Tesla Model S

Tesla’s first “safety complaint” lodged against the Model S – might there be quality control problems?

Now that Tesla Motors is producing the Model S, that car has passed from the realm of hype to reality.  It means we can now start judging the Model S and Tesla Motors based on the actual results rather than on what we hope they’ll be building in the future.  The future has arrived, and is now the present.  One of the ways to judge the company is the rate of safety complaints, and the first of these have arrived at the NHTSA.

No recalls, investigations, or service bulletins exist against the Model S.  There is one safety complaint.  Out of perhaps 7,500 Model S’s delivered so far to have one safety complaint doesn’t sound like much.  However, the safety complaint does raise a question about Tesla’s quality control procedures.

Here it is:
Date Complaint Filed: 02/17/2013
Component(s): STRUCTURE
Date of Incident: 02/14/2013
NHTSA ID Number: 10498446
All Products Associated with this Complaint expand
Details close
0 Associated Documents

Crash:No
Fire:No
Number of Injuries:0
Number of Deaths:0

Manufacturer: TESLA MOTORS, INC
Vehicle Identification No. (VIN): 5YJSA1DN9DF…
SUMMARY:
I REMOVED THE REAR BUMPER COVER FROM THE CAR TO INSTALL A TRAILER HITCH. THREE OF THE FOUR NUTS WERE NOT TIGHTENED ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE STEEL BUMPER CROSS MEMBER. THE NUTS WERE LOOSELY STARTED ONTO THE STUDS. THE NUTS ARE LOCATED IN AN AREA THAT CANNOT BE INSPECTED WITHOUT DISASSEMBLING THE REAR OF THE CAR. I BELIEVE THIS IS A SERIOUS SAFETY ISSUE AS IT AFFECTS CRASH CRUMPLE ZONE INTEGRITY AND PROTECTION FOR THE REAR FACING JUMP SEATS IN THIS VEHICLE. THERE WAS NO ACCIDENT AND I DO NO BELIEVE THERE IS A DESIGN PROBLEM. HOWEVER, THERE IS AN ASSEMBLY QUALITY CONTROL ISSUE. *TR

In the Tesla Motors Fiscal Year 2012 10-K filing, one thing the management talked about is the amount of overtime that had been put in by manufacturing line workers to get production ramped up to full speed.  70 hrs/week, to be precise.

We don’t know anything about the quality control Tesla Motors has in place.  Honda famously has a high ratio of quality control to assembly workers, for example, and a reputation for high quality.

The question is whether Tesla has enough QC or whether the workers are being overworked and missing details..?

Another question is – why is a Tesla Model S owner looking to install a trailer hitch?  What would an electric car owner want to haul?

Well – these are cars and there are plenty of people who use cars to haul trailers.  Preferably light-weight and they know to reserve heavy-duty hauling to vehicles, like trucks, meant to haul heavy duty loads.  One typical thing a car-mounted trailer hitch gets used for is bicycle carriers.

Indeed, there IS a trailer hitch specifically designed for the Model S that is explicitly positioned as a bicycle carrier.  See: http://torkliftcentral.com/ecohitch_tesla_model_s.php

But, the point here is the quality control question …  Hurm.  As of Dec 31 there were 2,650 Model S’s sold, and the production rate was ramped up to 400 Model S’s per week.  We are 12 weeks into 2013, making deliveries so far 4,500-5,000 cars making perhaps 7,500 Model S’s delivered so far.  That’s an amazing achievement, and reportedly the reception has been extremely positive.  Is this one safety issue report an outlier?  I just took a quick look through teslamotorsclub.com and don’t see any “HELP ME FIX THIS PROBLEM” sort of postings.

There was an installation thread discussing the hitch mentioned above – http://www.teslamotorsclub.com/showthread.php/13787-Torklift-Central-Eco-Hitch-Installed-Pictures – There’s nothing in that thread about problems.

UPDATES:

Here’s the original discussion thread that inspired the above NHTSA complaint:  http://www.teslamotors.com/forum/forums/check-your-nuts-found-assembly-error-during-hitch-install?page=1

Basically – he wanted to install a Torklift Central hitch, and did it at home.  He found the bolts loose as described in the NHTSA complaint, they discussed the significance of the finding, etc.  The issue was addressed by the local service center and was escalated up through Tesla’s management.

This constitutes a single report of this issue – out of 5,000ish Model S’s delivered to date.  I saw some postings by others who’d installed the hitch and not found this issue with loose bolts.

It might just be an outlier condition.  On the other hand recalls are so common in the car industry that they barely get mentioned in the press.  For Tesla to have zero manufacturing defects would be a feat of monumental proportions.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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