Reports this week that the US’ National Highway Transport Safety Authority (NHTSA) is leaning towards an investigation into restrictive non-disclosure agreements forced onto Tesla Model S owners have been quashed by the car maker today.
Earlier this week, automotive news website Daily Kanban detailed stories from a number of Tesla owners who experienced suspension problems with their Model S sedans.
In one case, the owner of a 2013 model-year Tesla Model S, with around 110,000 kilometres on the clock, reported that his car’s suspension failed at moderate speeds when the “left front hub assembly separated from the upper control arm”.
At Tesla’s service centre he was informed that the “ball joint bolt was loose and caused the wear”, with technicians noting that this behaviour was “not normal”.
The owner reportedly claims that Tesla had initially refused to help out with the cost of repair, as the car was out of warranty. The report adds, though, that the company later offered to pay half of the US$3100 ($4300) repair cost, if the owner agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or “Goodwill Agreement”.
The legal letter would have prevented the owner from discussing “the terms of this agreement and the incidents or claims leading” to its signing, as well as agreeing to “not commence, participate or voluntarily aid in any action at law or in equity or any legal proceeding against Tesla or related persons or entities based upon facts related to the claims or incidents leading to or related to this Goodwill”.
This wording could potentially preclude any owner who signs from informing the relevant government authorities, such as NHTSA in the States, about a safety-related issue relating to the Model S.
Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for NHTSA, told The Guardian today that the agency was “examining the potential suspension issue on the Tesla Model S, and is seeking additional information from vehicle owners and the company”.
Thomas confirmed to Automotive News: “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”.
NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind told The Guardian: “Part of what we have to figure out is whether or not [non-disclosure agreements] might have impeded people making [complaints]”.
Late this afternoon, Australian time – close to midnight in California where Tesla is based – the car maker responded to these reports via a blog post titled “A Grain of Salt”.
Tesla says the owner cited above was a “very unusual use case” and that the “suspension ball joint experienced very abnormal rust”. The company noted that the “owner lives down such a long dirt road that it required two tow trucks to retrieve the car” and that the vehicle “was caked in dirt”.
Tesla also stated that its “Goodwill agreement” is there to ensure that it “doesn’t do a good deed, only to have that used against us in court for further gain”.
The company also goes on to question the motivations behind the piece run by the Daily Kanban, and asserts that NHTSA is satisfied with the information provided by the automaker and that no formal investigation, or pre-investigation phase, is under way.
The NHTSA has yet to release a statement of its own to either confirm or refute Tesla’s claim. We will update this article as more information comes to hand.
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