What recall? Tesla recasts Model S problems as mere updates

tesla model s naias detroit auto show jan 2014
Credit: Image: Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

DETROIT—Tesla’s booth at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) Detroit Auto Show is small: A tiny corner lot across the aisle from German giants Mercedes-Benz and Audi. Only three cars are on display: Two Model S’s (one sporting a ski rack) and a Model S undercarriage. For the press conference, Tesla has erected a modest stage and set up two video monitors.

It’s nothing like the other press conferences, which have acrobatic shows, celebrities, and bleachers to accommodate the press. But everyone is here, crowded around, sitting on the floor, and pushing through the throng to see what Tesla, the little boutique electric car start-up from Silicon Valley, will announce.

Jerome Guillen, Tesla’s vice president of worldwide sales and service, takes the stage. Guillen starts off praising the Model S, with its 5-star safety rating and no serious accidents (no casualties) to date, even though Model S drivers have logged over 168 million miles. He showed how Model S sales have taken off: In Q4 of 2013, the company sold almost 7,000 vehicles, 20 percent higher than its sales goals.

Guillen also pointed out the demand for Model S even in colder weather, because people appreciate the ability to pre-heat the vehicle. He mentions that the Model S is the best-selling car in Norway, a country that “knows something about winter.” This could be an oblique response to last February’s drama surrounding a New York Times writer’s disappointing cold-weather experience with a Model S.

Guillen said the company plans to expand and grow “recklessly” in 2014, doubling retail and service centers worldwide. The company will also continue to expand its Supercharger network, which currently consists of 80 ultra-fast charging stations around the world that are free to Tesla drivers. “As you can see, we’ve almost completed the cross-country Supercharger network,” Guillen says, motioning to a map that shows a series of red dots traveling across the U.S. “Soon, people will be able to drive across the country for free.”

tesla press conference naias detroit auto show jan 2014 Image: Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

No big announcements, but still plenty of interested journalists, at the Tesla booth at NAIAS.

Guillen opens the floor to questions. That’s right: no big announcement, no exciting new concept, no Model X prototype like we saw last year. Anyway, everyone wants to ask questions about the most recent recall.

Last Friday, Tesla announced that it was providing Model S customers with new adapters and a firmware update to prevent overheating and fire. While Tesla didn’t say the word “recall,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) called it one. Guillen himself stumbles over the word. “Almost all of the affected cars have received the update,” he says. “But is it a ‘recall’ if you don’t physically recall anything? I wouldn’t call it a recall, I would call it an over-the-air update.” Sure Tesla, whatever you say.

This story, "What recall? Tesla recasts Model S problems as mere updates" was originally published by TechHive.

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