As Tesla heads towards the mass market with vehicles like the Model 3 sedan and the upcoming Model Y SUV, the challenges of supporting an ever-growing fleet is becoming more and more evident. Over the past month, numerous Tesla owners, including influencers with large followings on social media, have brought up the issue of the company’s vehicle service problems. In its recent Update Letter and following earnings call, the electric car maker provided some insights into this issue.
Tesla stated that it is currently operating 378 service centers around the world by the end of the fourth quarter, with 300 of the sites being located outside of CA. Augmenting this support system is a fleet of 411 mobile service vehicles. While this might seem sufficient to provide service to the company’s Model S and Model X, these sites are quickly proving insufficient when faced with the company’s increasing sales and its ever-growing Model 3 fleet.
In 2018, for example, Tesla delivered 245,240 vehicles across then globe. This year, Tesla noted in its shareholder letter that it aims to increase vehicle deliveries to 360,000 to 400,000 worldwide — an increase of 45% to 65% compared to 2018’s already record-breaking numbers. With this in mind, there is a need for Tesla to ensure that its service capabilities are enough to support the company’s increasing number of vehicles.
During the recently held earnings call, Tesla noted that it would be rolling out vast improvements for its parts distribution systems. Elon Musk added that Tesla’s strategies for servicing vehicles have been pretty inadequate, at one point candidly describing the policies as “boneheaded.” Musk also noted that some of its service processes were “super dumb,” referring to a system where a part made in China gets shipped to the US, only to be sent back to China where they were ordered.
“We’re also improving parts distribution. I think we made a strategic error in the past about not having service parts located at our distribution centers. We had them in parts distribution warehouses which basically meant it was impossible to have a fast turnaround on service on your car because the car would come in, then the parts would be requested (before) they come to the service center. Basically, for even for a very simple repair, it could take days.
“We’re going to move to stocking all common parts at the service centers, so it’s possible to get your car service in 20 or possibly 15 minutes. Lightning fast. It’s also gonna make sense for our service centers to do basic bodywork or essentially if all you need to do is replace a front or rear feature, it makes sense to pre-stock the front-rear feature in the common colors. So unless you have (an) unusual color, we can literally replace your feature in 15-20 minutes, and there’s none of this like weeks at a body shop stuff.”
One thing that the company emphasized in the earnings call was the potential of its Tesla Rangers service, which sends certified mechanics to customers’ homes or offices to repair cars on the spot. Considering that the Rangers could address around 80% of repairs needed for Tesla’s electric cars, a serious ramp of the mobile service would likely result in an improvement for the company’s vehicle service systems.
In its Q4 2018 Update Letter, the company noted that its centers would be moving to two-shift operations in order to double the capacity of a site. Improvements to the Tesla app are also expected to make scheduling service an easy and seamless affair. Ultimately, these initiatives are expected to allow the electric car maker to vastly improve its capabilities to address its owners’ vehicle concerns.
Tesla’s areas for improvement in its service systems appear to be a notable topic for Elon Musk. In last year’s Annual Shareholder Meeting, Musk announced that Tesla is opening in-house body shops to reduce the time it takes for vehicles to be repaired. Tesla eventually launched several in-house repair centers across the United States, and the reception from the community has largely been positive. Model 3 owner and YouTube influencer Kim of Like Tesla, for one, shared her experience with one of the company’s in-house body shops, which was able to complete the repairs to her damaged vehicle in 24 hours.