Where the Model S Fails

Where the Model S Fails

I took my test drive of a Model S today in Portland, Oregon. As a long-time BMW owner, I was very pleased that the ride and handling (with steering in Sport mode), was very similar to a 5-series. Additionally, these are beautiful cars in person and will turn lots of heads. Unless you get the no-touch entry with the Tech Package, however, you will be forever looking at smudgy door handles as the chrome practically shows your fingerprint every time you touch it to reveal the handle. The Tesla guys were constantly cleaning them today - please make the no-touch reveal standard!

Unfortunately the Tesla design team dropped the ball on the dash and console, as in person it looks cheap and unrefined. The dash stitching just looks out of place, and there's too much brushed chrome trim, some of which intersects other pieces by one piece being on top of the other (never seen that in a car). Those of you who are used to real wood like on a BMW or Mercedes will be disappointed, as none of the "wood" looks real in any way. The Piano Black is the only trim that doesn't look cheap to me (my opinion). The huge rectangular touchscreen and it's straight edges conflict with the mish-mash of dashboard curves, which is the opposite of the exterior, which is a smooth blend of graceful curves.

I'm still buying a Model S, however, as there's so much to like about this car, and it's truely revolutionary. I just wish the Tesla design team had copied the interior of a 5-series or X5, which are stylish, functional, and cohesive, with great attention to detail. In person, the exterior styling exemplifies the breakthrough product that is the Model S, the interior simply does not.

Steve_W | July 25, 2012

I have owned Lexus, Audi and MB autos, and have to say that the interior of the Model S is inferior to those cars. I have grave concerns with the seats, for example. I attended the DC event. The leather on the seats in several of the cars (including the Performance model I drove) appeared "stretched"; that is, the leather was not taut and form fitting ton the contours of the shell. When I commented about this to the rep, he replied that the cars had been driven by many people. But seriously, the cars were only a few weeks old (the car I drove had 1500 miles on it). If the seats looked shoddy with such low mileage and age, what will they look like after a year or two.
I also do not think the fit and finish is up to European or even Lexus status.
I canceled my Signature reservation, the above beingmerely some of my concerns. I also feel that a vehicle of this calibre and cost should include (or at least offer as an option) safety feature such as blind side detection and front collision avoidance systems. These features are avilable from upscale manufacturers such as MB, BMW,Lexus and even Caddy XTS (which sells for $61.5K fully loaded.
I still have a very low production reaservation (already got my configuration email), but will likely defer for 6 months to see whether Tesla makes any changes. I have 3 cars at the present time, and can wait.

Mel. | July 25, 2012

Steve W, you have to admit it is hard for most of us to believe that Teala cannot make seat comparabe to a Chevrolet, Volvo, or liar

jscottsanders | July 25, 2012

@mel, I'm not sure I understand your comment about Lexus. From an interior design and quality perspective they are right up there in terms of fit, finish, comfort. BMW is a superior drive, of course. My point is there is not really a comparison between the model s and those cars in that area, so anyone who is looking for that is probably going to be disappointed.

@steve I didn't notice that about the seats but that sounds pretty bad.

Brian H | July 25, 2012

With ICE cars, the difference between standard and upscale mechanically is not that great, or expensive to create. So they concentrate on image and the cockpit. The M-S is different, in that almost all the additional value and cost is structural and mechanical, so there's less loose margin and money to throw at the comfort and image stuff. The famous e.g. is that a Caddy costs about 20% more than a Chevy to make, but buyers want a nice big price tag for status' sake, which leaves lots of cash to dedicate to the interior (to reinforce the upscale rich pimp feelings of the owners).

If that's what turns you on, go for it!

As for the nattering, as Elon said today, the shorts have means, motive and opportunity to badmouth the stock and company.

Rick et al; are you short, or long TSLA?

Volker.Berlin | July 26, 2012

Being asked for what exactly keeps the production run rate low at the moment, Elon offered the following answer. This is very much an answer to the original post of this thread, and I guess a lot of people on these boards will be glad to hear it. Emphasis mine.

