My 2013 Tesla Model S is now approaching 75,000 miles on the odometer.

That happens to be the mileage benchmark for my next scheduled Tesla service. So I called my local Tesla service center, in Paramus, New Jersey, to set up the appointment.

No problem, the service rep said. The first available slot is...a month from now. Whoa.

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Good thing I’d called well in advance of my annual cross-country drive to our winter getaway in California, scheduled five weeks later.

If I’d called with my usual lead time of a week or two, I’d have been out of luck.

Long Waits

My story is not unusual.  As the number of Teslas on the road—both the Model S and the now ramped-up Model X—grows rapidly, the number of Tesla service centers is not keeping pace.

The result is long wait times for service in many parts of the country.

Onsite service by Tesla Motor technicians on 2013 Tesla Model S, upstate NY [photo: David Noland]

Onsite service by Tesla Motor technicians on 2013 Tesla Model S, upstate NY [photo: David Noland]

In California, wait times of 30-45 days are not unusual, with San Francisco and San Diego in particular as hot spots where owners wait weeks for regular maintenance appointments.

And on the Tesla Motor Club forum this past February, a distraught Model S owner in Norway reported a wait time of eight months for his car. He had described the service situation in that country several months earlier as a “meltdown.”

To be fair, my Paramus rep assured me that any problem that disabled the car, or was safety-related, would be scheduled sooner.

And not all service centers are backed up for regular service. One Model S owner from Raleigh, N.C. reports that he was recently told to bring his car in “any time you want.”

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But that’s a rare exception. It’s clear that, for the most part, the good old days of quick, on-demand Tesla service are long gone.

(Oh, how fondly I remember them. Including that day in 2013 when the now-defunct service center in White Plains, New York, called me at 9 am to inform me that my 12-volt battery needed replacement—it had been diagnosed remotely— and then sent two mechanics to my house. They had the new battery in by noon.)

Numbers

It’s not hard to see why service wait times are growing: too many cars, not enough service centers.

An enterprising Model S owner on the TMC Forum, Troy, has assembled statistics that show how the problem has developed over the past three years.

Tesla Model 3 spotted at service center

Tesla Model 3 spotted at service center

According to Troy, in the fourth quarter of 2013—nine months after I took delivery of my car—there were about 21,000 Teslas on U.S. roads and 43 U.S. service centers to take care of them. That’s a ratio of 488 cars per service center.

Since then, the Tesla fleet has swelled, while the number of service centers has—well, not so much.

By the end of the September 2016, the numbers were 95,000 cars and 61 service centers. That’s a ratio of 1,552 cars per service center—more than triple the service load of three years ago.

According to Troy’s numbers, since early 2013, the U.S. Tesla fleet has grown by 450 percent, while the number of service centers has increased by 42 percent. 

California’s numbers are even worse:  as of Q3 2016,  there were 39,000 cars and 19 service centers. That’s a ratio of more than 2,000 cars per service center.

Or consider just the city of San Diego: 4,000 cars, one service center.

Map of Tesla service center locations in the U.S., December 2016

Map of Tesla service center locations in the U.S., December 2016

Troubling trend

With the ratio of cars-per-service center rising steadily over the past three years, you’d think Tesla would be accelerating the construction of new service centers.

You’d be wrong. Astonishingly, as the problem steadily worsens, Tesla seems to have slacked off in its efforts to build new service centers.

Worldwide, Tesla opened about 40 new service centers in 2013. Then next year came 42, then 29 in 2015.

How’s 2016 coming along? Only 10 so far. That’s a very disturbing trend.

Tesla Store Los Angeles [photo: Misha Bruk / MBH Architects]

Tesla Store Los Angeles [photo: Misha Bruk / MBH Architects]

In 2014, when the U.S. cars-per-service-center ratio was about 650, Tesla added seven new service centers throughout the country.

In 2016, with more than twice the service load and wait times skyrocketing, Tesla has so far added only two new U.S. service centers in 2016, according to Troy.  (Tesla has not responded to my request to confirm this figure.)

Shrinking goals

Tesla also seems to be backpedaling about its future plans for service-center build-outs.

Tesla’s quarterly 10-Q filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission reveal steadily diminishing predictions of future service-center build-outs.

In Q1 of 2016, Tesla reported to the SEC that, worldwide, “we remain on plan to open more than 70 additional retail and service locations in 2016, to bring our total to nearly 300 locations.”

Just three months later, Tesla had downgraded that prediction to 60 additional retail and service locations in 2016, and a total of “nearly 280.”

Tesla Model 3 Driving on a Public Road

Tesla Model 3 Driving on a Public Road

For Q3, the company downgraded its prediction yet again: it was planning merely “additional” locations in 2016, for a total of “approximately 265.”

In six months, Tesla seems to cut 35 new sites out of its worldwide plans for new retail and service locations—in other words, slashed its plans in half.

(Note that the figures include both stores and service locations. In some cases, stores and service centers are co-located, but no specific number is given solely for service centers.)

Model 3 tsunami?

Considering the current and projected robust Model S and Model X fleet growth and Tesla’s tepid service expansion plans, the future looks grim—even without the tsunami of Model 3s scheduled to hit the road in the next couple of years.

Plug the Model 3 into the equation, and it’s hard to envision a scenario in which a Norway-style service meltdown doesn’t happens in 2018 or 2019.

Tesla Model 3 spotted at service center

Tesla Model 3 spotted at service center

Elon Musk has said  he hopes to produce 500,000 Model 3s by the end of 2018—two years from now. He’s also said he expects to build 100,000 Model X and Model S cars per year for the next two years.

If we take those numbers at face value, and assume that half of those cars are for the U.S., that means the American fleet of Teslas on the road will more than quadruple in the next 24 months. 

Just to maintain the current high cars-to-service-center ratio, Tesla would need to quadruple its number of service centers in the next 24 months. That’s about 180 new service centers in the next 104 weeks. 

It works out to almost two new service centers a week in the U.S. just to maintain the current service load and the month-long wait time I was quoted.

Based on the trickle of new U.S. service centers so far in 2016—only two—and the steadily diminishing predictions from the SEC 10-Q filings, the odds of such a massive service-center build-out any time soon seem to be near zero.

The current Tesla map of service centers shows 10 in the U.S. that are “Coming Soon.”  Depending on your definition of “soon,” that could be a promising start to 2017.

Buyers waiting to reserve Model 3 electric car, Tesla Store, Santa Barbara, CA [photo: David Noland]

Buyers waiting to reserve Model 3 electric car, Tesla Store, Santa Barbara, CA [photo: David Noland]

10 new sites every 6 weeks...forever

If all 10 open within the next six weeks, the new-opening rate that will at least keep pace with the current expansion of the Tesla fleet. But we will need 10 more during the following six weeks, and 10 more the next, and the next..…

Possible alternative scenarios might include three-shift, 24/7 operation of current service centers.  Or perhaps training independent mechanics and non-Tesla automotive service centers to work on the Model 3.

But neither of those options appear likely.

Maybe I’d better make a reservation for my 100,000 mile service—probably due sometime in the spring of 2018—sooner rather than later.

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