Why Tesla owners get defensive about their Model S

Frequently in these forums someone will say something negative about the Model S and then is surprised at the ferocity level of people defending the car.

This post is an attempt to show why this is so.

Yesterday I had the task of upgrading my nav software/data on my wife's 2011 Infiniti QX56. Here's what happened.

First, I asked my wife why she needed it upgraded, "because I'm tired of the nav telling me to turn right into a brick wall". OK, it's way out of date...

Do a google search to find how to get a nav update. Find the funky Navteq web site, pay $179 for the update. Wait three weeks for the package of DVDs to arrive in the mail. Open the package, scan the installation instructions, 18 small type pages and one badly worded errata page.

Start the install. The first thing is to turn on the engine, disable the bluetooth system, turn off the engine. Wait 10 seconds, turn on the engine, and start the install. Oops, first remove all CDs from the CD/DVD player. While the engine is still running, put in the disk marked 0. Go through a series of badly worded confirmation screens with a rotary dial and push button control interface. It then asks for the activation key. Activation key? Search the packaging, no activation key. Go back to my home computer, search for the now 3 week old purchase email, find the 14 digit activation code, print out the email, bring it back to the still running car.

At this point, I start to get worried about carbon monoxide build up, so I open the other garage door (only had one open initially), and close the garage/house door.

I use the completely screwed up interface to select 14 individual digits for the activation key. The install starts and informs me it'll take 84 minutes. 84 minutes for disk 0? Or for all five disks? Who knows. I leave the car running (software specifically says to not turn off engine) and go do something else.

My son runs in, "Dad, the car's running!" - tell him that I'm doing an upgrade, and stay away from the car, the exhaust the hot, etc.

I go back to check the progress, slip on the water the AC system is pumping out, get back up, software still installing. Decide to turn off the climate control and auto headlights to save some gas, make a mental note to try to remember to turn these things back on when finished. Look at the gas gauge, and worry I'll have enough gas to complete the upgrade.

After about an hour (not 84 minutes), disk 0 is done. After fending off my wife who wanted to shut off the car ("Don't touch it!"), I keep following the instructions, which aren't quite what the car is doing, but I re-enable bluetooth (hoping that my wife's cell phone pairing is still remembered), and start on disk 1. Oh yeah, the errata had two options about what could happen at a point, neither of which occurred, so I just fake it and select what I think are the correct options. A 56 minute estimate comes on now. I wonder why they give these estimates since they bear no resemblance to how long it actually takes. I go through disk 2, disk 3 and disk 4 and all told, it take about 2 1/2 hours to finish the upgrade.

I renable the settings I turned off (headlights, climate control), and as I'm typing this I just realized I forgot to put back the CDs I took out of the CD player.

So ... this, in a nutshell, is why we Model S owners passionately defend our car against detractors...

So...Model S owners passionately defend their cars against detractors because your Infiniti has a poorly designed navigation maps upgrade procedure?

What? That's what you said.

I don't really mind people defending their cars, even passionately. That passion is part of what makes forums like this work.

It would be nice, though, if the passionate defenders would at least wait until someone actually criticized the car (based on my experience in another thread).

I know exactly what you mean. I have always owned cars that had their distinct "personality quirks". Your story reminds me of my Saturn Outlook SUV, where it costs over $700 to "upgrade" the navigation system (which consists of buying a new DVD from GM). The same car also has a few quirks that I had gotten used to dealing with. For example, if you enter the car from the passenger side (let's say you need to plug in a tire inflator to the 12v outlet) and you start the car, when you shut off the car, pull the key, and close the door, all the auxiliary equipment remains running...forever or until the battery runs out, whichever comes first (and guess which comes first). When I told the dealer about this, he said that was a "design feature". I have come to accept that among other quirks and did not make too big of a deal. Like I said, every car I have ever owned has come with its own personality.

However, for whatever reason, either car owners in general are a more discerning group than I had realized (since I never made it a habit to frequent car forums before), or some Tesla owners in particular have a very low sensitivity threshold. Some of the negative comments about Tesla cars in this forum seem way over the top, and I can never understand why anyone would go to an Internet forum to complain about poor delivery or service other than to record a "dear diary" moment.

On the other hand, the "troll patrol" is getting out of hand too. Why keep a negative post alive by constantly berating the original poster, and thereby keeping the post at the top of the recent posts list? Makes no sense to me. Many posters writing a strongly negative post never come back to check on the thread anyway. A better response is to "volkerize" them (new verb). That is, find a post that addresses the negative poster's lack of knowledge or misinformation and bump it up with a new response on that thread (which I noticed some of you already do), or simply create a separate, positive, informative thread addressing the same issue. No need for hand-to-hand combat, especially if you think you are wrestling with a pig troll. We should care as much about the cyber environment as our car choice says we do for the physical environment. I admit I am not the best at always showing restraint but I will make the effort.

totally agree OP. If people nitpicked their ICE cars the way they do the Tesla they'd be riding a horse. No problem to me if people post asinine things like seat belt position off or AC fan making a small sound. But in the big picture the MS is a perfect machine that will change the world.