There are several thousand parts in the car. Probably 97-98% of them are fine. There’s a couple percent that needs to be addressed. But you cannot ship a car that is 98% complete, or where there’s sort of 2% of the components are not of consistently high quality. So there’s probably a couple dozen suppliers where we have some challenges, where we’ve got to fix the supplier, bring it internal or get a different supplier.

These are not big things. That’s very important. Honestly, sometimes the most ridiculously silly things. Like it could be a piece of carpet or a bit of interior trim that doesn’t have a flush condition or like there’s a piece of bright molding on the dashboard which doesn’t exactly follow where it has an intersection with another piece of bright molding. That intersection doesn’t have the right press. So there are these little things that are extremely annoying. [laughter] But we just can’t be delivering cars that don’t have an outstanding fit and finish.

Of those sort of couple dozen parts, almost all of them are like interior soft trim issues. So it’s not like there’s some important fundamental technology thing. Like our battery pack and power train is in great shape. Chassis is in great shape, and body and paint. Obviously we want to keep refining it and make sure that the gaps and fits are as close to perfection as physics will allow, but obviously the vexing things are a bunch of seemingly trivial interior components.

Perhaps though it’s just because we assumed those things wouldn’t be problematic, and they were more problematic than we realized. We’ve since beefed up our interior trim engineering group considerably, and [unintelligible] in the future.

steven.maes | July 26, 2012

+1 Volker. This one gave me confidence ...

foto | July 26, 2012

Thanks VB.
I read into Elon's statement that they at Tesla have either noticed or listened to comments that the current state of the interior is vexing or a turn off.

Thanks TM for not settling for less than standard.

But it is comforting that the core of the vehicle is solid in areas like battery pack and power train. I guess that's the areas that matters to some.

Brian H | July 26, 2012

Someone commented some time ago that the "finish" details for any product end up being fussier and eating more time than just about anything and everything else. Earlier approximations and shortcuts suddenly come to the fore, and won't go away. :)

stevenmaifert | July 26, 2012

In the end, I think the success of Model S will boil down to a question of whether the driving experience will trump all the other nits that we pick at here. Having driven the car, I tend to think it will, but that question will be answered by the mass market once all the early adopters have their cars. And, the answer is months and months away; stay tuned...

Getting Amped Again | July 26, 2012

Brian H - I don't have any position in Tesla's stock. As I stated a few times before, I'm number 8756 on the waiting list for a Model S, and I want to see them succeed as a company. I just feel the interior is the weak point in the car, and doesn't come close to the style and refinement of any of the luxury brands I've owned in the past 20 years (BMW, Lexus and MB). This is solely my opinion, and I'm admittedly a car enthusiast, not an A-to-B'er.

My reason I created the original post was to bring the subject to Tesla's attention. Sure they have a backlog of early adopters, but when that's gone they are going to have to compete totally on the merits of the vehicle.

Go sit in a new Lexus or BMW that costs $65,000. Their interiors are WAY nicer, and if they decide to create an all-electric luxury sedan you can bet it will have the same design aesthetic as their ICE vehicles. Don't be naive that these companies don't have the technology. BMW already has cars coming out in 2013 (i3 and i8), and if the Model S is a success they will surely create direct competition for it.

Just because I pointed this out doesn't mean I have negative feelings about Tesla or the Model S. I'm buying a Model S - period. But I only keep cars for three years and if Telsa wants to make me a repeat buyer they're going to have to offer me something that's better than BMW's 2016 i-whatever, and they're going to have to improve the car's interior to accomplish that. Only time will tell.

