Tesla buyers confounded by delivery delays stretching for months

Key Points
  • Some Tesla customers are experiencing waits of weeks or months for their cars, and Tesla's promised delivery dates keep slipping.
  • One salesperson in California said staff is doing its best to answer questions about the delay, but does not have enough information from higher-ups to give precise answers customers are requesting.
  • The continuing delays are a sign that Tesla is still struggling with the "delivery logistics hell" that Elon Musk referenced in 2018, even as the company dramatically increases its vehicle production.

In this article

A Tesla Model S car is displayed at a Tesla showroom on November 5, 2013 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Some Tesla customers in Florida and California have experienced delivery delays of weeks or months, forcing them to rely on borrowed cars, costly rentals and ride-hailing apps while they weather the unexpected wait.

Tesla acknowledged Model S delays earlier this year, but the delivery issues extend to the Model Y, Tesla's crossover SUV and most popular vehicle in North America, according to several customers who spoke to CNBC.

The continuing delays are a sign that Tesla is still struggling with the "delivery logistics hell" that Elon Musk referenced in 2018 as the company dramatically increases its vehicle production. The company delivered more than 201,250 vehicles in Q2, a company record and a 144% increase from the year-ago quarter. Supply chain shortages, which the company discussed on its last two earnings calls, may also be playing a part in the delays.

A Tesla sales employee in California told CNBC that sales and delivery staff are doing the best they can to answer questions from upset customers, but do not have enough information from higher-ups or the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, to answer them precisely. This person asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press about company matters.

The employee said a colleague in another state resigned after managers threatened to fire him last quarter because he "broke the chain of command" by sending an e-mail to CEO Elon Musk and other managers in Fremont seeking information about the Model S delays.

After that, some sales staff felt hesitant to seek further details on behalf of customers, the sales employee said. CNBC reviewed internal correspondence corroborating the sales employee's account of events.

Generally, sales and delivery workers are aware that Tesla has faced parts shortages and challenges implementing the use of new machinery at the Fremont plant, this person said. Those issues were discussed by executives on prior Tesla earnings calls.

The dates keep slipping

One bemused Tesla customer, Steve Salem, placed his order for a long-range all wheel drive Model Y with premium interior and silver metallic paint on May 31. He had test-driven the vehicle outside of New York City, and later ordered online, arranging to pick up the car in Los Angeles where he would soon be living.

According to records and correspondence he shared with CNBC, Tesla's site initially said a Model Y should be available in an estimated 4 to 8 weeks, putting the late end of his estimated delivery window around the week of July 26.

After placing his order online, paying a $100 non-refundable fee to do so, the Tesla site showed Salem a new estimated delivery window with Aug. 10 as the latest possible delivery date. The dates continued to change in his Tesla account, and Salem says he did not receive apologies from sales staff or even email notifications with each change. The date range shifted all the way into October at one point, and then back to a date in late August. As of Monday this week, the estimated date was between Sept. 4 and Sept. 24.

Three other customers who are waiting for Model Y and Model S vehicles also told CNBC that they had to keep checking their accounts to detect changes to their estimated delivery dates.

While he hasn't given up on his Tesla, Salem said he might have to eventually. "I'm fortunate that I'm not in desperate need for a vehicle. But I'd like to drive the car," he said.

He arranged financing through a third-party lender, and doesn't expect any trouble getting another loan approved. But delays could effect his loan rate, and he will also need to get a new insurance quote. "It's a hassle," he said. "At a certain point do you say the heck with this and try to get something else? It's frustrating -- not just the delays but the total lack of communication."

Tesla cars are delivered to a showroom in Brooklyn, New York on April 25, 2019.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

If Tesla cannot firm up a delivery date, Salem said he may order a Ford Mach-E or revert to a high-performance internal combustion engine vehicle. The Model Y was going to be his first battery electric.

Another would-be owner of a long-range, all-wheel-drive Model Y in Southern California ordered from the Tesla site and received a confirmation by e-mail on June 6. This customer, who asked to remain unnamed to avoid confrontations on social media, had roughly the same experience as Salem.

She shared records indicating that her original estimated window for delivery was between Aug. 4 and Aug. 24 in Burbank, California. The date slipped repeatedly, and she says the company never proactively reached out to her about the changes.

When she saw the dates changing in her Tesla account online, she texted a sales employee to ask whether the delivery dates would keep getting pushed further out. The employee failed to give specifics, but reassured her that staff would keep an eye out for a black Model Y that may become available sooner in the area.

In one text message to this sales employee, this customer asked if there were problems in manufacturing. The employee replied in early August that Tesla had manufacturing delays due to a chip shortage, and said many other car companies were dealing with the same thing.

As CNBC has previously reported, chip shortages have recently caused production and delivery delays of Ford's Mustang Mach-E crossover and in July, caused Rivian to delay production and deliveries of its debut RIT electric pickup, and R1S SUV (but not its commercial delivery vans which it is making for Amazon).

This customer is now expecting to receive her Tesla some time between Sept. 8th and Sept. 28th. She told CNBC she has spent more on rentals and ride-sharing than she and her fiancee planned to spend leasing and insuring their Model Y from Tesla.

She's willing to wait for the Tesla, but wants an explanation from the company. And now, since she's planning to be out of town for a few weeks, she is worried the company will make her wait months more if she can't take delivery.

Finally, two customers who have been waiting for Tesla's higher-end Model S luxury sedans told CNBC they have been waiting for months.

One engineer, who works in utility-scale renewables, ordered his Model S Plaid in January, and planned to take delivery at the Ft. Meyers, Florida, Tesla dealership. He asked to remain un-named citing privacy concerns, and said he is annoyed every time a YouTuber shows up in a video with a Model S Plaid. It made him wonder if the company is allowing people to cut the line if they have dedicated fan accounts on social media.

While he has already waited for months, he said he will never give up on getting his dream car from Tesla. He is drawn to the Model S Plaid's design, performance and the appeal of a vehicle that will have new features added or old features refined via over the air software updates.

Barry Stuppler, founder of a rare coins and precious metals wholesale business, first ordered a Model S Plaid in January, as CNBC previously reported. On Aug. 10, he told CNBC, Tesla moved his delivery date to the very end of the third quarter -- Sept. 21 through Sept. 30.

Last week, he went to a Mercedes dealer and configured and ordered an all-electric Mercedes 450 EQS, with no deposit required. The sales staff there said he would have a price quote and vehicle identification number by late September, and he could take delivery in November. He said if the Mercedes arrives before his Tesla, and isn't more than the price he's expecting, he'll cancel the Model S Plaid order.

Even famous people aren't immune. On Tuesday, rock musician David Crosby tweeted that a Tesla he ordered seven months ago has still not showed up, and alleged that Tesla had "lied to us 4 times about when we would get it."

Crosby was not immediately available for comment.

Tesla and Troy Jones, the company's Vice President of North American Sales, Service and Delivery, did not immediately respond to a request for further information.

Here's how Tesla boosted profits with production changes
Here's how Tesla boosted profits with production changes