Tesla needs to fix poor customer service, glitchy tech, and safety concerns to appeal more broadly to women

One of the best things about Tesla is the easy charging experience. In addition to their own charger network, Tesla’s can charge at any Level 2 station using a plug adapter that comes standard with the car.

The 2022 spike in gas prices has increased interest in EVs to an unprecedented level, but interest by female buyers still lags according to an early 2022 Consumer Reports survey. Tesla continues to dominate the U.S. market with 75% of EV sales in the first quarter of 2022, according to Kelly Blue Book. For many EV lovers, including myself, Tesla has been a great example of how transformative EVs could be for the car market and provides best practices for deploying charging infrastructure.

However, Tesla vehicles continue to have issues, which could be part of the reason Tesla’s haven’t taken off among female buyers. According to Edmond’s U.S. car registration data in this 2019 USA Today article, only 30.7% of Tesla’s at that time were registered to women.

To dig into the “why” women are cautious about the technology, I’ve gathered input from four female Tesla owners and asked them to share the good, the bad, and the ugly about their experience. Here is a compilation of opinions from Molly Bauch of Alexandria, Virginia who owns a Model 3, Liz Tribelli of Arlington, Virginia who owns a Model X, and Deanne Sheer of Durango, Colorado who owned a Model Y. I also own a Model Y and have included some of my own feedback.

Despite some of these flaws, I love what Tesla is trying to accomplish and only want the brand to succeed, which is what I’m hoping to support with the constructive feedback presented in this article.

The Good: Things we love about Tesla vehicles

Everyone I interviewed loved saving money at the pump, the quick acceleration, and avoiding climate and air pollution emissions. Liz mentioned that her young daughter loved the Tesla technology and that the car ‘dances for her’ and Liz likes the look of the sleek falcon doors.

Molly loves the Tesla brand and its climate promise and potential, and was among the first to reserve a Model 3 in 2016. She had evaluated a lot of different EVs up to that point and found dealers with other brands at that time to be clueless. According to Molly, “The experience was super comical, circuitous, and rife with uncertainty: zero point zero salesmen (I never had a female sales gal) had any idea about EVs. Nada.” She found that Tesla salespeople were by far the most knowledgeable.

When I was evaluating which second EV to buy in 2020, the only choice was Tesla mostly for its vast and reliable charging network, which I needed for longer road trips to see family. The car also has a great looking design and thoughtfully integrated storage. My daughter is a huge fan of the fun games that come with the car, especially the ‘emissions test’ feature (i.e., seat whoopie cushions) and likes watching Netflix while waiting for the car to charge. I also like that the car comes with over-the-air updates that add new functionality, and the safety features, like the automatic braking, which have helped me avoid at least a couple of fender benders to date.

I love my Tesla Model Y’s awesome storage, but it would be great if my car doors would open after a snow storm and I didn’t have to worry about phantom braking.

The Bad: Tesla’s glitchy tech is only made worse by poor customer service

Unfortunately, it is some of these same reasons that we love Tesla also cause women drivers to feel it is more problematic than a traditional car. Because it is essentially a large computer on wheels, updates on the car can make it seem like there are perpetual glitches that won’t be fixed until the next update.

For Deanne, these issues were so bad that she sold her Tesla for a Hyundai Santa Fe plug-in hybrid electric, “because [the Tesla] was glitchy as hell with horrible customer service. When a significant crack appeared on the roof, one month after getting the car, I witnessed customer service at its worst.” She was happy to learn she could sell the Tesla for more in 2022 than she paid for it in late 2020. According to Deanne, “What finally sent me over the edge was when I was driving 37mph and the computer screen (which sometimes froze – glitch in and of itself) showed a “person” walking next to my car.  Either it was a ghost or a glitch!”

Liz also expressed significant concerns with the Tesla customer service and felt like her Tesla was a lemon from the day she brought it home. Now she feels locked in since she has already invested in a home charger. Liz is “constantly waiting to see what goes wrong next.”  From the moment she accepted delivery of the vehicle via the Tesla app, she said it hasn’t been an easy journey for her. The customer service has particularly soured her to the brand after getting the run around when her Model X’s windshield wiper flew off while driving, when the frunk, charger port door, and windows would all not close properly, and after she found a crack in the trunk. Recently, the rubber seal on the inside door panel fell off and when Tesla service came to her house to fix it they replaced the rubber seal using double-sided sticky tape.  

Despite some of the great features of her Tesla Model X, Liz is always ‘constantly waiting to see what goes wrong next,’ and isn’t impressed with Tesla’s customer service.

Molly has had similarly bad customer service experiences. For the second summer in a row, her Model 3’s air conditioning unit died. This year, she took her car to a new Tesla repair location, which “ghosted” her for days with no updates unless prompted. When she did hear from Tesla, it was usually with vague estimates of when she would get her car back and nearly no insight on what was wrong. This past week her air conditioning unit failed again two days after getting it back from the shop and new glitches continue to pop up.

A perennial issue that no amount of customer service will fix for our family is that the Model Y wasn’t designed for cold weather. We don’t have a garage, so after a big snow or freezing rain we can’t get into our Tesla because the integrated door handles and windows are frozen shut and heating up the interior cabin doesn’t seem to help. This past winter we weren’t able to drive our car for three days until the temperatures warmed up enough to thaw the ice. I’ve talked to other Tesla owners in my area who have resorted to using hair dryers to access their car!

The Ugly: Safety concerns with tech and targeting by anti-EV bullies

Liz has experienced major safety concerns to date with her Model X. The most serious incident was when her car stopped working on her commute. According to Liz, “the screen went black and my car was actually shutting off as I was driving. I was able to safely get to a parking lot about 10 feet away from where I was turning, so I didn’t get into an accident, but it took a while to figure out how to get the car to restart.”

