The Model X 90D, which was bought new in May this year by Dr Sam Kovac, was parked on the Princes Highway in St Peters on July 26, when CCTV cameras caught the incident occurring.
Speaking to CarAdvice, Dr Kovac said there was nothing unusual about the events that led up to the incident.
“Just like a regular day, I arrived at work and started attending to pets committed to my care,” Kovac told CarAdvice.
“At about 2:30pm, while in consultation with a distressed owner of a sick pet, a nurse tapped me on my shoulder that something disastrously wrong had happened to my pride and joy.
"I walked out to the Princes Hwy to find my front door completely torn off the driver’s side, with leather and plastic strewn over the bitumen for the next 50 metres past my car.
“I met with a shaky truck driver who said that he was petrified as the Model X door opened into his truck and he thought he had killed the driver.”
According to Dr Kovac, the vehicle was locked and the key was more than 25 metres away in the veterinary clinic. After the incident, Tesla was called for support.
“I immediately called Courtney Johnson, the service adviser at Tesla, who asked the USA team to call me. Tesla USA called me and with no technical information about what had happened, advised me that they could organise a tow truck, but it’d cost me and I’d have to pay the tow driver directly.”
Having organised his own tow truck to take his Model X to a Tesla authorised repair centre, Dr Kovac says it took Tesla eight days to respond to his requests for an explanation, with the electric vehicle manufacturer having assessed the logs in the meantime.
A Tesla representative told CarAdvice the incident occurred due to the key fob being pressed and not as a result of any fault with the Model X vehicle in question.
“Model X contains an optional convenience feature whereby when the user double-clicks on the vehicle key fob, the driver-side front door will both unlock and open automatically. A second double-click on the vehicle key fob unlocks and opens the passenger-side front door,” the representative said.
“This 'Automatic Doors' feature, which is described clearly in the vehicle’s owner manual, is not enabled automatically. It requires that the owner turn it on by actively selecting it on the vehicle’s display.
"Our data records clearly show that the customer had this feature set to ‘on' at the time of the incident, and that both front doors of the car were unlocked and opened via two double-clicks of the key fob, four consecutive clicks, within operating proximity to the car.”
Dr Kovac disputes Tesla’s record of events, telling CarAdvice that at no point was the key fob ever pressed and nor was there ever any attempt to turn this feature on from the menu, claiming that it was on by default when he picked up the car from Tesla.
“I did not activate the key fob; again evidenced by timed CCTV footage, the two front doors unlocked and opened autonomously.” Kovac said.
According to Dr Kovac, he no longer feels safe or confident owning his Model X.
“This represents a serious safety design flaw and I'm concerned that this feature could have led to a fatality, should a motorcyclist or cyclist be driving past rather than a truck. Moreover, if my family or pets were in the vehicle at the time, a life could be lost.
“I'm genuinely scared to own this car as it poses a risk to my family who travel inside it. This isn't the first time it has happened to a Model X, with multiple reports overseas of this serious, dangerous design flaw.”
The dispute between owner and manufacturer has been ongoing for some time. Tesla has offered to buy the vehicle (post repair) for $115,000 - a significant reduction in the price of the car from new ($197,000). However, this offer of a buyback is not with admission of fault, only as regular business of trading the car in.
The Tesla representative claims that Dr Kovac’s recount of the story has changed over the course of time following the incident.
“During our conversations with the customer, he not only made it clear to us that understands how the doors function, but that he indeed pressed the key fob multiple times, causing the front driver and passenger doors to open. We’re glad that no one was harmed in this incident,” the Tesla representative said.
CarAdvice has requested to see any statements made by Dr Kovac to Tesla and is awaiting response.
For now, what is without doubt a convenience feature for owners has led to this rather unfortunate incident in which thankfully no one was hurt.
The footage does clearly show the vehicle's indicators flash right before the doors open, which is generally a sign that a button has been pressed on the keyfob. Nonetheless, whether the key was pressed, accidentally or otherwise, or if the car or the key fob malfunctioned, is unknown to us.
We will update the story further with additional comments as they come in.