Steve_W | July 26, 2012

Mel, I am not certain what you are implying by your statement "Steve W, you have to admit it is hard for most of us to believe that Teala cannot make seat comparabe to a Chevrolet, Volvo, or liar". Do you think I am lying? I only reported what i observed. I want for Tesla to succeed. But the interior of the car, and especially the seats, leave a lot to be desired. As I said, I commented on the issue of the seat leather to the Tesla rep, and he merely attributed the problem to the cars being test cars. Maybe that is why the leather seemed stretched in the cars, but I don't buy it. Not when the cars were only a few weeks old and only had about 1500 miles on them. I regret that I did not take pictures, so you would believe what I saw.

I am not bent out of shape by the lack of cup holders (I don't eat or drink in a car), but do wish there was more storage space for sunglasses, coins (for tolls), etc.

I gave them $45,000 in deposits ($40,000 for the Signature reservation and $5,000 for the production model), and have waited nearly 3 years for the car to be produced. I am still waiting for the refund of the $40,000 deposit from the canceled Signature model.

As i indicated, the interior is not the sole reason I canceled the order on the Signature, but it is one reason. In the three years since I placed my initial deposit, I have suffered 3 retina detachments in my right eye and one retina detachment in my left eye. As a result, safety features in a vehicle have taken on an increased importance. I praise Tesla for achieving a 5 star crash test rating, but they have fallen down on not including systems to prevent (avoid) a collision in the first. Features such as blind side detection system, a collision avoidance system where the car automatically applies the brakes if an accident is immenient, headlights that turn in the direction that the car is steering. My 2005 MB has a front collision avoidance system and turning headlights, so why can't the Tesla? Due to changed circumstances, such safety features are now more imporatant to me that 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. Such features can be found in vehicles costing $50K/60K from other manufacturers. So why does Tesla not include such safety features, even if optional. based on conversations with the Tesla reps, I believe they are rushing the car to market (which is understandable). They told me that they are aware of this deficiency in the car, have already developed some of these safety features and will add these features to the car, but do not know whether they will be upgradable on a car in the field. I will likely defer the production car (P258; already received the email to configure and order) for 6 months, hoping they add some (if not all) of these features to the car.

BTW, I have no stock or other interest in Tesla, and no intention of buying the stock. My comments are based solely on my observation and current needs, which I hope Tesla will listen to in order to improve the car. It is a wonderful car to drive; world class in that department. Now they just need to attend to the interior and safety features to truly make the car the best in the world.

Teoatawki | July 26, 2012

So it turns out that building a brand new car from scratch is a lot more like building software than I had realized. The last 20% takes 80% of the effort here, too!

Sudre_ | July 26, 2012

I have friends that would love to buy/lease one if it is BMW since they are all about BMW. I like to encourage BEVs from any manufacturer altho I prefer Tesla.

The I3 looks like a little 4 seater compact car... not a full sedan. My wife would love it. Hopefully in the next couple years (3-6 years) when BMW actually comes out with it Tesla will have the GEN III on the way. (looks like they may be using the skateboard concept)

The I8 appears to be a 2 seater sports car hybrid, not a sedan. Not what I am looking for.

The BMW ActiveE All-Electric Coupe only goes 100 miles to the charge,
They are looking for drivers (as of January) now but again the range is way to limited for my needs.
There it usual I can't own/lease one anyway because I am in the wrong city.
"German automaker BMW is now officially accepting applications for the electric ActiveE coupe to be leased by 700 drivers in Boston, Hartford, New York, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco."

No competition for Tesla if they are only leasing to a select market. I am sure they will catch up but by that time Tesla will have all the whistles and bells and a 500+ mile range. Elon is working towards perfection.

Volker.Berlin | July 26, 2012


"Steve W, you have to admit it is hard for most of us to believe that Teala cannot make seat comparabe to a Chevrolet, Volvo, or liar". Do you think I am lying?

Giving the benefit of the doubt (and taking into account that the sentence does not make sense on a grammatical level) I assume that Mel was typing on a device that has the keyboard replaced by some "smart spell checker" (e.g., iPad or Android tablet) and the word that turned out "liar" was actually another mistyped car brand.

