WASHINGTON -- U.S. auto safety regulators have chastised Tesla Motors over reports that it used nondisclosure agreements with consumers in exchange for covering out-of-warranty repair costs on some of vehicles.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman said in a statement that the agency learned of a “troublesome” Tesla nondisclosure agreement last month over a repair issue that could have safety implications.
“The agency immediately informed Tesla that any language implying that consumers should not contact the agency regarding safety concerns is unacceptable, and NHTSA expects Tesla to eliminate any such language,” said NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas.
A post Wednesday by the Daily Kanban, an automotive blog, reported on three instances in which Tesla owners claimed to have been asked by the company to sign such agreements, called “Goodwill Agreements.”
In one, Tesla reportedly offered to pay half of the $3,100 repair bill for a customer whose 2013 Model S suspension failed at just 70,000 miles, according to the post. In exchange, the customer was asked to keep the offer and “incidents or claims leading or related to our provision of the Goodwill,” confidential. The language, the blog post said, appeared to imply that customers accepting the deal would be barred from reporting the incident to NHTSA as a potential safety issue.
Tesla representatives told the agency that it was not the company’s intention to dissuade owners from contacting NHTSA, the spokesman said.
In addition, NHTSA has begun a “pre-investigatory” examination of potential suspension failures on the Model S reported by the Daily Kanban, and is seeking additional information from the company and owners, the spokesman said.
Tesla late Thursday issued a lengthy rebuttal to the reports and said it hasn’t discouraged customers from reporting issues to regulators.
“There is no safety defect with the suspensions in either the Model S or Model X,” the company said in a blog post. Tesla said it never asked a customer to sign a document preventing them from talking with NHTSA.
"That is preposterous,” Tesla said.
On rare occasions when repairs are discounted or conducted for free, customers are asked to sign a “goodwill agreement,” Tesla said in its blog.
“The basic point is to ensure that Tesla doesn’t do a good deed, only to have that used against us in court for further gain,” the company said.
A Tesla spokesperson confirmed to Automotive News on Friday that the company is planning to change the language of the goodwill agreement to make it explicit that consumers were not barred from reporting any issues to NHTSA.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been swift in responding to news reports before. In February 2013, he fired back at the New York Times, releasing vehicle logs he said contradicted a review that was critical of the Model S.
David Undercoffler and Bloomberg contributed to this report.
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