If it's true, Tesla could be in serious trouble.
Automakers rarely get it right the first time. During the fit of productivity that precedes the release of a new model, things are bound to go wrong, but that's why the NHTSA is around to ensure that automakers quickly find problem components and issue recalls to fix them. If that doesn't happen, the consequences are dire and no car manufacturer gets a pass to this rule. For the most part, the NHTSA relies on consumers to call in and file complaints if they think that a part is defective.
However, if the latest in-depth report from Daily Kanban and posts on the Tesla Motors Club forum hold any water, then the EV manufacturer may be doing some shady things to keep owners quiet about problems. The story starts with TMC user gpcordaro posting a thread about premature suspension failure on his 2013 Model S with 70,000 miles on the clock. Apparently the left front hub assembly separated from the upper control arm, and a quick glance at the suspension components showed corrosion in the steel ball joints. A Tesla service representative told gpcordaro that the ball joint caused the wear and that the issue was "not normal." Given that the Tesla was outside of the warranty period, the owner was going to have to pay $3,100 for repairs.
Then, things took a turn for the worst. Days after the diagnosis, Tesla replied to gpcordaro's request to fix his car free of charge with an offer to pay for half of the repair bill if he signed a non-disclosure agreement. The "Goodwill Agreement" stated that gpcordaro could not speak about the suspension problem to anyone, not even the NHTSA. Not only is this illegal, but it may allude to two issues. The first is that there could be a widespread problem with suspension components in the Model S. Tesla has already issued a service bulletin for the issue, but if it is serious, the company should have issued a recall. More troubling than that is the notion that Tesla could be using these NDAs to silence customers who've had problems with their cars.
Citing the incident that TMC user gpcordaro posted about as evidence that Tesla used an NDA, the NHTSA warned the EV manufacturer to stop the practice immediately and eliminate any language that implies that customers cannot file complaints with the NHTSA. Now that the agency is aware of potential suspension issues, it is investigating whether this is a recall worthy problem. Until it publishes any findings, it will be hard to know whether the issue is one that is safety related or just an inconvenient repair for Model S owners. Regardless of the results, there is no denying that much like GM's ignition scandal, Tesla did the wrong thing in this situation. So much for Elon Musk's "saving the world one EV at a time" image.