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Shocker - Tesla's Dealerships Do Not Earn Higher Review Scores Than Traditional Brands’

Two notable sources of independent reviews have some revealing data about how well Tesla compares when the playing field is about as equal as it can be for Tesla.

The conventional wisdom is that Tesla is the “anti-dealership” car company. However, if that were true, shouldn’t Tesla’s sales and service outlet review scores be higher than other brands’? After all, Tesla’s customer-centric attitude is exemplified by its unwillingness to let dealers and their unfair practices be part of its business. We turned to online reviews to see how Tesla stacked up to other brands’ rankings and were surprised by what we found.

Our review is not comprehensive. Quite the opposite. We looked at just one state. However, we picked just one on purpose. We selected one that lets Tesla do what it likes when it comes to sales and service. We drew three conclusions. First, full-service dealerships from traditional brands score very highly in Google and Yelp reviews. Second, Tesla “dealerships” do not score better than these old-school dealerships. Third, Tesla seems to have an opportunity for improvement.

We chose Massachusetts as the state in which to compare Tesla’s sales and service locations, which we will refer to as “Tesla Dealers” in this story. Massachusetts is an unusual state for Tesla. Unlike some states, Tesla won its battle to set up a direct sales and service network early on. Massachusetts is a “wealthy” state, and also one which has embraced electric vehicle progress with open arms. The state offers rebates for EV purchases, is one of the “ZEV-Complaint” states that adopt the California Air Resources Board’s many environmental programs related to automobiles, and Mass. was also an early adopter state for Tesla.

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There is another reason to choose Massachusetts. The “Commonwealth,” as we call it, has a significant sales tax on new and used vehicles. Car dealers in the state are granted a HUGE advantage when it comes to trade-ins. The 6.25% tax is only applied to the difference in value of the new car to that which is traded. For example, if one buys a car for $40K and trades in a $20K car, the tax is $1,250. However, if one were to sell their car for $20K to a private party and then drive to a dealership and buy a new car for $40K, the tax is double that amount, or $2,500. In Massachusetts, Tesla can accept trade-ins and is included in the tax loophole that lobbyists had legislators carve out to protect the car dealers.

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Tesla is allowed to sell and service cars directly in the Bay State, and can set them up pretty much wherever they want, and in whatever numbers Tesla wishes. Tesla did not get a special exemption for just one location. I have visited Tesla’s Dedham, Mass. dealership a couple of times to check it out and test-drive a vehicle. I have also visited Tesla Natick design gallery and made a quick stop at the Watertown service shop shortly after Tesla opened it. The sales associate in Dedham was the one that explained to me that in Mass., Tesla is offering all of the same benefits that traditional dealers can, but without the downsides (his words). From what I can find through Tesla forums and owner-reported experiences, the part about being a full-service dealer is true.

Dealer ratings are not hard to find. However, they don’t include Tesla because of its divergent business model in most states. Many of the traditional car dealership rating sites like DealerRater and Edmunds do not include Tesla. So we turned to Google and Yelp.

Tesla Google Review Ratings vs. Competitors
We looked at three places in Mass. that Tesla sells cars or services cars. Dedham, Peabody, and Watertown. Dedham and Peabody are the closest to what you might call a “full-service dealership.” Dedham is the Tesla hub in New England and has also acted as the delivery point for the majority of the Tesla cars sold into the New England states. Watertown is a service location, and one of Tesla’s oldest in the country. So we included it as well, but we wanted to point out to readers that this location is not a full-service dealership.

We compared local car dealerships from traditional brands in that same area to see how the Tesla dealer compared. In none of the three locations did Tesla earn the highest Google average for reviews among all brands. In fact, only one dealer out of the 13 competitors’ locations we looked at had a score lower than Tesla’s local outlet.

I should note that I am a Google “local guide.” I have left reviews for two Tesla locations. I scored Dedham a 5/5 and left a love letter review based on my experiences there as a tire-kicker shopper. I gave the Peabody location a 1/5 simply because, as other reviewers have posted, Tesla’s Peabody location (the nearest to my home) did not answer the phone when I called multiple times, nor did the location return my e-mails. The online menu to request a test drive also failed to work. We could chalk that up to timing. But mine is not the only negative review. Update: I later edited my Peabody review after Tesla resumed answering calls and emails. I changed the score to 5/5.

Tesla also has two galleries in Mass. One is in Boston and earns a 4.7 score, and the Natick mall location earns a 4.6. These locations are not directly comparable to the other locations which offer service. But our readers can make their own judgment on that.

Yelp Reviews For Tesla Dedham, Mass. vs. Yelp Reviews For Nearby Competitors
To expand our search and find more data we turned to Yelp. While an older application, Yelp is still active and has up-to-date reviews for Tesla. We limited our search to the Dedham location since it is Tesla’s largest full-service dealer in Massachusetts based on our research. The Yelp data was interesting because it is easy to look beyond the three-star rating Tesla Dedham earns overall.

For 2020, Tesla Dedham’s monthly average is two stars. Overall, Tesla Dedham has earned 17 one-star ratings, 16 five-star ratings, and 3 three-star ratings. The polarized reviews continue. One recent review offered a glowing five-star review. Another, a one-star horror story.

For comparison, we looked at Lexus’ dealership in nearby Sharon, Mass. Both are on the same road, nicknamed the “Automile.” This dealership has a four-star rating. Overall it has earned 129 five-star ratings, 41 one-star ratings, and a mix rounds out the rest. For the past year, this dealer has earned a three-star average each month.

Tesla’s dealership experience has room for improvement. Scan Google or Yelp reviews of the Tesla Dedham locations to see the wide range of complaints. Lack of communication seems the easiest to address. An overly-busy staff is another. Many of the complaints are from owners who have had trouble at the service department. One Tesla review from a local guide hit us the hardest. It reads, “It pains me to write this because I am such a big fan of the Model 3 and Elon musk. I spent multiple days trying to get my model 3 that I ordered and waited a long time for, but the process is such a mess it was not worth the hassle, so I had to walk away. I had my heart set on the Model 3, but after what they made me endure, I no longer want it. Everyone there is great, but no one has a clue what to do. My faith in that company is gone. Good luck to anyone else who wants to buy a Tesla.”

How would you rate your own experience with the Tesla “dealer” in your area on a 1 to 5 scale and why? Tell us in the comments below.

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. Following his engineering program, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin

Images by the author. Re-use with permission only.