“It’s $1,000, but still, they just took my money…” That’s the sentiment among dozens 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 in many countries outside of North America, including India. Customers were then required to pay a refundable deposit of $1,000. And while Tesla has delivered over 300,000 Model 3 cars globally, its Indian fans who paid the advance deposit are very disappointed. Some are still waiting for reimbursement.
A Kolkata-based private investor, who asked not to be named, says he has received virtually no correspondence from the company. He didn’t even receive a refund on his credit card, despite multiple requests. “I now feel cheated by a company like Tesla. They took my money. Okay, it’s $1,000, but still, they just took my money. And without any recourse, clarity or information It’s like a fraud. I’m sad to say but I feel 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 fan of Musk at the time. “And I was just trying my luck with my Indian credit card. And it actually happened. I thought I might own a Tesla sometime in the future in India, but unfortunately that never happened,” he said.
But as months turned into years, and with no sign that the company was actually starting operations in the country, asking for a refund seemed like the best course of action. However, that was easier said than done.
Krishnan finally got his refund last year after many back and forths with the company and even after receiving the refund he is still unhappy with the way he was treated. “I had to chase them down several times to get a refund because I realized it was going nowhere. And finally I got a refund last year. Because they had no projects. So why even take bookings from a country when you don’t have a launch plan,” he asked. He added that the refund has been stuck for a long time because it is not easy to remittances from abroad to India.
Despite all this, Krishnan considers himself one of the lucky ones since many people didn’t even realize this. “I know a lot of people who also booked and didn’t receive a refund, I was lucky to get my money back. But a lot of my friends who had made reservations didn’t,” he added.
Requests for comment sent to Tesla by indianexpress.com have not yet been answered at the time of publication.
But can these customers exercise legal recourse? According to Bejon Kumar Misra, an international consumer policy expert and honorary professor at the Odisha National Law University, while Tesla’s action constitutes a “serious criminal offense” and an “unfair business practice”, hold the responsible business is easier said than done.
“In our country, regulators intentionally protect the culprits. Only in some cases do citizens seek justice through the court process, such as filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) or the judiciary intervenes through suo moto proceedings. As consumers or voluntary consumer organizations lack the resources to support the long and tedious legal process, companies get away with stealing from innocent and vulnerable consumers,” Misra said in an email.
Speaking at the Indian Express Idea Exchange in 2020, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said, “Tesla is preparing to start operations in India by the start of of 2021,” when asked about the development of electric vehicle manufacturing capabilities in India.
In 2021, the company registered its Indian subsidiary “Tesla India Motors and Energy Pvt Ltd” with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) Bangalore. But it is still unclear when it will actually start selling vehicles in India, as it is “still working on many challenges with the government”, according to Elon Musk.
Recently, the company’s proposal to reduce taxes on fully assembled vehicles was rejected by the Indian government.
Gadkari spoke about the company again at a conference in New Delhi on Tuesday where he said: “If Elon Musk is ready to manufacture in India, then there is no problem. But if he wants to manufacture in China and sell in India, that cannot be a good proposition for India.