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Tesla's Recall: Now This Is How You Do PR

A recall is never good news for a car company. But founder Elon Musk has handled the situation with smooth moves.
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On Tuesday night, electric car manufacturer Tesla announced it is recalling a slew of Model S sedans manufactured between May 10 and June 8. The cause, according to a blog post by founder and CEO Elon Musk, is a faulty mounting bracket in the car's backseat.

"This reduces our confidence that the left hand seat back will be properly retained in the event of a crash," Musk wrote. Musk didn't specify the exact number of cars being recalled, but a filing with the National Highway Safety Administration reports that 1,228 vehicles could be affected, though Tesla estimates only about 20 percent actually are. (Telsa forecasts selling 21,000 vehicles by the end of 2013.) Requests for comment by Tesla were not immediately returned.

A recall is never good news for any company, but I suspect this particular one will hardly slow down the car manufacturer. For one thing, the number of recalled vehicles is tiny, especially when you think of the 2.7 million Jeep vehicles Chrysler is now recalling due to crash protection issues in their fuel tanks. Unlike Chrysler, which received a recall request from the National Highway Safety Administration on June 3rd, the Tesla recall was voluntary. According to Musk's post, no customer complaints or injuries have been reported and no seats have actually detached.

This is not the first time Tesla has issued a recall. In 2009, the company recalled 345 Tesla Roadsters due to an issue with the rear hub. A year later, the company recalled 439 more due to fire safety issues in the electrical system. Neither of these issues have done much to tarnish Tesla's near spotless record, which includes a Consumer Reports score of 99 out of 100, making it the magazine's top-rated car on the market.

Unlike Fisker Automotive, a failed electric vehicle company that issued recalls and suffered from a reputation for spontaneous car fires, Tesla's troubles are considerably less dangerous. And from a communications standpoint, Musk has managed the situation expertly. He got to the story before his customers did and explained clearly and concisely the nature of the problem. More importantly, he outlined exactly why there's no need for "undue alarm." And, unlike other car companies, which require customers to bring recalled cars in to a dealership, Musk also laid out a gameplan that's favorable to its well-heeled customers: "Tesla will pick up the car at a location of the owner’s convenience, provide a Model S loaner if needed, perform the work and bring the car back to the owner a few hours later." 

Judging by the size and scope of this recall, relative to the millions of cars that are recalled each year, this small bump in the road seems unlikely to do much damage to Tesla's glowing reputation.

Last updated: Jun 19, 2013




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