Tesla Accused of Inflating Electric Vehicle Range in Journalistic Investigation

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A recent journalistic investigation by Reuters has raised concerns about Tesla’s alleged inflation of electric vehicle (EV) range numbers, potentially misleading consumers for several years. The report suggests that the company may still be employing such practices. Furthermore, customer complaints regarding reduced EV range were handled by a specialized team of employees known as the “diversion group.” There are claims that Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, may have played a role in initiating this scheme, bordering on fraudulent practices.

Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash

The range of an EV from a fully charged battery is a crucial factor influencing consumers’ decisions on which electric car to buy, if at all. The “range anxiety” phenomenon, which refers to the fear of running out of charge before reaching a charging station, was once a significant obstacle to electric vehicle adoption.

Reuters alleges that Tesla aimed to tackle these fears through algorithmic adjustments that estimated remaining range. When the battery was fully charged, the algorithm displayed an optimistic forecast to the driver. As the battery level dropped below 50%, the algorithm presented more realistic figures. To ensure drivers were not left stranded, a “buffer” was provided, enabling them to drive approximately 24 kilometers beyond the point when the battery appeared empty.

According to sources within the company, Elon Musk himself played a role in developing the algorithm for optimistic range estimates. The intention was to present drivers with favorable figures when considering a Tesla purchase. The aim was to instill a sense of confidence by showing a range of 350 to 400 miles (560–640 kilometers) when viewing a fully charged vehicle. During the time of developing these algorithms, Tesla had only two models for sale, the discontinued two-door Roadster and the high-end Model S sedan. Currently, the company offers more affordable options, including the Model 3 sedan and the Model X and Model Y crossovers, and there are plans to reintroduce the Roadster alongside the launch of the Cybertruck.

Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash

Reuters was unable to confirm if these range-inflating algorithms are still in use. However, the investigation did uncover a scenario where Tesla was faced with a surge in demand for vehicle servicing. To address this, the company introduced “virtual service” to diagnose and resolve issues remotely. This initiative led to a deluge of complaints regarding lower-than-expected range, as reported by customers who believed the figures displayed on their vehicles were accurate.

In response, a “diversion group” was formed at Tesla’s Las Vegas office to cancel service appointments, each costing the company $1,000. The atmosphere in this department resembled a call center, complete with a metal gong struck whenever an appointment was canceled. Employees were trained to explain to customers that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved range estimates were merely projections and not factual indicators. Furthermore, they offered advice on how to increase range by altering driving habits. When remote diagnostics showed no issues impacting range, customers were not informed, and the case was closed, as per company directives.

Tesla has faced regulatory scrutiny in the past for discrepancies in advertised range figures. The company was fined $2.1 million in South Korea for misleading advertisements with inflated range numbers between August 2019 and December 2022. The Korean Fair Trade Commission found that Tesla did not adequately inform customers about the significant range drop in low-temperature conditions, which could result in a decrease of up to 50.5% from the advertised range.

In conclusion, Tesla’s approach to presenting range figures has raised questions about transparency and consumer trust. As the EV market continues to grow, regulators and consumers alike seek more accurate information to make informed choices. The company’s ability to adapt and address these concerns will play a significant role in shaping its reputation and the future of electric mobility.

Author Profile

Martin Harris
I'm Martin Harris, a tech writer with extensive experience, contributing to global publications. Trained in Computer Science, I merged my technical know-how with writing, becoming a technology journalist. I've covered diverse topics like AI and consumer electronics, contributing to top tech platforms. I participate in tech events for knowledge updating. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, photography, and aim to clarify technology's complexities to readers.

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