Very well written, Shop! Made me laugh and cry at the same time:-)

We tend to forget how painful ICE cars can be and what a huge advance the Model S really is.

I need to visit my Tesla now and give her a big hug!

The reason people defend the Tesla, is that overall it is the best car ever made. By a long shot. It's better in every single category and keeps getting better month-by-month.

The infrastructure improves, the technology improves and all of those improvements are offered to current owners of the Model S.

When someone says "The Model S doesn't have . . . " I just remind them that is true now, but not necessarily always.

I also think Tesla fans are so vociferous and energetic because the forces of the status quo are so prone to FUD that every criticism, although ignorant or misinformed, is something we've all heard or ready multiple times before.

My suggestion is be measured in your criticism: saying you'd never buy a model S because of the lack of hooks to hang dry cleaning is brain dead.

Suggesting that additional cup holders would make your life easier with your three kids is just common sense.

But there are lots of solutions to almost any problem with a little ingenuity.

Well, it does get set up for some criticism with the Consumer Reports rating of 99 out of 100. I think it's a great car, of course, but I can see people looking at that rating and going straight for nit-picks (or even substantive criticisms, such as software bugs).

A co-worker just gave me an article on "The True Cost of Electric Vehicles" which was all about finding the hidden energy (or carbon) costs of driving an EV. (What about those batteries, huh? Lots of energy used producing them! And the low-weight components you use, they're expensive to produce, too! And...) Ultimately it didn't actually try to give me numbers to compare, so the whole "you may as well be driving a Tahoe" message just didn't resonate with me.

And it's possible I got a bit defensive in response.

Reduction of Cognitive Dissonance

Agreed. The MS, by excellence of design and forethought, spares owners innumerable hassles that are taken by ICE owners as normal, expected, inevitable. Anyone who a) is unaware of all these little/big "liberations", and b) denigrates the genius that went into putting them all in one package, literally "doesn't know what they are talking about." In addition to the "best car ever" rating by CR (covering ALL aspects, in balance) it is telling that Motor Trend made a point of saying that, for the first time ever, all 11 of their category-judges agreed on making the MS the COTY.

So it is hardly surprising that many/most criticisms come across as superficial, uninformed. At the very least, lacking in perspective: a home-run hitter does not need to be a great base-stealer.

I wouldn't classify Model S owners as "defensive"… I don't think that's the best term. Perhaps a more appropriate word would be "protective". Defensive implies insecurity, but I think if you talk to any Model S owner there is no insecurity whatsoever - in fact, it's quite the opposite.

I think Tesla owners do more harm than good when they make sweeping statements like "... overall it is the best car ever made. By a long shot. It's better in every single category..."

Really? Every single category?

It's not the fastest or quickest; nor is it the best handling. It's bereft of features (that many Tesla owners dismiss as superfluous) common in other cars in this price range. It's very expensive, and range-limited, even with SuperChargers.

And so on.

The Tesla has several big check marks:

1. It runs on electricity. For quite a long way. This is a near-religious experience for some people.
2. The driving experience is different from ICE cars in a way that most owners find very attractive.
3. Its extremely simple drive train means that reliability will likely be much better, and service and repair expenses will be lower (although Tesla's suggested $600 annual service charge is right in line with that of many ICE cars.)

The Mode S is a huge step towards an entirely different way of looking at personal transportation. But if you reflexively dismiss any criticisms, you simply reinforce the image of Tesla owners as "electric Moonies".

I don't think you apprehend the essence. Having experienced the MS, drivers, almost unanimously, swear they will never regress to an ICE car again -- because electric (as implemented by Tesla) is so superior. The preference strengthens with time, it does not fade or age or wear out.

The reflex sets in and won't go away.


I guess that Consumer Reports is wrong then.

But this is the stupid nit-picking I'm talking about.

It is the quickest. Until you ride in one you don't understand. 0-60 times don't matter. It just has more there for you, every moment.

It has the most interior room of any car it's size.

It has the most technology of any car, ever.

It has the simplest layout of any car.

It has the fewest moving parts.

It has more storage.


Contributors here make lists all the time of their favorite feature and there are 1000 opinions for 100 features: fast charging, acceleration, handling, interior, design, range.

But there are always the nitpickers and naysayers that value cup holders and coat hooks. Or lots of buttons. Or a built-in flashlight in the glove compartment.

Until you've drive the car, you are a fool showing your ignorance.

shop, great post.

@ Dramsey,

Those items you list are exactly among the things that make this "the best car ever made". You forget to list no CO2 emissions, reduction in refueling costs of over 70% (or more if using solar), and it's a domestic. A vehicle doesn't have to be the best in every category in order to be considered, by most, to be the best car ever made. For instance, the fact that it's electric, has a 200-300 mile range, comfortably seats four, is a fairly heavy and safe vehicle (not like the other EV golf carts), and not only that… the biggest bonus is that it has incredible power, handling and acceleration. Yet all everyone obsesses about are door pockets, cup holders and grab handles.

