Yesterday, we reported a story about a Tesla Model S owner who said his left front suspension failed while driving at slow speed on a dirt road. The owner, who identified himself as gpcordaro on TMC, claimed that Tesla offered to split the cost of repair with him, but only if he signed a non-disclosure agreement and agreed not to contact federal authorities. His car was out of factory warranty at the time of the incident.
Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. National Highway Safety Administration said the agency is “examining the potential suspension issue on the Tesla Model S, and is seeking additional information from vehicle owners and the company.” Yesterday, NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind told the press that his agency is in “data collection mode.”
“Part of what we have to figure out is whether or not (non disclosure agreements) might have impeded people making (complaints),” Rosekind said. He also said his agency has been in touch with Tesla seeking information. “Our folks were on this right away.”
Now, Tesla has responded. In a lengthy blog post, it called the customer’s allegations about having to sign a non-disclosure agreement “preposterous.” It says it occasionally asks customers to sign what it calls a Goodwill Agreement. This occurs when the company agrees to provide services or repairs over and above those required by its warranty.
A lawyer will tell you that in some jurisdictions, “evidence of repair” can be equated with knowledge of a defect. That can have unfortunate legal consequences for any company if the matter winds up in court. The Goodwill Agreement is a written statement that says the owner will not use the fact that Tesla stepped up to keep a customer happy against it later in legal proceedings.
“It is deeply ironic that the only customer who apparently believes that this document prevents him from talking to NHTSA is also the same one who talked to NHTSA. If our agreement was meant to prevent that, it obviously wasn’t very good,” Tesla wrote in its response.
The owner told the press that after NHTSA examined the broken suspension piece, it told him that the ball joints in his Model S were of poor quality and failed prematurely. Tesla strongly disputes that, citing its 5 star crash rating and exhaustive durability testing. It did say the ball joint on this particular car was heavily rusted in a way that it has not seen on any other of its vehicles. Then the Tesla blog post demonstrated how to say harsh things in the kindest possible way.
“Finally, it is worth noting that the blogger who fabricated this issue, which then caused negative and incorrect news to be written about Tesla by reputable institutions, is Edward Niedermayer. This is the same gentle soul who previously wrote a blog titled “Tesla Death Watch,” which starting on May 19, 2008 was counting the days until Tesla’s death. It has now been 2,944 days. We just checked our pulse and, much to his chagrin, appear to be alive. It is probably wise to take Mr. Niedermayer’s words with at least a small grain of salt.
“We don’t know if Mr. Niedermayer’s motivation is simply to set a world record for axe-grinding or whether he or his associates have something financial to gain by negatively affecting Tesla’s stock price, but it is important to highlight that there are several billion dollars in short sale bets against Tesla. This means that there is a strong financial incentive to greatly amplify minor issues and to create false issues from whole cloth.
The post closed with a simple statement that truly captures the corporate ethics of Tesla Motors. “That said, sometimes Tesla does make genuine mistakes. We are not and have never claimed to be perfect. However, we strongly believe in trying to do the right thing and, when we fall short, taking immediate corrective action.”
That attitude is a big part of the reason why nearly 400,000 people worldwide have placed a reservation for the upcoming Tesla Model 3.