Waikato man suing Tesla over lack of promised support

A Waikato man in the sleepy seaside town of Raglan is taking electric car giant Tesla to court.

Niall Darwin bought a wrecked Tesla in Australia, rebuilt it and brought it to New Zealand.

But Elon Musk's company won't support it - offering no supercharging nor software updates - despite saying it would.

"Once I had been told I was getting something, I expected that I would get it," Mr Darwin says.

What he has is a Tesla 90D. Brand new, this older model sold for about $160,000 - but he picked his up in Australia for $40,000 because it was an insurance write-off.

His plan was to rebuild it, but before he did he wanted reassurance it had a key Tesla option - free supercharging for life.

He got that confirmation in writing from Tesla Sydney, so he rebuilt the car - and it wasn't cheap.

"All up, it cost $60,000 on top of what the car cost at the auction," he says.

With only 3000km on the clock, the car was effectively brand new. But when he finally got it to New Zealand and plugged it in, he got a message saying supercharging was not enabled.

With no supercharging and no software support, Tesla told Mr Darwin his car had to be inspected in New Zealand to make sure it was safe.

That inspection said: "Tesla will redeem Unsupported Vehicle and re-enable support." But the company didn't do that.

"They said because it was written off in Australia, we are not going to support it," Mr Darwin explains. "[They are] basically ignoring their own technicians' test reports."

Tesla told Newshub that due to the extreme amount of damage the vehicle had, it's not confident it's safe and doesn't want to do anything that could increase that risk.

In a statement, Tesla said:

"Customer safety is of the upmost importance to us, and this is the most important factor in this situation. This is very much an isolated case, whereby the vehicle that the customer owns was ruled as a statutory write off, deemed unsafe to be re-registered for road use in Australia and then purchased as a wreck and imported into New Zealand. Due to the extreme amount of damage that this vehicle had, we are not comfortable it is safe and do not want to do anything that could increase this risk even further. We apologise to the owner of the car for this inconvenience, but after learning all the facts, we have to prioritise safety."

After a social media campaign by Mr Darwin, Tesla did enable regular fast-charging  - which still takes four times as long as supercharging. It has now closed a loophole where a Tesla written off in Australia can be imported into New Zealand.

But Mr Darwin, an engineer who makes bikes electric, believes Tesla is trying to stop cheaper second-hand cars from entering the market, which the company denies.

But the stand-off begs the question: if you buy a Tesla, what do you really own?

"I own the metal and the leather and the physical part of it, but without the electrics [and] the software it's nothing - and they have control over that," Mr Darwin says.

He's now suing Tesla for $20,000 in compensation, but says nothing can repair his electric dream.