They told me that they are aware of this deficiency in the car, have already developed some of these safety features and will add these features to the car, but do not know whether they will be upgradable on a car in the field.

That makes an awful lot of sense to me. If you have any such assistant feature in your car, you want it to work reliably. A safety feature that doesn't work reliably is bound to cause more harm than good. Getting these kinds of systems to a production level in any particular car, let alone multiple of them that potentially interact, takes considerable time. Not only does Tesla want (and need) to get the Model S out the door, also many buyers (including myself) are more than willing to take the car without those features today, if given the choice to wait another year and then get it with them.

I think you are on the right track: The Model S is very promising, and if these safety features are a priority for you, just wait another couple of months. You will get what you want in the end, it just cannot be done all at the same time.

Volker.Berlin | July 26, 2012

RickS_8756, Steve_W, if you don't have TSLA stock, today is a good day to buy some! ;-)

Mel. | July 26, 2012

Seve w, sorry, sorry, sorry, I thought I typed in Kia..all I was saying was that Tesla must know how to make a seat, I have never seen a Tesla, but I have sat in all these basic cars,and the seats were satisfactory, except for the Lexus

Mel. | July 26, 2012

Volker.Berlin. , thank you, I do have huge hands for this I-pad .

Mel. | July 26, 2012

Jscottsanders, I am leasing a Lexus while waiting for my Tesla, it is a reliable car but I feel I am driving a Lincoln Town Car made in the 70's. I was in 335I convertible, and my wife takes the corvette, leaving me with,, well you know

Steve_W | July 26, 2012

Mel, no problem. I suggest you try to look at one of the cars in the Tesla showroom. Regarding my comments about the seats, I read today (after my above postings) that the test vehicles may not have been actual production cars, and thus, not up to the fit and finish of the cars that will be delivered to owners. On the one hand, i hope this is true, and that the cars delievered to the owners do not exhibit the issues I saw in the test cars. On the other hand, if this is the case, I think it did a dis-service to Tesla, as the test vehicles were the cars that reviewers test drove for their write-ups. I would have thought that Tesla (actually any car manufacturer) would want to put their best foot forward when showing their products to the media, let alone potential purchasers.

Mel. | July 26, 2012

Steve W, I have seen pictures of the seats that appear worn and streached, it just appears really odd that any car company could put out such an inferior product.. Maybe I just have that Teala smile.,anyway I will be back to you when the car arrives in september, I hope I have a good report

Beaker | July 26, 2012

Perhaps the upholstery/seat supplier is one of those the list for replacement (in house or another supplier). Given Elon's nitpickeyness (is that a word?) he's probably fuming more over the stretched leather on the seats than we are.

BYT | July 26, 2012

I agree with Beaker! If Tesla pulled the Carbon Fiber trim because of the wear and tear they saw on these test drives, then I would bet my family jewels(the ones attached to me) that they obsered and will fix the leather issues as well. At least for the sake of my jewels Tesla?? :)

BYT | July 26, 2012


Timo | July 27, 2012

IMO Tesla is making miracles in their car. Somehow they manage to be superior to every other car manufacturer, and I'm not talking about engineering and technology only, they seem to be able to create extremely high quality in every aspect of the car with very low cost, which means they do something fundamentally different compared to other car manufacturers businesswise.

Vawlkus | July 27, 2012

People really need to keep in mind that Tesla does NOT have the resources to do EVERYTHING with their first mass produced car.

Wanting collision avoidance & blindspot warnings is all well and good, but Tesla does not have the resources YET to build and test those features to the nth degree like ICE manufacturers do.

Like the old saying: you can't HAVE your cake AND eat it too.

BYT | July 27, 2012

I hate that saying, What's the point of having cake if you can't eat it? :D

Beaker | July 27, 2012

I also think we were told about the carbon fiber, the areo wheels, and the banana leaf because it directly impacts the final look of the Model S. That means that unless they are changing the look of the seats to fix the problem, we're not gong to hear about it.

