Tesla has announced that a “dog mode” will be added to its cars as soon as this week. The reason? Someone asked Elon Musk for it on Twitter.
The latest mode is just the latest in a long line of updates and improvements that Tesla has rolled out across its cars, with some being recommendations tweeted directly at Musk, then quickly adopted.
It's a far cry from the way other car manufacturers deal with customer feedback. But, while the customer is king, what does it mean for the state of product development at Tesla?
What New Modes are Being Added to Tesla Cars?
The beauty of the Tesla car approach is that cars can receive over-the-air updates, just like your phone or computer. This means their functions can be updated and tweaked by the manufacturer from afar, introducing new features.
According to Musk, two of these updates are about to drop. First, there's dog mode, which is a feature dedicated to pooch owners who want to leave their fluffy pals in the car unattended.
It might seem trivial, but leaving a dog in a hot car for just a few minutes can prove lethal. According to research by the American Medical Veterinary Foundation, the inside temperature of a car can rise by over 30 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the outside temperature, within half an hour. That's bad news for dogs, and it can prompt members of the public or authorities to smash the windows of unattended cars to rescue animals.
While Tesla hasn't revealed the full details of its dog mode yet, we do know that its main function will be to regulate the temperature inside the car to keep the atmosphere cool for our canine buddies. There have also been hints that it may display a message for passersby, assuring them that the dog is fine.
Also coming soon is “Sentry Mode”, a security feature that aims to tackle break ins. It does this by recording suspicious activity with the 360 degree dashboard camera. Musk has also stated on Twitter that it will play Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which, if you're unfamiliar with, is a piece of classical musical that is played in pretty much every cheesy vampire flick.
In the announcement on Twitter, Musk also stated that the feature would “keep Summer safe”, a reference lost on anyone who doesn't keep up with animated series Rick and Morty. In an episode, the character Summer stays inside a car while it protects her from assailants, including using lasers to dice one wannabe attacker into tiny meat cubes.
We think the actual Tesla features will be slightly less controversial than that.
How Did these New Modes Get Added?
If you watched the news at all in 2018, you'll know that Musk is active on Twitter. Very active. When he's not accusing cave rescuers of being pedophiles. or asking for the internet's “dankest memes”, he's busy chatting Tesla with his 24.7 million followers.
This gives him an immense wealth of customer feedback. While not all of his followers are Tesla owners, a quick look at the tweets directed towards him seem to imply that owners do have a very high level of engagement with Musk. In November 2018 he tweeted asking for suggestions to improve Tesla, and received over 26,000 comments.
Please lmk what you’d most like improved/fixed about your Tesla. Thanks!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 9, 2018
It's this level of accessibility that makes Tesla unique as a brand. Not only can you tweet at the CEO, but there's a good chance he might actually reply, or even implement your suggestion. That's exactly the reason that dog mode is coming this week – because somebody asked for it on Twitter four months ago:
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 20, 2018
Done. Just like that.
What Impact Does this Have on Tesla?
All car manufacturers dedicate a lot of resources to customer satisfaction, and are happy to accept feedback. But, there aren't many brands who will agree to customer suggestions on the spot. The sort of improvements that Musk makes to the Tesla design, at any other company, would go through weeks of internal discussions and cost analysis, with many stakeholders getting to have their say.
Musk turns those traditional processes on their head with a simple one word reply to a customer.
While this level of customer satisfaction is novel, behind the scenes, it can cause problems.
When Wired did a deep-dive on Musk's management style in December 2018, it quoted an anonymous Tesla employee:
“Some customer would tweet some random complaint, and then we would be ordered to drop everything and spend a week on some problem affecting one loudmouth in Pasadena, rather than all the work we’re supposed to do to support the thousands of customers who didn’t tweet that day.”
Like any modern company worth its salt, Tesla is disruptive. But, it seems in some cases, the CEO is disrupting it himself, from the inside.
While this is great news for consumers, the jury is out on the effect it has on company harmony and confidence in Musk's leadership.
Both dog mode and sentry mode are expected to launch this week.