Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the firs production model o the Tesla Model 3, the company’s first sedan marketed toward broader cohort of working Americans who had presumably balked at the price tag of the company’s older model. Musk sees a truly “mass market” car as insurance against the types of sales declines that briefly sent the company’s shares into bear-market territory about a week and a half ago.
Musk has said he hopes to go from manufacturing 100,000 cars a year to 500,000 with the launch of the Model 3 – but one has to wonder whether or not this is actually possible. However, some unscrupulous Tesla enthusiasts have aparently decided they don’ feel like waiting around to find out.
As Jalopnik reports, there have been a rash of Tesla thefts across Europe as thieves, apparently undeterred by the controversy surrounding the company’s autopilot assisted-driving software, are trying to snatch up as many of them as possible.
It’s unusual to hear about a rash of thefts involving Tesla vehicles—they’re not Hondas after all—but a group of thieves in the Netherlands have managed to steal nearly a dozen of the luxury cars, according to Jalopnik, and no one’s sure why just yet.
As anyone who’s at least seen the first few seasons of the Sopranos will recognize the tactics of a sophisticated, multinational car-theft ring.
“Whatever’s happening, reports suggest it’s part of an intricate operation - or it’s simply being handled by thieves who know their shit. The Dutch news site nrc.nl reports that “at least eleven” Tesla vehicles have been recently stolen in the country.
Once they’re lifted, local police reportedly said that the vehicles are dismantled within a couple hours of being purloined. How they’re managing to pull it off is left to speculation, for now. The news site said the most plausible theory is the use of a relay device that can connect to the key and unlock the car door. One Tesla owner reportedly captured a man on film “lingering” around his vehicle with a laptop, before driving away with it.”
The thefts are occurring as sales of electric vehicles (which include plug-in hybrids) in Q1 of 2017 grew briskly across much of Europe: they rose by 80% Y/Y in eco-friendly Sweden, 78% in Germany, just over 40% in Belgium and grew by roughly 30% across the European Union.
However, one data point was particularly revelatory, and might speak to the thieves’ motivation for the grand-theft auto spree. Sales in Denmark cratered by over 60% as the local government phased out taxpayer subsidies for electric vehicles. More recently, Tesla stock climbed on Monday as the company miraculously fended off another PR nightmare:
On Sunday, the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office in Minneapolis released a statement that said a 2016 Tesla Model S ended up flipped over on its roof after the car sped out of control while its autopilot system was engaged. The accident left all five occupants in the car with minor injuries.
However, as Jalopnik reported Monday, the driver of the vehicle at the time of the crash has withdrawn his accusation that the software was responsible for the wreck. Musk took to twitter shortly after to defend the driver, claiming the accusation was an honest mistake, but his words did little to ameliorate the 2.5% drop in the company’s shares triggered by the initial reports of the crash. Though the curious timing of his decision to recant almost makes one wonder if there was a vigorous back and forth "settlement" negotiation behind the scenes between the driver, David Clark, and Musk which prompted the former to radically change his story.
Turning back to the string of thefts, rumors circulated in international media that the company is developing software update to help deter thieves, though Tesla execs appeared unwilling to comment on the matter.
Jon McNeill, Tesla’s president of sales and service, told nrc.nl that the “method used by the thieves is also used to steal other cars,” but didn’t elaborate.
Regardless of your feelings about Tesla, we should all hope that the spike in thefts isn’t a harbinger of the economic collapse described by Musk during his speech at the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Rhode Island. The ultimate irony here would be if the thieves turn out to be displaced industrial workers who lost their jobs as their old factory laid off most of its human workers and switched to a “lights out” format.