Liz is also now concerned about battery fires after she read an article about a Tesla driver in Canada that had to break their car window to escape when it caught fire. The family member who sent the article asked her to keep a hammer in the car. According to Liz, “That’s not a normal conversation to have when it comes to safety and reliability of the vehicle, but I now carry a hammer in my car.”

On a road trip, Molly witnessed a pair of bullies “ICEing” a Tesla supercharger with their big truck. ICEing is blocking an EV charger with a regular car, almost always out intentional malice. According to Molly, “a few Tesla drivers asked them to move, as several cars were waiting to charge and couldn’t. The situation devolved into a surreal and highly unpleasant exchange which involved cursing, nativist nonsense, and cops being called.” Molly was punched in the face by the female bully while attempting to record the situation. While this isn’t an issue that Tesla can address directly per say, having some additional security options at charging stations and prominently featuring the phone numbers of local authorities on, or close to, the charging units would be a good start.

Molly loves her Tesla Model 3 as much as she loves her bike, despite some of the headaches she’s encountered.

My biggest personal safety concern is related to the Tesla sensors, which sometimes react to red lights at the top of interstate exit ramps and automatically start braking while we’re driving on the interstate at 65mph. So far, we’ve avoided a crash, but this is a feature that can’t be turned off and the computers aren’t situationally aware yet – i.e., there aren’t red lights on interstates. Apparently, this “phantom braking” issue is currently being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after receiving over 350 similar complaints.

That said, the 2022 Model 3 and Model Y (based on the Model 3 platform) received five-star safety ratings from NHTSA for frontal, side, and rollover crashes.

How Tesla could improve its product for women

Deanne suggested that Tesla should consider adding an integrated solar-powered roof to expand the range and improve some of the charging issues. She also suggested that Tesla get rid of the giant screen and have more buttons like a traditional dashboard, use different tire rims that don’t stick out and are more resistant to scratching, add more superchargers in rural areas, and hire better customer service staff. For the price point of the vehicle, there were also many missing features that should come standard with the car like vented seats for air flow, a heated steering wheel, and the ability to block out sun on the roof.  She also identified some product quality issues, such as the electric charging port door, which was “plastic and cheap.”

Liz suggested making the on-boarding experience easier for women. In her opinion, EVs are not very approachable as a new user. She thinks Tesla should have a standard support package that helps new owners get a charger installed at the customer’s home and provide a physical map of locations where you can charge the vehicle, instead of just saying “oh it’s on the screen if you search for it.”

As a woman in tech, Liz feels that men are generally more comfortable with technology, but auto makers also need to cater to women, and that might mean spending more time with them explaining the features and functions. If someone shows her how to use the tech, she will learn, but sitting there poking around trying to figure stuff out is overwhelming and prevents her from using all of the vehicle’s great features.

Liz recalled the time she purchased her non-electric SUV, and the salesperson spent almost two hours showing her all the features of the vehicle and went through every single button and feature in real time-so she could ask questions. “Now THAT was customer service,” according to Liz. In contrast, Tesla “wants you to watch videos on their app and expect you to just figure it out. I remember not even being able to unlock my car through the app when I was picking it up. If you want good customer service, you need to take the time to talk to your customers and not make it impossible to reach service center personnel.”

According to Molly, the biggest recommendation for Tesla is to produce more cars. She is seeing year-plus wait times and the showroom was starkly empty when she recently dropped off her car for service. Tesla had sold all the demo cars because demand has been through the roof.

Molly also thinks Tesla needs to spend more time on education. She has many female friends with kids ask her about range and charging because they have to drive their kids from soccer to dance to [fill-in-the-blank] activities. They don’t know if the car will hold up (including the battery), where will they be able to charge, and how often they need to charge. Molly’s friends don’t want to think about all of these details – they just need something that works as reliably as their family SUV/ van.  Tesla – and other EV manufacturers in general – need to close the educational/ awareness gap and address these basic questions.

Personally, I would love to see integrated heaters throughout the windows and doors as a standard feature for all Tesla’s – not just premium models – and more transparency around Tesla’s product development pathway to fix known glitches from Tesla’s computers and algorithms. Tesla has my email address, but I never hear from them about product updates or new safety features.

Advice for women thinking about buying an EV

According to a recent Wired magazine article, EV manufacturers are finally figuring out that appealing to women buyers is important. Fortunately, there are many new car models from all of the major manufacturers that may address some of the concerns identified in this article.

Liz suggests that women do their homework before buying a car. She said, “See what’s out there, see what car manufacturers currently make EVs and what their reviews are, look into manufacturers that have all electric fleets coming, and evaluate what’s best for you. Timing is everything.” She also suggests that “if possible, before you get rid of your gas vehicle, really determine if the EV is a good fit for you.”

Deanne would tell women buying an EV to, “make sure they don’t plan to use them for road trips and that they are best for urban/suburban areas and commuting. If they don’t want to add any angst to their lives, get a plug-in hybrid where there is always a backup plan!”

Molly recommends having women consider the benefits of an EV, such as the added safety features and the on-board computer that increases the reliability and durability of the EV compared to a traditional car. EVs are also much cheaper to own and maintain, putting more money back in your wallet for you and your family – especially when you think about the money saved on maintenance like oil changes and replacement parts (an EV has 20 major parts in its drivetrain vs. an ICE’s 20,000).

Like any new technology, there will always be growing pains, but it is important for the EV industry at large to work through these issues as quickly as possible to address a growing consumer base that has less tolerance for early-stage problems.

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