When the sleek, electric Tesla Model S went on sale in 2012, Tesla Motors Inc. promised an unmatched customer experience, even if the car broke down.
It wouldn't be easy. Tesla had 15 service centers worldwide; BMW and Mercedes-Benz had more repair shops in Southern California alone. So Tesla, reluctant to do business with franchised dealers, tried a novel strategy.
If the Model S needed repair, Tesla would dispatch a technician called a Ranger. If the technician could fix the Model S on the spot, he would. If not, the Ranger would deliver the car to one of Tesla's factory-owned service centers. The price: $100.
"We've revised our pricing such that Ranger Service for Model S and Roadster is now a $100 flat fee per visit, regardless of how far away you live from a Tesla Service Center," Joost de Vries, then vice president of global service at Tesla, wrote in a 2012 blog post.
"Our goal is to take care of your car in a way no one has ever done before."
But that was then.
Now, some customers who bought a Model S based on such assurances feel that Tesla has gone back on its word. Sometime earlier this year, Tesla started charging well above $100 to customers who don't live near a service center.
Among them is Brian Manke of Chesapeake, Va., who balked at a $606 quote to have his Model S delivered to Tesla's service center in Raleigh, N.C., 202 miles away, for repairs under warranty.
He doesn't regret his purchase. "It's an awesome car," Manke said, "and it only gets better the more you drive it." Yet he can no longer recommend Tesla with such gusto to neighbors.
"Ever since I got my Model S, I've had a bunch of people ask me: 'What do you do for service?'" Manke said. "I'd say, 'Oh, they pick it up for $100.' It's going to change people's tune a little bit now when I tell them that it's going to be at least $600."