- Tesla Energy charges customers tens of thousands of dollars for solar roofs.
- Recently Tesla Energy jacked up prices on individual contracts, which shot up by as much as $75,000.
- Insider spoke with 14 Tesla Energy Solar Roof and solar panel customers, many of whom said they were ghosted or sent in circles by customer service.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
When Matthew Amans signed a contract with Tesla Energy in June, he expected the company to install a sleek Solar Roof that would make his house in California more green.
He didn't expect Tesla to bump up the price from $70,000 to $145,000 before the roof was up and ignore his calls to customer service.
Amans, a radiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, was one of many Tesla Energy customers to receive an unexpected email from the company in April jacking up the price of their contracts ahead of installation. The closest thing to an explanation came from Tesla CEO Elon Musk during the company's first-quarter earnings call, when he said the company had made "significant mistakes" calculating the cost of the roofs.
James Mauroff, of New Jersey, managed to get his Solar Roof installed ahead of the sudden mid-April price hike. But when his new roof leaked, ruining his wife's closet, he faced what he described as "nonexistent" customer support.
"Getting a quote is rather efficient. From then on things rapidly progress downhill," Mauroff said.
Insider spoke to 14 Tesla Energy customers who either have Solar Roofs or solar panels installed by Tesla. Nine of them described disappointing customer service.
They said they were left in the dark for weeks on end, ghosted by their dedicated "project advisors," or sent in dizzying circles around Tesla's online and phone complaint systems, sometimes leading to long delays when their roofs didn't work properly.
Tesla did not respond to Insider's requests for comment.
Customers were told price hikes of up to $75,000 were a 'business decision'
To get a Solar Roof, potential customers must put down a deposit of $100. Tesla then drafts a quote based on the complexity of their roof, partly by using Google Maps and drone photography. It then asks the customer to sign off on the design, sign a contract for the project, and agree on how to pay for their roof.
Over the weekend of April 9 to 10, Solar Roof customers who had signed contracts but not yet begun installation received alarming emails from Tesla, telling them the company had "increased the price of Solar Roof and have added adjustments for individual roof complexity."
Amans had the price of his contract raised from $71,662.06 to more than $145,000. This new price was corroborated by a screenshot Amans shared with Insider. He said he received no satisfactory explanation as to why the price had risen so dramatically but that he received a call from a Tesla representative on April 14.
Amans said the representative apologized, and when Amans pressed on why the price had shot up just three weeks after signing his most recent contract, the rep repeated that "it was a business decision," Amans said.
Amans said that even before the price hike, communication with Tesla's customer service was frustrating.
"When I had my site visit for example, the evaluator told me to remove some shelving from the inside of my garage for the Powerwalls," Amans said, referring to the company's battery unit, which it now installs with every solar energy product following an April announcement.
"A week later I got an email informing me to remove a tree from outside of my garage to make room for the Powerwalls. When I asked why they were planning to put them outside, instead of inside like we had discussed, there was no answer," Amans said.
Another customer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that between agreeing their contract in January and Tesla hiking the price in April, they'd been assigned three "project managers," one of whom never replied to an email and another who regularly took a week to two weeks to reply.
They had the price of their project raised by $30,000 — as corroborated by documents viewed by Insider — and opted to cancel the contract. The customer said they sent Tesla two emails in the week following the price hike, but received no immediate response. A week later, they received a text from a Tesla rep they'd never spoken to before.
The text said: "Please let me know if you have any further questions on your project and how you would like to proceed."
While the customer was trying to cancel the project, contractors nearly showed up at their house to carry out some of the work for their unwanted Solar Roof. "They called me the day of the work, and I told them to hold off while I worked through this issue with Tesla," the customer said.
"I've never, ever experienced customer service this bad," they said. The customer said they did eventually manage to find the correct link for canceling the project.
Jay Fortin said he had the cost of his Solar Roof bumped up from $62,000 to $91,000. Before Fortin signed the contract in January, Tesla was extremely communicative and helpful, he said. "They had impressed me. But then after we signed the contract — changed like overnight," he said.