Well now that I think about it, maybe Tesla does need to include some fluff and candy because apparently none of this other groundbreaking stuff matters unless you have a decent cup holder.

"Until you've driven the car, you are a fool showing your ignorance."

You know, that sounds exactly like what Jim Jones told his acolytes.

Well, we shall see. Perhaps after I've drunk the Kool-Aid™, I'll agree.



Shop, nice post, but I gotta ask: QX56 is like a land aircraft carrier. Seriously, just yesterday I walked past one in the parking lot. Do you need to haul stuff or go off road?

It's the polar opposite of the S, man.

You've described what makes the car awesome, NOT what makes SOME Tesla owners behave like they are in a cult that requires the burning at the stake of all heretics.

I love my Model S. I'd like there to be more cup holders. Doesn't mean I'd prefer another car any more than it means I'd trade in my daughter just because I'd prefer that she didn't make such a fuss over naptime. It seems there are those who think all that they love is perfect and they can only love something that is perfect. Well, there are those of us who love just as intensely, but just don't turn off our critical eye.

The consumer reports gave us a 99/100. I think we should try for 100/100. Those of you who are intolerant to criticism are the same sorts who steered Detroit into the ground refusing to change while the rest of the world caught up and and surpassed us.

The Model S IS the best sedan in its class out there. At the current time, there is NO OTHER car I'd rather have (for any money). But that does not mean it is perfect. There is room for improvement. And unlike those of you who would allow your insistence that the Model S is perfect allow competitor to eventually catch up and pass us by, I prefer that the Model S continue to be the best sedan in existence by fixing the few flaws it has.

@HenryT2 - well said. Besides, my wife pointed out that the combination of drinks and MS acceleration might not be a good idea (and that she could get the laundry in the family car.)

And oddly enough... We ended up at the Tesla showroom in Natick MA after her pointing out that she did not like the cupholder options in my '06 BMW 535xi. We ordered that day. Guess we got a little distracted.

@HenryT2 +1

Many of what some consider complaints are merely incredulousness. "They can do THIS! How, the hell, can't they do THAT!

We expect a lot from Tesla and to my mind they have delivered admirably . . . and, like no other car company, they continue to deliver. So, when someone complains that the stereo presets aren't accessed when changing stations, they aren't really complaining, they're just amazed that in such an advanced car it hasn't been set up that way . . . yet!

For the most part I, too, am incredulous, but I love my car. And I count on loving it more as these things do become part of my car.

My neighbor drives a Bentley continental GT. I feel sorry for him, he doesn't know that I would trade my car for his even though the GT easily cost twice as much. It is not that I am too stupid to realize that a trade like that would be profitable but, know that I would have to wait a few weeks if not months to take delivery of two new Model ses after selling the GT on eBay.


Jim Jones had a Model S?

Do you know why it wasn't 100/100? Charging limitations and range inconvenience, exactly what the SC network is aimed at. Wait till next year.

Cupholders etc. had nothing to do with it.


Actually, they were ready to score it 110/100. But my point is, it could have been 111, or 120, or 200. The Model S is NOT perfect. But if they don't keep improving it, other car manufacturers WILL catch up. I think 99% of the people who can afford a Model S would not refuse to buy one for lack of cupholders. However, I believe many would gladly pay the extra couple hundred dollars (max) it would probably cost to integrate them. In any case, they need to keep improving if they want to stay ahead. Remember the original iPhone? The original iPad? The original iPod??? What primitive pieces of junk they look like now. But at the time, they were amazing. And every year, they improved them. I can just imagine the Model S falling by the wayside if eventually BMW or Lexus or someone were to introduce a car that basically reproduces the essence of the Model S, but with more creature comforts. That day WILL come. It's just a question of where Tesla will be when that happens.

@HenryT2 - the funny thing is that every time I do read about such as upcoming competitor (such as fx. RAV4 EV, the BMW i8, a future improved Leaf, etc) it keeps coming back to things that competitors just can't imitate, possibly ever: The supercharging network and Tesla Motors in general (a very different company).

However being to zealous about the Model S will just turn people into haters; sadly I know too many of those already.

@shop: ROFLMAO, great post! I laughed, I cried, I pitied you! A comedy of errors (by the automaker).

@Mike C: ROFL!

Most Model S quirks are software-fixable and will be addressed. (None of the few physical/hardware quirks bother me.) But what @shop went through . . . those were design flaws that aren't so easily fixed. (shrug)

P.S. I don't think most Model S owners are defensive, really. And I think sometimes what's interpreted as defensiveness is just tiredness/boredom at the repetition (e.g., oh yay, another post complaining about cupholders, another post asking why the car doesn't make me a martini, etc.).

Personally, I doubt that day will come. The economics for an ICE manufacturer are so bad that it would have to commit virtual harikari to put out a competitive product. Mercedes may finesse the inevitable by co-operating, but I don't see much hope for anyone else.

Anyhow, though perfection is unattainable, Musk is going to keep trying. :D Fear not.

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