[soap box]
We're all in a heightened state of Model S awareness, and emotions run high ad delivery nears and gets pushed out. I went through a similar situation last year with an automated lighting company who also had supply chain quality issues for some new products, the parallels are amazing, and I have to say the Telsa forum members are holding it together better than the lighting forum members did... so far. :)
[end soap box]

Brian H | July 27, 2012

It's hard to do them in reverse order, is the point. Ba-Bing!

iholtzman | July 27, 2012

Drove the car today. Your comments are right on. The car's exterior and handling are first class. The interior fit and finsh and lack of storage compartments is second class. I will still get it but I sure hope they continue to make a few more improvements before mine arrives. The fit and finish carpeting leather stitching etc. was poor. Hopefully that was because it was an early production model.
I drive a 2005 VW Phaeton. The interior in my Phaeton is far superior.

Getting Amped Again | July 29, 2012

All - take a look at the dashboard rendering for the Model X that is posted on this site. It has some of the same lines as the Model S, but without the garish dash stitching (on a rubber dash no less), the skinny intersecting brushed trim (which makes the huge touchscreen look gargantuan and out of place), and overall jumble of curves and lines accented by the "put brushed chrome trim everywhere" design approach. It's a BIG improvement over the current Model S design. If Tesla can get the details right (like making wood accents look like real wood), this will be a fantastic looking dashboard. It has forward-thinking design, not Back To The Future design! (see 1979 AMC Pacer interior here -

Please Tesla - make a 2013 Model S with this dashboard! Maybe you can solve your production problems AND give us an interior that harmonizes with the exterior all at the same time.

Getting Amped Again | July 29, 2012

By "this site" I mean the Tesla website.

Brian H | July 29, 2012

Notice the huge door pocket in the Pacer?!

Kinda confused about the optical bubble effect in front of the driver. Some kind of HUD effect?

jerry3 | July 29, 2012

The window is very curved at that point, I think the glass bends 90 degrees, and there is a magazine that probably shows the specs for the car.

Brian H | July 29, 2012

Yeah, I'd forgotten just how drastic the Pacer's glass shaping was. Rode in one once or twice when young, and don't recall any excessive optical effects, though.

jerry3 | July 29, 2012

It's the mostly-white magazine on the dash that makes it apparent.

vouteb | July 30, 2012

Musk announced that following feedback they intend to make interior changes.....


Getting Amped Again | July 30, 2012

Please see my new post "Crow Eating Time". Basically I've learned that some of the things I was told (like needing the Tech Package for no-touch door handle reveal), and some of the things I saw (prototype cars and material samples), were outdated or incorrect. The interior of the Model S I saw yesterday in Bellevue, WA was pretty nice, although I still feel it's a tick below the other luxury cars I've owned. Still buying a Model S (#8756).

Larry Chanin | July 30, 2012

Hi Rick,

Thanks for the update. However, you should know that your initial posting made it into the on-line press. In this article Priuses Are for Losers the author states:

So far, though, the defects catalogued by the car’s few detractors have been reassuringly picayune. One early buyer was frustrated that the car doesn’t creep forward when it’s in idle, as does a gas-powered car—which actually seems like an improvement to me. A post called “Where the Model S Fails” on one of Tesla’s customer forums points out that, in the version without retractable door handles, the chrome gets all smudgy when you touch it. My own most irksome finding was that the cruise-control stalk was where I expected the blinker to be, so that I failed to signal any of my turns until I was halfway through them.

So apparently he has lumped your remarks about smudgy chrome along with other picayune remarks.

His article has provisions for comments so you have the option of disputing why smudges aren't picayune, or remarking about your revised point of view. ;-)


jerry3 | July 31, 2012

The haters are going to hate regardless. Most folks will just ignore them as a bad noise. There are still Prius haters after 16 years of success--no one will change the haters' opinion but they will become marginalized.

m67tesla | August 3, 2012


Volker.Berlin | August 6, 2012

For the record, there has been a follow-up post by RickS_8756: