gasoline vehicles as well as the performance of its Superchargers.” The South Korean agency said that in cold weather, actual mileage was “reduced by up to 50.5 percent compared to what has been advertised.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency tests electric vehicles, and the agency’s “audits resulted in Tesla being required to lower all the cars’ estimated ranges by an average of 3 percent,” according to EPA data obtained by Reuters through a public records request.

Tesla “good at exploiting the rule book”

In March 2021, car testers at Edmunds reported that four of the six Teslas tested fell short of the vehicles’ EPA estimates. Edmunds had previously found that none of the Teslas hit their EPA estimates but redid the tests after Tesla complained that they didn’t account for the “safety buffer”—meaning the miles a car can travel after the gauge reads zero.

“Our tests showed that there is no fixed safety buffer,” the auto website wrote. “Even allowing for the additional miles recorded after an indicated zero, only two of the six Teslas we tested would hit their EPA figures in our real-world conditions.”

Edmunds also argued that “the point is academic” because drivers are unlikely to expect a buffer range to be included in the EPA’s range estimate. In contrast to Tesla cars, Edmunds reported that “most non-Tesla vehicles have surpassed their EPA estimates.”

Edmunds testing director Jonathan Elfalan told Reuters that Tesla has “gotten really good at exploiting the rule book and maximizing certain points to work in their favor involving EPA tests.” Other data cited by Reuters found that Tesla cars “almost always calculated that they could travel more than 90 percent of their advertised EPA range estimates regardless of external temperatures.”

We contacted Tesla about the Reuters report today and will update this article if we get a response. The Reuters report said the news agency sent detailed questions to Tesla and Musk but received no response.

Jon has been a reporter for Ars Technica since 2011 and covers a wide array of telecom and tech policy topics. Jon graduated from Boston University with a degree in journalism and has been a full-time journalist for over 20 years. Before Ars, he spent six years as a newspaper reporter and five years writing about technology for IDG’s Network World. To send Jon encrypted email, his public key is here; he can also be reached securely on Keybase.

Activist Post reports regularly about Teslas and other unsafe technologies.  For more information, visit our archives.

Image: Pixabay

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