While Tesla has delivered over 300,000 Model 3 cars globally, its Indian fans who paid the early deposit are a disappointed lot.
“It’s $1,000, but still, they have just taken my money…” This is the sentiment among scores of Indians who booked a Tesla Model 3 when the car was announced in 2016 and CEO Elon Musk announced that pre-bookings would be available for customers from many countries outside North America, including India. Customers had to put up a refundable deposit of $1000 at the time. And while Tesla has delivered over 300,000 Model 3 cars globally, its Indian fans who paid the early deposit are a disappointed lot. Some are still waiting for refunds.
A Kolkata-based private investor, who requested not to be named, says he has hardly received any correspondence from the company. He has not even received a refund on his credit card, despite making multiple requests. “I now feel cheated by a company like Tesla. They have taken my money. Okay, it’s $1,000, but still, they’ve just taken my money. And without any recourse, any clarity or information. It’s like a fraud. I’m sad to say this, but it feels like I’ve been scammed,” he told indianexpress.com.
Varun Krishnan, a Chennai-based entrepreneur who runs a tech news website, booked Tesla’s first ‘low-cost’ model because he was a Musk fan at the time. “And I was just trying my luck with my Indian credit card. And it actually went through. I thought I might own a Tesla at some point in the future in India, but sadly, that never happened,” he said.
But as months turned into years, and with no signs of the company actually beginning operations in the country, asking for a refund seemed the best course of action. However, it was easier said than done.
Krishnan finally got his refund last year after a lot of back-and-forth with the company and even after he received the refund, he still isn’t happy with how he has been treated. “I had to chase them multiple times to get a refund because I realised that it was going nowhere. And finally, I got a refund sometime last year. Because they had no plans. So why even take bookings from a country when you don’t have a plan to launch,” he asked. He added that the refund was stuck for a long while as getting remittances from abroad is not easy in India.
Despite all that, Krishnan considers himself one of the lucky ones since a lot of people didn’t even get that. “I know a lot of people who also booked and haven’t received a refund, I was fortunate to get my money back. But a lot of my friends who had placed bookings didn’t,” he added.
Requests for comments sent to Tesla by indianexpress.com have not yet received a response at the time of publishing.
But can these customers take any legal recourse? According to Bejon Kumar Misra, an international consumer policy expert and an honorary professor at National Law University Odisha, while Tesla’s action constitutes a “gross criminal breach” and an “unfair trade practice,” holding the company accountable is easier said than done.
“In our country, regulators are intentionally protecting the culprits. Only in certain cases, do citizens seek justice through the legal process like filing Public Interest Litigation (PIL) or does the judiciary intervene through suo moto proceedings. As consumers or the voluntary consumer organisations lack the resources to sustain the long-drawn and cumbersome legal process, companies get away with robbing innocent and vulnerable consumers,” Misra said in an email.
In 2021, the company registered its Indian arm “Tesla India Motors and Energy Pvt Ltd” with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) Bangalore. But it is still unclear when it will actually begin selling vehicles in India as it is “still working through a lot of challenges with the government”, according to Elon Musk.
Recently, the company’s proposal for tax cuts on fully-assembled vehicles got rejected by the Indian government. While speaking at a conference in New Delhi on Tuesday, Minister for Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari said the company was welcome to manufacture in India.
“If Elon Musk (Tesla CEO) is ready to manufacture in India, then there is no problem. But if he wants to manufacture in China and sell in India, then it cannot be a good proposition for India,” he said.