Customers Revolt As Fix For Tesla's Touchscreen "Yellow Band" Problem Remains Elusive
Tesla's most unique feature continues to be one of its biggest headaches, as customers await touchscreen fixes.
In the conclusion to my upcoming book LUDICROUS: The Unvarnished Story Of Tesla Motors, I note that Tesla's giant touchscreen symbolizes the divergent perspectives on the most fought-over automaker in recent memory. If you love Tesla it's because you believe the size of its screen and the smartphone-style experience and aesthetics it brings represent the future of cars and Tesla's technological advantage, whereas the more critical perspective points out that the screen hasn't been matched by competition because it isn't automotive grade and that the cost-benefit analysis is trending toward the unfavorable side as time goes on. That's certainly what seems to be happening in the Tesla forums, as timelines for a fix to the latest "yellow band" problem stretch out and customers grow angry with Tesla's handling of the situation.
Starting late last year, Tesla began telling Model S and Model X customers whose touchscreens were developing the distinctive band of yellow around its edges that it wouldn't be replacing screens until a fix was developed this summer. Now, in the dog days of summer, a fix involving ultraviolet (UV) lights seems to have been developed but it appears that widespread availability is being pushed back until "early fall." According to one owner, Tesla sent the following text message about the issue and their response:
Hi this is the Tesla Service Team. Tesla has reviewed the issue with the yellow anomalies on the touchscreens and determined two courses of action to correct them. Our team is developing a procedure to correct the yellowing and "revive" the display. There will be no cost associated with this procedure while the vehicle is under warranty or if the issue is noted prior to the limited warranty expiring. This revive procedure will be available early Fall.
The second option is a replacement of the touchscreen with an updated revision that will resist any yellowing. As there will be a procedure to address the issue and the function of the screen is not affected, the replacement option is not covered by the vehicle's warranty. Let us know which direction you would prefer to go so we can adjust your appointment as such. Thank you!
Another communication from Tesla posted by an owner at TMC emphasizes that "this is a cosmetic anomaly, which has no impact on performance, function or reliability" and states that more information about the UV light treatment "will be available later this year." In the meantime, customers are being told that the yellow band problem will not entitle customers to free screen replacements, some have entered arbitration with the automaker, and threats of a class action lawsuit are increasingly being raised as questions swirl around the UV "revival" technique.
One of the first customers to report receiving the UV light treatment is Bonnie Norman, a longtime Tesla owner, investor, and active online community member. According to Norman, she was alerted to the possibility of receiving the UV fix in late June when the tool passed through (presumably for training purposes) and she received the treatment. In addition to posting before-and-after photos, Norman eventually posted a service invoice in response to skepticism from members of the Tesla Motors Club forum where she has been active for years. In a brief interview with The Drive Norman stated that (to the best of her knowledge) the fix involves about 15 minutes of labor and about four hours of curing time, and that the result was entirely satisfactory to her although Tesla was "extra cautious about any promises since they don't have long term data yet."
Norman's prominent position in the online Tesla fan community and close ties with the company prompted some suspicion, not only among Tesla critics and shorts but among owners who had been waiting for months without word of a fix as well. Though multiple owners now report receiving satisfactory results from the technique, one owner who had pushed for binding arbitration through the National Center for Dispute Settlement claims to have received the UV "revival" treatment twice from Tesla and that it failed to eliminate the yellow band. This owner received a lengthy reply from Tesla claiming that the issue was not its responsibility and that the "concern is not covered by the Warranty," and stated that Tesla had not issued a service bulletin for the issue, which it described as "environmental" rather than a "flaw" and that newer and/or "refreshed" cars would not exhibit the problem.
According to another owner in arbitration, Tesla is using Norman's tweet "to argue that their repair works and that customers are happy with the solution," another said Tesla's lawyer "quoted [Norman] from Twitter telling everyone to 'be patient, and wait for the UV fix'" while yet another owner posted an email from a lawyer representing Tesla requesting that he drop the arbitration in return for the treatment. The email text reads:
"We received your arbitration request through NCDS/CDSP regarding the yellowing you observe around the touchscreen. As you may know, we’ve dispatched a repair for this concern and we would like to coordinate that repair without requiring further involvement of the arbitrators. It will require some coordination but I understand we can get your car into the shop and get the tools to your service center in fairly short order to work on this concern and resolve it for you (free of charge). I saw that you obtained a prior order in arbitration on this issue, however you should know that with or without the order the repair is the same and we’ve actually repaired that customer’s touchscreen in the manner I’m offering to you now so going through with the arbitration doesn’t or shouldn’t bring any different result other than spending time to get to the same place. No arbitrator has ordered us to replace the touchscreen, just repair it and if we can’t get the repair done then we’d have to replace it but we can get it done. We’re simply shortcutting the process.
So, would you please cancel the arbitration so that we can get this done? Keeping it open causes us to incur undue costs when we’re offering to do what you’ve asked us to do already. If that’s ok with you, kindly let NCDS know and I’ll coordinate with your service manager to get it done."
Tesla's offers and appeals appear to be falling on deaf ears, as some three TMC posters report having won arbitration cases related to the yellow banding issue, some of whom also report that the UV treatment did not resolve the problem. In recent days the talk of a class-action lawsuit has increased, and though customer frustration with Tesla's handling of the situation is understandable it's not clear what more the company can even do at this point. After all, multiple owners report that screens replaced by Tesla before switching to the UV treatment have also had the yellow banding issue develop after a relatively short amount of time.
Meanwhile, far from going away the "yellow band" problem seems to be spreading to the instrument cluster screen over the past few months and Tesla is telling customers it won't fix them under warranty either. Tesla's earlier screen problem, involving bubbles forming on screens which eventually lead to adhesive leaks, has also been starting to show up on IC screens. Though the Model 3's screen appears to be more durable than the Model S and Model X units, it appears to be developing a different heat/adhesive-related problem that is causing dashboards to bubble. With summer temperatures especially high on the East Coast of the US this year, it will be interesting to see if any of these problems become more common.
As one of the owners who went through arbitration points out, Tesla's decision to fight warranty claims related to this issue can actually increase their costs as in his case it resulted in "4 days of model s enterprise rental (dropped off on Friday), $600 in uber credit (switch to this through Saturday), Plus whatever arbitration costs them." On a much broader level, the entire suite of heat-related problems with Tesla's vehicles reflect a much larger case of misplaced priorities: though rushing its cars to market in a fraction of the time that established OEMs do burnishes Tesla's high-tech image and saves on development costs, it also allows problems like these to escape the notice of validation testers. By spending more time and money upfront on development and testing, Tesla's engineers could have caught these problems before production instead of its customers, making the fix far cheaper and preventing additional pressure on its already-overstretched service network.
In other words, Tesla's screen woes are an object lesson in the factors that make traditional automakers seem like slow-moving dinosaurs to people from the high-tech startup world. Tesla is learning why moving deliberately, measuring twice and cutting once, and fixing problems before ramping up volume are so important to auto industry success and survival. Hopefully the rest of the high-tech sector companies who have automotive ambitions are taking notice, because Tesla is obviously learning these lessons way too late in the game. The only question is: with Model Y becoming increasingly important to Tesla's "growth narrative," will the industry's newest automaker take the time to wring out these kinds of problems before starting production?