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What Would Tesla Do?

by Roger Lanctot | Jun 07, 2014

I just returned from Telematics Update 2014 in Detroit – the leading global event focused on vehicle connectivity – and I came upon a story on thecarconnection.com regarding a recall on the 2013 Lexus GS350. (You can find the details here: http://tinyurl.com/pd5xkd6) These cars are braking unexpectedly and Lexus is encouraging customers to bring their cars in for a fix … when the parts are available. The thought suddenly popped into my head: What would Tesla do?

The reason I suddenly asked myself this question derived from the following sentence in the online story:

“Owners will receive a letter from Lexus when they are ready to recall the vehicles involved.”

So, let me get this right, the cars can brake unexpectedly. Owners are being notified of this issue by MAIL and will have to wait for the parts.

The automotive industry needs a new standard for customer service and customer communications as well as a better understanding of what a recall is and means. Given Tesla’s recent history of time-warping reactions to vehicle problems and paradigm-shifting customer engagement I think it is fair to say that a good measure of future handling of vehicle failure crises will be to ask: What would Tesla do? (There is a corollary: What would Elon do? – but let’s not get too personal about this.)

#1  A recall is by definition an immediate, vehicle safety issue.  Under such circumstances, the postal service will not cut it as a means of customer communication – especially in the event of a vehicle with an on-board modem.  Lexus vehicles are equipped with a system called SafetyConnect.  This system should be used to communicate directly with the customer – and the customer shouldn’t have to pay for that service.

#2  The customer has rights and should be made aware of those rights and choices.  If the customer is uneasy driving a car with an outstanding recall, the option of a loaner vehicle should be made available.  And notification of the potential failure and recall does not release the car maker from responsibility and liability.

Given the recent wave of recalls sweeping the auto industry in the wake of GM’s ignition switch failure crisis, the value of an embedded telematics system in a car has been turned on its head.  No longer will drivers count on OnStar (or a like system) to save them when a vehicle crashes.  The new paradigm will be for car makers to use OnStar-like systems to contact their customers in advance to warn them of a potential vehicle failure.

The good news for the industry is that recall notifications are yet another powerful reason for cars to be connected and for those connections to be always live.  Tesla understands this and, for now, is providing an always live connection to its cars at no charge.

So, next time a car maker has a recall, or spontaneous vehicle fire, or unexplained failure, or has a newly discovered and potentially life-threatening flaw, the executives at the helm must ask themselves:  What would Tesla do?

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