This photo of a production version of Tesla’s Model Y was included in the company’s Q4 2019 earnings report.
Tesla has refunded customers it charged twice for new vehicle purchases made at the end of the first quarter, CNBC has learned.
The refunds followed CNBC’s reporting on the duplicate charges and a video review by “Everyday Chris,” Christopher T. Lee, on YouTube, urging other Tesla buyers to use a cashier’s check if they could, instead of allowing Tesla to debit their bank account directly.
Six customers in California and North Carolina who spoke with and shared records with CNBC found that their refunds took about a week to come through after they initially complained to Elon Musk’s electric car company.
These customers received their refunds on or before April 1, including payments for overdraft fees which Tesla’s duplicate withdrawals from their accounts had triggered.
This week, Tesla also extended affected owners an apology via e-mail and gave them a $200 credit to spend in a single visit to the company’s online store, according to an email that multiple customers shared with CNBC. The credit must be used in a single transaction on shop.tesla.com, cannot be used for Tesla Tequila and expires on Jan. 30, 2022, the email said.
At the Tesla shop online today, $200 can buy smaller items such as Tesla-branded apparel or a new key fob for a Model 3 or Model Y, but not premium items and vehicle accessories such as a roof rack or a bundle of adapters that let drivers plug a Tesla into any outlet to recharge at home or on the road.
A spokesperson for National Automated Clearing House Association, or NACHA, told CNBC that, anecdotally, unauthorized duplicate charges for high-priced items purchased using ACH debit are uncommon. NACHA manages the development and governance of the ACH network.
Lee and two other California-based Tesla owners, Clark Peterson and Tom Slattery, who spoke with CNBC about the duplicate charges in March, all said that Tesla needs to improve its sales and customer service.
Peterson said, “While happy to have the whole situation sorted, I still feel that the response time was inadequate. It took days before Tesla had any kind of response, and they were holding our significant funds the whole time. And it took them five minutes to take those funds from our account.”
Slattery said the gesture is too little, too late. He has already purchased all the accessories he needs and is not in the mood to wear Tesla’s logo around like an ad at this point, he told CNBC on Tuesday night.
When the duplicate charges hit his account, he was heading to another state to look at houses, hoping to bid on one. Instead, he spent his time distracted, stressed and trying to get anything in writing about a refund.
Tesla paid him back on March 31, about a week after Slattery initially called and visited the company’s Burbank service center and showroom seeking answers, he said.
After receiving the apology email from Tesla on Tuesday night, Slattery told CNBC, “Anything reasonable done quickly would have been completely fine. But I’ve learned that Tesla’s culture is that they care about the stock price and not customers.”
When he read the news about Tesla’s record first-quarter vehicle delivery numbers, he said, he wanted to be happy for the company but instead had a sinking feeling.
“I thought, ‘You had to sideline us, even though you had these ridiculously positive sales numbers? How could you not pause to deal with people in dire straits?'”
The problems were not limited to customers in California.
A former banking executive in North Carolina, who asked to remain unnamed out of privacy concerns, said it’s unreasonable for a refund to take a full business week.
This person was charged double for a 2021 Model Y, which cost about $54,000. He purchased the car online and was charged twice with funds withdrawn from his account on March 25.
It was his bank, rather than Tesla, that alerted him to the unusual activity, he said. It took him about six hours to place a series of phone calls to banks and Tesla in North Carolina and California and figure out what had happened, and he didn’t get an email about a forthcoming refund until March 31. In the meantime he withdrew funds from a brokerage account to cover expenses, he said.
While he’s happy with the car overall and has driven it a few hundred miles already, he said, he would rate Tesla’s customer service only a 1 out of 5. He said it’s clearly Tesla’s mistake, not the banks’ mistake.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.