"You're out in the dark, and it's like pulling teeth to get information," he said, giving an example of a Tesla rep who said the company couldn't help him figure out whether the roof qualified for state incentives.
Of four prospective Solar Roof customers who said they had been hit with price hikes, all said they were offered free Powerwall batteries — which Amans said in an email was like a "$5k price cut off of the $76k price hike" — if they decided to proceed with their projects.
The offer was made through an "automated note" rather than a customer-service rep, the anonymous customer who had their price hiked by $30,000 said.
Leaky roofs, wrangling with local utilities, and customer-service brick walls
Customers who had their Solar Roofs installed ahead of the price hike have also run into problems with Tesla's customer service.
After signing up for a roof in October, the software engineer Vladimir Vukicevic was frequently met with weekslong radio silence from various departments at Tesla as well as his dedicated "project advisor," he said. At one point, he got through to a different project advisor who told him staff were overworked, Vukicevic said.
He had his Solar Roof was installed at the end of February. Vukicevic said the crew left some holes that he had to patch himself but that he was fairly happy with the work.
He then spent three months trying to get Tesla to submit the correct documentation to his local utility and was unable to turn the roof on during that time, he said. Vukicevic said he would routinely email Tesla and receive no response. After contacting the utility, he was informed Tesla had filled in paperwork incorrectly, meaning he was unable to move the issue without Tesla's help.
"It's extremely frustrating. These are simple things, mistakes made out of carelessness or overwork. I can understand those, but the lack of any communication is infuriating for a $60,000 product," Vukicevic said.
The issue was eventually resolved, he said.
Similarly, a customer who asked to be identified only as Harry said his installation went well but that Tesla failed to complete the administrative steps to get the system up and running.
Mauroff, the computer scientist living in New Jersey, had a Tesla Solar Roof installed in October, but work was ongoing for months because the roof developed multiple leaks after installation, he said. Mauroff is in negotiations with Tesla over whether he or the company should pay $2,000 to repair his house's gutters, which he said were damaged during the installation.
Mauroff found it extremely difficult to get Tesla representatives to respond to his messages, he said. At one point he resorted to finding an email alias for CEO Elon Musk, though he got no response, he said.
On May 5, Tesla sent an employee from its local Solar Roof installation office to visit Mauroff, he said.
"He did not know why he was sent — only that his boss was told by someone in corporate to find out what's going on. The local installation office had no idea there were any issues," Mauroff said. The employee wasn't able to help, though he said he would try to chase a previous complaint of Mauroff's about damage to his house, Mauroff said.
Mauroff said, based on his interactions with the company, he thinks the problem is a lack of communication. "They haven't integrated their salesforce with their operations people, with any post-sales people," Mauroff said. He and Tesla still haven't agreed on payment for the gutters, and Mauroff has filed complaints to both the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Better Business Bureau.
Phillip Anderson looked into getting a Solar Roof but eventually decided against it. Anderson said he got very little response from his assigned representative when he tried to push back on the design Tesla had submitted for approval. "I was pretty upset after I saw the system they put together only provided 21% energy offset while a typical solar-panel system provides 75%-80% energy offset," he said.
Anderson asked for a consultation to discuss why the offset was so much lower than expected but received only generic emails in response asking him to approve the design, he said. It was only after he publicly complained on Twitter that a Tesla representative called him to apologize and address his concerns, he said.
—Phillip Anderson (@Phillip820) April 15, 2021
It's unclear to what degree Tesla keeps an eye on social media for unhappy customers, but in January it advertised a job for a "Sales and Customer Support" role in Tesla Energy with a description that said candidates would have to "address social media escalations directed at the CEO with critical thinking."
In the end, Anderson did not sign off on a Solar Roof, as the most Tesla could promise was a 27% energy offset.
While Insider spoke to many customers infuriated by Tesla Energy's customer service, their experience wasn't universal.
For example, Lawrence Husick, an intellectual-property lawyer based in Pennsylvania, had a Solar Roof installed in January after signing a contract with Tesla in August. He said he found customer service to be of the "highest quality," describing staff as "highly responsive and dedicated."
