Electric Cars

Daimler engineers demolish rented Tesla

Tesla Model X SUV Assembly Inside A Tesla Motors Inc. Factory
Here Tesla puts together what Daimler later disassembles. Source: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

German car rental agency Sixt is entangled in a strange war of words after engineers at Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars and Freightliner trucks, took a rented Tesla Model X for a wild ride. The battle started in early December when newsweekly Der Spiegel recounted how the engineers took the car to test tracks in Spain and southern Germany, and even disassembled the electric auto to get a better look.

Sixt is caught in the middle because it rented the Tesla itself from smaller rival Elektromotron before leasing it to the Stuttgart automaker for seven weeks. When Sixt returned it to Elektromotron, the Model X was visibly damaged and the smaller rental agency handed Sixt a bill for €83,500 ($98,247), according to Sixt. When Sixt refused to pay the full amount, Elektromotron turned to the media.

“Apparently, the amount of damages was cranked up from the beginning as part of an attempt to create a potential threat through media publicity,” the auto rental agency said in a release on Wednesday. Sixt said the bill was inflated to cover not only actual damages, but also a non-disclosure agreement that would guarantee Elektromotron’s silence on both the Daimler engineers’ actions and Sixt’s role in the rental. “This kind of ‘hush money’ is unethical and was completely unacceptable to Sixt,” it said.

After it was returned, the car reportedly had visible damage to the paint and tape had been used to reattach interior body panels.

Sixt quickly paid just €18,500 to cover actual damages as well as the reduced value of the car and the price of an evaluation by Dekra, an independent automotive consultancy. However, emboldened by the Der Spiegel coverage, Sixt said Elektromotron then sent an updated bill of €185,000, again with an NDA. That figure, the car rental agency said, exceeded even the list price of the damaged car.

While the war of words is itself interesting, the battle also highlights how rivals manage to get behind the wheel of competitors’ cars – and how desperate German carmakers are to keep up in the electric mobility space. While it was rented out, Elektromotron reportedly tracked the car to a Daimler test track in Spain, where Elektromotron’s owner has photos of it on various courses including ones designed to test the effects of vibrations and rough driving conditions.

After it was returned, the car reportedly had visible damage to the paint and tape had been used to reattach interior body panels. A note from Daimler co-workers, revealing that the car had been improperly parked on company property, was even left in the glove compartment, according to Spiegel. Sixt also denied claims it had breached its contract with Elektromotron by renting the vehicle for testing purposes – it said everyone knew what the rental was for.

According to its website, Elektromotron rents the Model X for €5,000 per month. Considering Daimler will likely also have to reimburse Sixt for the damages, was the near-two months of testing worth it? Daimler has remained mum on the reports.

Andrew Bulkeley is an editor at Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: a.bulkeley@vhb.de

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