Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Learn from Tesla: Don’t Respond Defensively!

Very recently a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tesla Models S and X owners alleging the automaker continues to ignore suspension safety issues. The suit claims Tesla not only failed in its duty as an automaker to ensure owners’ safety, but it actively worked to cover the problem up.

The problem specifically concerns Models S and X vehicles built between 2013 and 2018 and focuses on allegedly faulty front and rear suspension control arm assembly components. When these components fail, the wheel begins to separate from the suspension, which causes drivers to lose control of the car.  The lawsuit also includes examples indicating some owners saw a wheel completely detach from the car. 

Much to the frustration of the owners, Tesla has been downplaying the problem.  It maintains the issue surfaces due to abuse from drivers.  Naturally, owners disagree strongly.  According to the owners, Tesla worked to side-step the massive sums of money it would cost to recall the cars and instead has issued minor technical service bulletins in an attempt to address the problem. There are also allegations the automaker required some owners to sign non-disclosure agreements in exchange for “goodwill repairs.”

This is not the first example of Tesla responding defensively when problems occur.  About four years ago, a Tesla owner in California plugged his Model S into an outlet in his garage to recharge it, only to realize shortly thereafter that his garage was on fire!  The local Orange County Fire Authority isolated the problem to overheating of the Tesla adapter.  A Tesla representative quickly claimed that their analysis showed that it was “a defective or improperly installed wall receptacle,” in an apparent attempt to dismiss the melted Tesla adapter of any blame. It was telling that right after the fire, Tesla quickly provided a software fix and issued a recall on the adaptors, which Tesla demanded be called a “remedy”, not a recall.

This kind of behavior is unfortunate and obviously damages a company’s reputation.  Here are two simple principles to follow when a negative surprise happens:

  • Acknowledge the Problem Quickly and Be Objective – Tesla responded fast, but unfortunately provided the press, and hence its customers, with some very defensive sounding statements.  
  • Take 100% Responsibility; Don’t Shift the Blame Elsewhere –  Most importantly, make sure the primary message is that you are sorry the problem happened and you are taking total responsibility for the incident and for determining how it should be dealt with. 

Tesla has had a huge positive impact on the automotive business.  It is a shame that these kinds of incidents get under its skin and generate the defensive characteristics of a player of less stature.

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