Longtime customers said there's been a notable dip in customer service since Tesla acquired its energy division from SolarCity
Tesla's solar-energy division was created in 2016 when the company acquired a solar-panel company called SolarCity — headed up by Elon Musk's cousin Lyndon Rive — for $2.6 billion.
It inherited customers who already had solar panels put up by SolarCity, some of whom told Insider that customer care has since deteriorated.
One SolarCity customer, who asked to remain anonymous, said they'd noticed "a significant drop in customer service and tech support" since the acquisition.
"Prior to the acquisition by Tesla, should I have a need to contact them with a question or concern, which was rarely, I was able to reach them quickly via phone," they said. They added that in the few instances where there was a problem, SolarCity got in touch within 48 hours.
"Once Tesla acquired SC in 2016, the service change was noticeable almost immediately. Their billing system seemed unprepared for the transition, and errors began to appear in bills. I had to contact them more frequently, but they did not seem to have adequate personnel, and it took longer to get responses," they said.
A 2016 regulatory filing showed SolarCity cut down on staff to reduce costs ahead of the acquisition.
Technical problems started to fly under the radar, they said. SolarCity had actively notified them when there was a problem — but once Tesla took over, system outages went unnoticed until the customer used their web app, they said.
Rowland Mayor, who had SolarCity panels installed in 2015, also said that SolarCity had been proactive about malfunctions. "For instance, one time when our dog went behind the couch to get her toy and unplugged the module that sent data about the production to them. They called after less than 24 hours of losing the signal," he said.
This February, however, he logged on to the Tesla app and discovered the panels were showing no production. He called Tesla Energy's scheduling line 20 times in a month to arrange for someone to come out and fix his system, he said. In May, Mayor finally got through to a representative who told him the company would send someone out to service the panels in June. According to Mayor, the rep said the company had recently hired a "large contingent" to improve its customer service.
Doug Ball, 68, had his system installed in 2014 on his home in Arizona. He said he'd never run into any problems with Tesla's customer service but that after Tesla acquired SolarCity, it got rid of a useful feature that let customers see historical energy usage.
"You could get your usage data by day, month, year, lifetime. It was great for monitoring the performance of the system. Now all you can get on a phone app, not on the website, is an hourly generation for a single day. You can change the day, but that's it. No way to get a yearly summary, at least not from Tesla," he said.
Cathy Pelletier, in Maryland, who bought solar panels from SolarCity in 2014, said her only interaction with Tesla's customer service for technical problems was in 2019 — and it was outstanding. But last summer, she said, she got into a game of "telephone tag" after querying why her credit check unexpectedly contained a "loan" of more than $10,000.
Multiple SolarCity customers said they saw sudden loans appear on their credit checks. At least three customers have filed lawsuits against Tesla, saying the loans tanked their credit ratings.
Insider also spoke with a homeowner who had inherited SolarCity panels when they bought a new house, meaning they had to agree to take on the lease for a solar system installed by the previous owner. The homeowner asked to remain anonymous.
Originally the customer had inquired about selling the panels back to Tesla, rather than assuming the lease.
"Tesla Energy refused to give me a quote and said there was only a two- to three-month window each year during which they would offer an appraisal and possible sale. I couldn't wait months to close on the house, so I had to assume the loan or lose the property," they said.
The homeowner then tried to contact Tesla about setting up a Tesla Energy account and getting a technician out to repair a part of the system that appeared to be broken.
"I sent more than a dozen emails and made dozens of calls, often waiting on hold for hours. Many times I would wait on hold for hours only to get disconnected," they said. The problem was eventually resolved, but it took six months for Tesla to respond and to send the homeowner their first bill, they said.
With April's price hikes, Tesla Energy is under more public scrutiny than it's ever been. Amans filed a class-action lawsuit against the company on May 14, saying the Solar Roof price hike was a "textbook bait-and-switch scheme." The suit accused the company of using the price hike to plug holes in profit losses from the SolarCity acquisition.
The lawsuit aims to force Tesla to honor its original contract with Amans, along with any other stakeholders who might join the class.
Christopher Dore of Edelson PC, the law firm representing Amans in the suit, said that so far more than three dozen plaintiffs have joined.
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